Plans for the coming changes at the 53-year-old resident professional company — where The Great White Hope and other plays began — have been in the works for several years now. A Canadian architect, Bing Thom, was announced for the project Sept. 27.
Plans call for structural and cosmetic changes to the theatre's complex at Sixth and Maine in the Southwest section of Washington, DC. The Arena's square footage will double with the new plan, construction on which begins in fall 2005, according to published reports.
Arena Stage will continue producing at borrowed spaces around town while construction continues.
In the meantime, a capital campaign commences, luring government, private and corporate donations. A breakdown of the cost has not yet been made public, but presumably the $100 million figure includes money toward an endowment for upkeep.
Announced for the project is the creation of a third new space, The Cradle, a 200-seat flexible black box theatre that will be used exclusively for new American works and readings. The "cradle" metaphor is obvious — it's a safe place for young things to grow. The famed in-the-round Fichandler stage (named for founding director Zelda Fichandler) will have its seating capacity reduced from 816 to 650. The sound in the space will be improved, according to the plan, with the addition of "a sound-insulating roof structure and a modulated ceiling." Acoustic panels and modern technical equipment will also be added to the company's signature space, home to large-cast shows and musicals.
The 514-seat Kreeger Theatre will be updated with current technology and amenities.
Among elements in the new design will be "one of the largest cantilevered roofs in North America, hovering horizontally above a new terrace," with glass and wood "as medium which encases and unifies the entire project."
Central to the design is a common lobby which will unite all three performance spaces. "Spacious workspace" for rehearsals, classes, production shops, community outreach and administrative services will be added," according to Arena. A beehive of 21 apartments will be added above the Cradle for actors and artists.
Architect Bing Thom is the principal in the 45-member firm Bing Thom Architects, Inc., which was behind arts structures such as the Chan Center for the Performing Arts in Vancouver and the Yuxi Opera Theatre in Yuxi, China.
The umbrella name for the Arena project is The Next Stage. for more information, click here here.
Molly Smith is now in her sixth season as the artistic director of Arena Stage. Executive director Stephen Richard joined Arena in 1991.