On any given night, there’s a black-tie event somewhere in Washington, but last night’s celebration of the Arena Stage’s new home in the Mead Center for American Theater was something bigger. The opening gala was a milestone for local theater.
“The first time I saw the sketch [for the building plans], I knew it was right because [architect] Bing Thom had all the stages under one roof,” said artistic director Molly Smith. “We’re an organization that hasn’t been together our whole 60-year history, and suddenly all our forces are coming together; there’s something synergistic about it.”
Managing director Edgar Dobie shared similar sentiments. “I anticipate we’ll be able to get a lot more done,” he said. “To have everyone under one roof is kind of a utopia for people in theater.”
And what a roof it is. The spacious, unconventional facility encloses three theaters in sheets of glass supported by enormous wooden beams. Natural light pours in from 6th Street, Southwest, while dim lighting and smooth jazz from invisible loudspeakers complement the interior’s earthy colors. Guests at the gala toured the new building and enjoyed cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and dinner as well as a recognition ceremony and a performance by Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell.
DC mayor Adrian Fenty and wife Michelle, honorary cochairs of the evening, were in attendance, as were people from all walks of Washington life.
Said guests Lori and Scott Marks: “Our parents are on the board, so we feel like we’ve grown up with Arena Stage, and we’re excited to see the building come up. It’s beautiful, and it’s nice to be a part of the excitement.”
Other noted guests included the cast of Oklahoma!, the first production of Mead Center’s inaugural season, and presumptive DC mayor-elect Vincent Gray.
“The city has a huge investment in this,” Gray said. “It has the potential to be a huge catalyst for the area, and tonight is not something anyone would want to miss.”
Last night’s gala was the second event in a yearlong string of activities to celebrate the company’s new home. Arena Stage officially kicked off its grand reopening last Saturday with free performances, workshops, and more that drew 15,000 people to the Southwest waterfront.
“You can see the collaboration between the artists, administration, architects, and community,” said Mitchell. “It’s a beautiful mélange and shows what we can accomplish if we work together.”