D.C.’s Arena Stage has snared the ultimate momentum builder for its return to a newly refurbished theater this fall: President and Mrs. Barack Obama will serve as honorary chairs for a gala celebration and fund-raiser to be held there in October and may attend the event.
In addition, the first couple will be honorary chairs for the inaugural season of Arena’s $125 million Mead Center.
The Obamas’ formal attachment to the legit company demonstrates the First Family’s interest in theater and the arts — a side of the Obamas that Washingtonians had expected to see more often.
The First Family has been to Broadway and a few events at the Kennedy Center, but has not otherwise become the theater fixtures that locals had hoped they would.
The Obama “get” is a coup for a regional theater that has been on a roll recently, including Broadway transfers of “Next to Normal,” “33 Variations” and “Looped” with Valerie Harper. More recently, it has launched a new funding venture called the American Voices New Play Institute, underwriting new plays by leading playwrights supported by a $1.1 million gift from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Arena returns to its campus on D.C.’s southwest waterfront following two seasons of performances in Arlington, Va., and at Washington’s venerable Lincoln Theater during construction. Its new home features a flowing roof designed by Canadian architect Bing Thom and three performance spaces.
“There could be no one better to help us celebrate Arena Stage’s new home for American theater than the President and First Lady of the U.S.,” said company a.d. Molly Smith. She also welcomed D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and his wife, who will be co-chairs for the event on Oct. 23.
The black tie gala will be headlined by Broadway crooner Brian Stokes Mitchell.