DC's Arena Stage Withdraws Bid to Move Downtown, Will Renovate

News   DC's Arena Stage Withdraws Bid to Move Downtown, Will Renovate Arena Stage, one the first major companies in the American regional theatre movement, will not move to a downtown Washington DC site, but stay put and renovate its three-theatre home in the city's Southwest waterfront section.

Arena Stage, one the first major companies in the American regional theatre movement, will not move to a downtown Washington DC site, but stay put and renovate its three-theatre home in the city's Southwest waterfront section.

The Arena Stage board voted Aug. 23 to withdraw its bid to develop a parcel of land at 7th and E Streets, NW, following a yearlong feasibility study that showed the cost associated with moving "outstripped potential benefits," said Arena executive director Stephen Richard.

If the troupe had moved, it would have added muscle to the busy arts district downtown, but now Arena's apparently less-costly goal will be to renovate its current 39-year-old site at Sixth and Maine Avenue.

"There is unquestionably a need for renovation of the theatres and expansion of the building, because Arena has outgrown its current facilities," said artistic director Molly Smith, in a statement. "My fervent wish is that with this decision we will focus on bringing Arena in all her glory into the new millennium with a spectacular, bold renovation."

The decision to not move was about "keeping our resources aligned with our mission," executive director Richard said. One of the critics of a possible move was Arena co-founder Zelda Fichandler, who, it was reported in The Washington Post, said, "I have been fearful all along that the enormous cost of moving downtown would weigh down with debt the artistic thrust of the institution and even endanger it."

The price tag for a new facility would be $80-$100 million, The Washington Post reported.

The Arena began in 1950 at another site. In 1960, the current complex began development under the guidance of architect Harry Weiss, who designed DC's subway, the metro. Arena's 800-seat in-the-round theatre, now called the Fichandler, was built first, followed by the modified thrust, the 500-seat Kreeger, in 1970. The Old Vat serves as a small experimental space.

Arena media relations director Eve Lechner told Playbill On-Line in March 1999 that things as basic as improved plumbing and additional square footage were on the Arena wish list. The Washington Post reported the wish list also includes underground parking, a new flexible "black box" space, on-site rehearsal space, classrooms and improvements in the technology in all spaces.

The Arena won a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1976.

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The 1999-2000 Arena season includes:

Hot 'n' Throbbing, the Washington premiere of Paula Vogel's comic tragedy about sex and sexuality, erotica and pornography, directed by Arena artistic director Molly Smith, Sept. 3-Oct. 17 (Kreeger).

The Royal Family, a revival of the Edna Ferber-George S. Kaufman classic inspired by the Barrymores, directed by Douglas Wager, Oct. 8-Nov. 21 (Fichandler).

Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami, created and performed by Culture Clash, a Chicano performance group, Nov. 5-Jan. 2, 2000 (Kreeger).

Guys and Dolls starring Maurice Hines, directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, Dec. 17-Feb. 20, 2000 (Fichandler).

Dinah Was, the Off-Broadway bio-with-music of Dinah Washington, directed by David Petrarca, Jan. 28-March 26, 2000 (Kreeger).

The Miracle Worker, William Gibson's drama about the relationship between Helen Keller and teacher Annie Sullivan, March 10 April 30, 2000 (Fichandler).

Blue, a new comedy by Randolph-Wright, about an African American family running a funeral home in the South, April 14-June 4, 2000 (Kreeger).

All My Sons, Arthur Miller's post-war drama about morality and family dynamics, directed by Molly Smith, May 19-June 25, 2000 (Fichandler).

For information, call (202) 488-3300.

-- By Kenneth Jones