About Molly’s Salons

When Artistic Director Molly Smith joined Arena Stage 25 years ago, she initiated a series of chats coined “Molly’s Salon” to get to know our audiences better. The series was revived in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when life as we know it came to an abrupt halt, and a series of 56 intimate Zoom conversations with the who’s who of theater kept the theatrical fires burning safely from home. 

We brought these back—live and in person—in Molly’s final months as Arena Stage artistic director, so that we can see her sit down, one final time, with the industry’s brightest thinkers, creators, and doers for conversations about theater’s past, present, and future. 

Molly Smith was joined by Jackie Maxwell on February 13 for her first in-person Molly’s Salon of 2023. Maxwell was artistic director of the Shaw Festival in Canada from 2002 to 2016. Her Arena Stage credits include Good People, Watch on the Rhine, and Junk. Maxwell has recently been appointed to the Order of Ontario, which is considered the country’s highest civilian honor. 

Enjoy the following highlights from the night:

How They Met

Molly:  Jackie has been a friend of mine for…over 40 years…And we used to sit and drink a lot as I recall. 

Jackie: We did. That was a sort of required part of the activity for sure. But we did. We talked a lot, as well. We talked a lot about things that mattered to us. I seem to remember. 

Molly: Yeah, yeah.


Jackie: When I was asked to apply [for the artistic director of the Shaw Festival], I decided I would be very honest. And I said … yes, of course, there was some wonderful programming going on, but where were the Canadian plays? And where were the plays by women? And I said that that would be something that I would be focusing on.

… So I talked a lot about how I wanted to increase musicals, I wanted to have small funky musicals, as well as just the kind of the biggies. And so I said everything that I would do, and thinking, “Well, you know, this’ll probably be it”. But in fact, they went for it. 

When, eventually, I had to go and do a whole press day, they picked up on that fact and they said…“Can you talk about how many women are directing at the Shaw?” And I said, “Oh, that’s one of my major things…I’m going to be doing plays by women. I’m going to be bringing in female directors that have been very few” 

And, literally one guy said, “Where are you going to get them?”


Jackie: There’s many, many things I loved about working [at Arena Stage], but one of them was for you, as an artistic director…I never felt that you were there to check in on whether I was doing the work appropriately…I always felt you were totally supportive.

Molly: As Artistic Director,  I always feel like my job is, how do I get this particular production in terms of this director’s vision? How do I support them through the best notes that are gonna take them there? 

Some artistic directors want to make every production in their own image. I’m not interested in that. I love that there ares so many different voices that come in so many different perspectives.


Molly: I think I became an artistic director because I wanted to form the mandate. I started a theater in Alaska called Perseverance Theater that I ran for 19 years. So I’ve actually been an artistic director for 44 years. 

There are parts of being an artistic director that I love more than being a director…because it’s overall ideas. It’s: how can we make all these big things and big ideas happen? How could we make the Mead Center for American Theater happen? How could we drive it through programming? How could we go out and raise the money? How could we work with a brilliant designer and architect to make this a Center for American Theater? 

I mean, that was a huge joy. And for me, too, it was, how can I change the programming in such a way that it’s reflective of this city? And that happened. 


You still have time to reserve your seat for our final Molly’s Salon with Jocelyn Clarke on Monday, May 8.

🎥 Watch all of Molly’s Virtual Salons here

📰 These two artistic directors collaborate on the stage and in life The Washington Post