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NY Times, Arts & Leisure features Arena Stage D.C. & plans for new play development

(Washington, D.C.) Arena Stage (Artistic Director Molly Smith) recently began their 60th season filled with award-winning artists and projects to celebrate the grand opening of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Arena Stage begins the 2010/2011 season as a national center for production, presentation, development and study of American theater.

NEW YORK TIMES, Arts & Leisure

January 16, 2011

Leaving the Light On for Playwrights

By Patrick Healy

WASHINGTON

WHEN Molly Smith began envisioning a third theater space here for Arena Stage, as part of the recent $135 million transformation that she led as artistic director, she grappled with how to distill her ideas into a clear form. Then one day she found herself staring at her hands. “I cupped them together, and there it was, that was our theater,” Ms. Smith recalled. “When you look inside two cupped hands, you have a cradle. That’s what I wanted: a small, enveloping cradle where we could nurture and stage newly birthed American plays.”

Cradle is not a word typically associated with playwriting. Many writers do not look to theaters for care and feeding, let alone a security blanket. What you often hear about instead is crummy pay, no health insurance, not enough time for rehearsals, and enormous frustrations in persuading major regional houses like Arena Stage to mount the second or third production of a new play, given how many artistic directors prize world premieres. And those artistic directors are no pollyannas. Staying afloat is tough business, they say, with theaters like Intiman in Seattle, the Pasadena Playhouse and others that have endured financial struggles in this era of diminished donations. Producing largely unknown plays is usually a riskier bet at the box office than a revival of a classic. (Paging Willy Loman!)

So it is an act of some theatrical audacity, really, that Arena Stage has christened its new 200-seat space as the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle (named for benefactors who donated $7.5 million) and endowed it with the mission “of developing new American plays and cradling artistic risk.” But the Cradle is itself part of an audacious act: Arena Stage’s effort to brand itself as a national center for producing, presenting, developing and studying American theater. At a time of great competition for grant and foundation money among nonprofit theaters Arena is seeking to stand out among the 75 or so major regional theaters by building on its 60-year-old roots in Washington, stressing the word “American” in its messages to audience members and convening events to focus on the craft of playwriting and careers of playwrights.

To read the rest of the story, click the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/theater/16arena.html?_r=1&ref=arts

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