Thomas C. Fichandler, founding executive director of the Washington, D.C., Arena Stage and an active participant in the regional theater movement for more than 40 years, died Sunday at his home in Washington of a heart attack. He was 81.
Fichandler co-founded Arena Stage in 1950 with his wife, Zelda, and built it into one of the nation’s most prestig-ious and successful resident theaters. With Zelda as artistic director, a post she held until 1991, Fichandler oversaw administrative and business affairs until he retired in 1986 after 36 years. He was particularly adept at fundraising, a formidable assignment during an era of scant arts tradition in the nation’s capital.
He also was active on the national theater scene, serving six years as president of the League of Resident Theaters. He is a 1975 recipient of the Arts Management Career Services Award.
Fichandler was born and raised in New York City, the son of showbiz parents. His father was musical director of an opera company and his mother was an opera singer. He studied mathematics at Brooklyn College and received a master’s degree in actuarial mathematics. He came to Washington in 1936 to take a job at the Social Security Ad-ministration, and later became an economist for the Twentieth Century Fund.
He volunteered to help found the new theater, and ultimately made the facility a full-time job. Arena had several homes during its early years, including a boat on the Potomac River, an abandoned theater and the old Heurich Brewery in Foggy Bottom. It later purchased a site in southeast Washington and constructed a theater, which opened in 1961. Ten years later, a second stage was added, with Fichandler in charge of both projects.
He is survived by two sons and one grandson.