A Tribute to Arena Stage Founder Zelda Fichandler

Zelda Fichandler and another woman standing in front of an audience in the Hippodrome, probably in 1950. Arena Stage records, #C0017, Box 633, Folder 1, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

“The miracle of theater is that it ever happens at all.”
– Zelda Fichandler, in Laurence Maslon’s The Arena Adventure: The First 40 Years

Zelda Fichandler, a powerhouse of the performing arts, passed away Friday, July 29 at the age of 91.  Fichandler was a founder of the Arena Stage which remains, because of her vision, Washington, DC’s preeminent regional theater, a space of imagination and innovation.  Fichandler’s artistic achievements span the length of her storied career, from the founding of Arena in 1950, to pushing for diversity on the stage with her thesis entitled “Towards a Deepening Aesthetic”, to educating future performers at NYU.  Zelda, supported by her husband Thomas Fichandler, gave opportunities to actors, performers, and visionaries who were willing to push the boundaries of theater, who were “trailblazers”, and who were unafraid of to challenge prevailing notions of race, identity, and class.

With her support, programs such as the Living Stage (an Arena venture) brought the theater to less privileged members of society and encouraged them to find deeper meaning in their lives through art.  Fichandler herself broke traditional ideas of gender roles as not only a founder of the largest regional theater on the East Coast, but also as its first Artistic Director, and a director of dozens of productions.  Zelda proved that theater is not the sole property of Broadway, or the ultra-wealthy, but instead belongs to us all.

Please visit our small photo tribute to Zelda at:


This post was written by SCRC Archives Assistant Nick Welsh.