Edward Mangum, a co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based Arena Stage 50 years ago, died Wednesday, Jan. 10, in Austin, Texas, following surgery. He was 87.
Mangum was a drama professor at George Washington U. when he founded Arena Stage with one of his students, Zelda Fichandler, as an experimental resident theater operation. The two raised $15,000 to launch the project which has since become one of the nation’s premier regional theaters.
Mangum was operating an amateur theater group called the Mount Vernon Players, bemoaning the lack of real theater in Washington, when he and Fichandler agreed that the solution was to start their own. At Mangum’s insistence, they opted for a theater-in-the-round format because it “took the theater back to its tribal beginnings,” according to Fichandler.
They purchased the Hippodrome Theater, a former burlesque and art film house on Ninth and New York avenues. A resident company of eight actors was hired, and ticket prices were set at $1.90 for evening performances and $1.50 for matinees.
The first production, on Aug. 16, 1950, was Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer,” chosen in part because there were no royalties to pay. Mangum directed. Seventeen different productions were mounted that season in the 247-seat house.
But, suffering from severe arthritis, Mangum followed his physician’s suggestion to seek a warmer climate, and in 1952 he accepted the position of director of a new theater at Fort Ruger in Honolulu. He turned the Arena theater over to Fichandler, who along with her husband, Tom, oversaw its growth, which included a move in the 1960s to its current location on Maine Avenue in Washington. Zelda retired in 1990 to direct the graduate acting program at New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts.
Mangum meanwhile began consulting on cultural exchange programs and directed plays in Turkey and Germany. In the 1960s, he moved to Austin and created a professional theater and training program at St. Edward’s U.
Texas was a homecoming to Mangum, who had been born there, moving to Washington in the 1930s to attend Catholic U., where he received a master’s degree in speech and drama.
He is survived by his wife, Francisca, of Austin.