Arts & Theater

Women’s History Month Begins: Focus on Zelda Fichandler

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Zelda Fichandler came from a family that emigrated from Russia when she was an infant. Her father, Harry Diamond, was a brilliant scientist who created the proximity fuse. Zelda started working in pursuing sciences until the day that she spilled hydrochloric acid down her shirt and burned herself. She decided to pursue acting instead.

For Women’s History Month, we’re putting a special focus on women, currently, “on the move” and women artists who have made an indelible mark in the dramatic arts. We wanted to begin our month with the Matriarch of Regional Theater, Zelda Fichandler.

Zelda was a pillar in the regional theater movement, leading Washington’s Arena Stage for 41 years. She produced 400 shows and directed more than 50 for a company that helped spur the growth of professional theater away from Broadway and inspired the creation of non-profit theaters around the country.

In 1950, Zelda’s Arena Stage was Washington D.C.’s first fully integrated theater. It was a huge statement at a time when city parks and recreational facilities were not yet integrated.

Arena Stage eventually became known as one of America’s premier regional theatres. And in 1961, she was able to direct Howard Sackler’s interracial drama “The Great White Hope,” which starred then-newcomers James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. It was the first play to start as a regional theatre production, then transferred to Broadway. The Broadway performance won The Tony Award and the Best Pulitzer Prize for drama. The Arena Theatre Company in 1976 also won the Tony for Outstanding Regional Theatre.

Later, as Head of NYU’s Graduate Acting Program for 25 years, Zelda trained Marcia Gay Harden, Rainn Wilson, Mahershala Ali, Dianne Wiest, James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, and Jane Alexander.

To honor her legacy we present two books:

An oral history from Routledge, “To Repair the World: Zelda Fichandler and the Transformation of American Theater“, and a collection of Zelda’s essays, speeches, and manifestos put together by Theatre Communications Group, “The Long Revolution: Sixty Years on the Frontlines of the American Theater.

Photo courtesy of Arena Stage and Jonathan Marder & Company

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