Coming in as the fourth artistic director in the 75-year history of Arena Stage, Hana S. Sharif knows she has big shoes to fill since the theater’s longtime leader Molly Smith retired after 25 years at the helm. Sharif was the Augustin Family artistic director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis before coming to the District. She joins Executive Producer Edgar Dobie as the two will lead the helm of the award-winning regional theater company.
“It’s just been an incredible whirlwind,” Sharif said. “Just getting settled with getting to know the institution, the partners and the possibilities.”
The D.C. area’s theater community has warmly greeted Sharif, but she is no stranger to the area. She spent part of her career at the Baltimore Center Stage, where she was instrumental in guiding a multi-million-dollar renovation and cultural transformation during her five-year tenure.
A Vision Built on a Solid Foundation
Arena Stage was the first theater in the nation’s capital to be racially integrated, not just among actors but with creative teams and staff working at the venue. Arena is also a pioneer of the regional theater movement. Arena has produced 22 plays that went on to Broadway success, including “The Great White Hope” starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander and “Dear Evan Hansen.”
“Arena has a very interesting history. It is a landmark theater for the country,” Sharif said. “Founder Zelda Fichandler believed in the concept of radical access, which is how I think about our work. I believe we have an amazing building meant to be activated with a cross-section of art and people.”
Sharif emphasized that Arena has quietly been a hub that recognized the artistic, intellectual, and cultural innovation of Black and Brown lives. She also said she embraces continuing outreach to K-12 students and Arena’s education programs with schools are one of many things that drew Sharif to the institution.
“We have in-school education programs, we have a robust student matinee program, and there is “Voices of Now” where middle-school, high-school, and adult artists work together to create autobiographical plays.
Successful Start for Arena Stage’s Current Season
This 2023-24 Arena season is the last one developed and spearheaded by Smith, Sharif’s predecessor. Sharif begins her tenure at Arena with the show “POTUS,” the Tony-nominated play that has received rave reviews, currently running until Nov 12.
The 2024-25 season, to be announced in February will be Sharif’s first season as artistic director. In working with her team on future programming, Sharif wants to create an environment where Arena will attract everyone from the long-time subscriber to someone who has never walked into the institution.
“I’m interested in reimagining what community engagement looks like,” said the new D.C. resident. “We look forward to expanding civic, cultural, and arts partnerships
A Dream for Arena Stage
Upon arriving at Arena, Sharif was given a history of the structure of the building. There is a space called Fichandler’s House and another area called Smith’s House. She was asked, “What’s Hana’s House?”
“Hana’s House is ‘The People’s House,’” said Sharif. “My job is to curate the most compelling, exciting, and innovative artistic voices. Regardless of age, race, social, or economic condition, I want D.C. to have access, an opportunity, and an authentic invitation.”
Source: Washington Informer