In Washington, D.C., the company puts a priority on new work, diverse voices, and American history with its Power Plays initiative.


“We’re a theatre that focuses on American ideas, American plays, and American artists. I like to think that Arena has broad shoulders—from a great American musical to a one-person play. We commission works. We delve into the classics. It’s important to me to show the full complexity of the American stage.”

That’s Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., talking about her primary goals. She has been leading Arena since 1998, presenting more than 39 world premieres and helping nurture nine Broadway projects, including this season’s hit musical Dear Evan Hansen and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, which began previews March 4.

Smith recently announced Arena’s new Power Plays Initiative, with the goal of commissioning and developing 25 new plays and musicals in ten years. In keeping with Arena’s D.C. location, the concentration will be on politics and power. Each work will deal with one decade of American history—one play or musical per decade—from 1776 to today. The all-American playwrights will include the relatively new and the veterans, among them Rajiv Joseph, Eve Ensler, Sarah Ruhl, Jacqueline E. Lawton, and John Strand.

“It’s right in the sweet spot of what we do,” Smith says,…