Represent Our Voices

by Molly Smith

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the blog salon curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2015 TCG National Conference: Game ChangeThe following questions will inform the final plenary session, “Artistic Leadership: How We Change the Game.”)

JACQUELINE E. LAWTON: What was the most game-changing production you’ve seen or created, and why?

MOLLY SMITH:  A real game-changer that Arena Stage is involved with is a partnership with Stage17 to film theater to make it available via streaming online as a subscription service.  We just filmed a 4 camera shoot of John Strand’s new play The Originalist.  While it may be some time before such a service is fully up and running, when it hits the web, it will revolutionize how people interact with theater.  This program will make it possible to see theater all over the country, open up avenues for artists and spread the word of live theater. I believe it will encourage people to go out to see the live event too and build fans for theater.

The Originalist is the story of Justice Antonin Scalia and his liberal law clerk in a provocative look at whether we can get back to a place where real political discussions can be had.  At Arena, we’re hard at focusing on a DC voice in theater. I believe that DC voice is political and focuses on the potent issues of our time.

JL: Who was the most game-changing theatre leader/artist you’ve met, and what do you carry forward from their example?

MS: Ariane Mnouchkine of Theatre du Soliel both in LA for the Olympics and outside Paris. Her productions where she dramatically interpreted the Greeks and Shakespeare by fusing the east and the west blew me away.

JL: What is the most significant opportunity—or challenge—facing the theatre field, and how can we address it together?

MS: Our challenge as a field is to represent all of our voices. This has been the challenge for the past 30 years and continues to be so.

JL: What is the most significant challenge—or opportunity—facing the world, and what difference can theatre make?

MS: Our audiences are hungry to feel, aching to be heard, and excited about having the big conversations. Our work is to not let them down.


MOLLY SMITH has been a leader  in new play development for over 30 years.  She is a great believer in first, second and third productions. She has worked alongside  playwrights  Sarah Ruhl,  Paula Vogel, Wendy Wasserstein, Lawrence Wright, Karen Zacarías, Eric Coble, and many others. She is currently Artistic Director at Arena Stage and previously founded and led Perseverance Theatre. Under her leadership, Arena Stage is a national center for American voices. Her directorial work has been seen at Arena Stage,  the  Shaw Festival,  Berkeley Repertory  Theatre,  Trinity  Repertory Company,  Tarragon Theatre,  Centaur  Theatre,  and  most recently  on Broadway with The Velocity of Autumn.


Jacqueline Lawton_headshotJacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com