Does it seem ridiculous to say that Washington, D.C., has a rich history? Yes, it does, and yet it’s very interesting to note which histories are deep in our collective knowledge and which are not. Anna Julia Cooper was such an immense contributor to American life that her words are quoted on our most important possession, passports, and yet her name is not as well known in the general sphere. Tempestuous Elements by Kia Corthron is about to change all that.

Anna Julia Cooper is also a local hero. Arguably, local heroes for Washington, D.C., are often national heroes as well, because of our unique responsibility housing our federal government. Through a host of rich programming, including the Power Plays commissioning initiative (of which Tempestuous Elements is a part), Arena proudly tells stories of American heroes (local and national), lesser-known contributors, and fictional Washingtonians. These legacies share valuable lessons, and also educate, entertain, and excite.

There have been presidents on our stages in plays such as Camp David (Carter); All the Way and The Great Society (both LBJ); Sovereignty (Jackson); JQA (John Quincy Adams); and Change Agent (JFK). Of course, not all portrayals must be complimentary.

There have been unsung heroes and controversial figures close to presidents in plays such as Eleanor: Her Secret Journey (Eleanor Roosevelt); Mary T. & Lizzy K (Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley); The Originalist (Justice Antonin Scalia); and American Prophet (Frederick Douglass).

Stories set in Washington have strong resonance for our community, with our audiences imagining fictional versions of themselves on stage in plays such as An American Daughter, Born Yesterday, The City of Conversation, Intelligence, and, earlier this season, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.

Homegrown talents like the great musicians shine in productions like Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, and we have set our Washington travails to music several times, such as with Damn Yankees and Dave.

Those titles are merely a few examples of stories that resonate and illuminate our American heritage. Illuminating the essential work of Anna Julia Cooper, the impact of the M Street School, and the importance of education are critical in 2024. All times have their trials, although we seem to have survived a pandemic into an angry time with stubborn divisiveness. There are lessons to be learned from the past.

Gina Daniels for Tempestuous Elements. Photo by Tony Powell.

Richard Thomas in Camp David. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Jack Willis with Lawrence Redmond and Craig Wallace in All the Way. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Jack Willis in The Great Society. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Joseph Carlson, Kalani Queypo, and Andrew Roa in Sovereignty. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Jacqueline Correa and Phyllis Kay in JQA. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Andrea Abello and Lusi Vega in Change Agent. Photo by Margot Schulman.