Arena Stage announces 2023/24 Season
Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie announced the company's 74th season. The upcoming subscription season-"electrifying, music-filled, and deeply pleasurable," as Smith puts it-will feature two original musicals, an acclaimed play with music, an uproarious comedy, Arena's 11th Power Play, and a return by audience-favorite Step Afrika!.
"This is an exciting yet bittersweet moment for me," said Smith, who will retire on June 30th, 2023, completing her 25th season as artistic director. "I came to Washington 25 years ago with an important mandate: to focus Arena Stage on American plays, American voices, and American artists...and I was fortunate to be able to do it with a remarkably talented, fully committed staff who excel at bringing dreams to life. As I pass the baton to a new Artistic Director, the 2023/24 Season highlights why Arena is one of the most exciting theaters in the country!"
The season will kick off in July with the much-anticipated North American tour of New York's Signature Theatre's production of Lauren Yee's (The Great Leap, King of the Yees) Cambodian Rock Band directed by Chay Yew. Featuring songs by psychedelic surf rock band Dengue Fever, this darkly humorous, electrifying play with music tells the story of a father and daughter as they confront the brutal legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Thrilling mystery meets rock concert in this passionate story about family, survival, and the enduring power of music.
Come the fall, the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, will have a second home: Arena's iconic in-the-round Fichandler Stage. Following a hit 2022 Broadway run, Selina Fillinger's (The Collapse, Something Clean) White House-set play, POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, will make its D.C. premiere in October helmed by Margot Bordelon. Hailed as a "rough-and-tumble feminist comedy" (The New York Times), this farce will be led by a tight ensemble of seven fiercely funny women.
The season continues into the holidays with a new American musical. Reuniting the team from its 2022 Berkeley Repertory Theatre world premiere, Swept Away features a book by Tony Award winner John Logan (Red, Moulin Rouge! The Musical), direction by Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot), and music and lyrics by "America's Biggest Roots Band" (Rolling Stone), The Avett Brothers. Set off the coast of New Bedford, Mass., in 1888, this "thrilling suspenseful ride" (BroadwayWorld) finds four shipwrecked survivors questioning how far they will go to stay alive.
2024 kicks off the 11th installment in Arena's ambitious Power Play initiative. Maryland-born writer Kia Corthorn's Tempestuous Elements dramatizes a key moment of the 1900s, pulling back the curtain on the visionary Black feminist leader, educator, and intellectual Anna Julia Cooper. Born in North Carolinian slavery, by 1901 Cooper had become principal of the renowned M Street School, an institution for African American students in Washington, D.C. This world premiere will be directed by D.C. artist Psalmayene 24 in the Fichandler Stage.
The spring will feature a second original musical by a celebrated creative team. Unknown Soldier was co-written by Daniel Goldstein and the late Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), who tragically died in 2017. The Arena staging will be helmed by Trip Cullman, who directed the show's earlier productions at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Playwrights Horizons, and who will be at Arena later this spring for the world premiere of Kenneth Lin's Exclusion. Spanning the 20th and 21st centuries, this sweeping, elegiac musical follows a woman's journey to unearth the secrets buried in her family's past.
"A critical part of the resiliency of not-for-profit theater is partnerships," said Dobie. "Our presentation of Cambodian Rock Band is made possible through collaboration with other resident theaters, and our productions of Swept Away and Unknown Soldier are the result of partnerships with commercial producers. Sharing resources to support good storytelling can be a vital part of any season. In fact, the 2017 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Dear Evan Hansen started its journey to Broadway and beyond in 2015 in our Kreeger Theater-the future home of Cambodian Rock Band, Swept Away, and Unknown Soldier-thanks to a fabulous partnership. Additionally, we continue our successful multi-year partnership with Step Afrika! with The Migration and Step Afrika!'s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show. As we look toward the 2023/24 Season, I am buoyed by thoughts of our creative partners, who help us be more than we are when alone."
The 2023/24 Season finale will be a presentation of dance company Step Afrika!'s landmark work, The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence. Based on the iconic painting series that charts the story of African American migrants from the South to the North in the early 1900s, this percussive dance-theater piece tells this astonishing history through pulsating rhythms and visually stunning movement, at a moment in history when the "New Great Migration" is reversing that trend. This performance will coincide with Step Afrika!'s 30th Anniversary and mark the midway point of the five-year Arena-Step Afrika! collaborative partnership, following Drumfolk during the 2021/22 Season.