Local planning officials are calling it one of the most unprecedented collaborations in artistic and economic development in the areas history: Arena Stage, one of the nations most renowned theatres, has temporarily relocated to Crystal City.
On Saturday evening, actors, directors, stagehands and administrators filed into the Crystal Forum for the first time, throwing up the lights on its winter production of Ella, a swinging new musical about the First Lady of Song Ella Fitzgerald
The move is expected to last at least a year as Arena Stage goes through a major renovation of its permanent home on Sixth Street in the District.
The Crystal Forum, located a block from the Crystal City Metro, has been transformed into Arena Stages performance space, with their debut show of Ella already drawing strong reviews and playing to packed audiences.
The 12,000 square-foot, 460 seat venue located at 1800 S. Bell Street in Arlington, is conveniently connected to the Crystal City underground, with the administration offices occupying an additional 10,000 square feet nearby.
This creative collaboration is a joint effort between The Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID), Arena Stage, Arlington County Economic Development, Vornado/Charles E. Smith and the Marriott Corporation. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
All of our research shows that people want things to do in Crystal City and live theater leads the list, said Angela Fox, executive director of Crystal City BID. We cannot imagine a better partner than Arena Stage to help us make this happen.
The idea to bring Arena Stage to Crystal City originated over a cup of coffee between Fox and Molly Smith, Arena Stages artistic director for the past 10 seasons.
This relationship is a great synergy between art and business, Smith said. The partnership between Arena and Crystal City is ideal because each partner completes the other. We have a robust audience and amazing artists and staff, and they have a lively area with great restaurants, shops, free parking and a need for live entertainment.
Fox said it was thrilling to host such a renowned theatre in Crystal City. Thanks to the incredible enthusiasm and creativity of Vornado/Charles E. Smith, Crystal City could provide a great performance space for Arena, along with area amenities to solve their short-term needs for space, offices, and location appeal. Arena Stage helps us in achieving the goal of bringing things to do into the re-imaged Crystal City.
Under the leadership of Smith and Executive Director Stephen Richard, Arena Stage is now the largest theater in North America focusing on American writers. Productions range from American classics, premiers of new plays and contemporary stories to rousing musicals.
Now in its sixth decade, Arena Stage is the oldest and largest of the Washington, D.C. areas not-for-profit producing theaters, attracting a diverse annual audience of 200,000 patrons, including 25,000 students.
Its a perfect partnership, Richard said. Crystal City offers a perfect place for our staff and audience, just five minutes away from our historic DC location. The BID has made it possible for us to do the impossible: to move half our operations from our home of 50 years, and continue to produce the finest in theater.
The addition of Arena Stage to Crystal City is part of a reinvigoration the area has seen in recent years. Numerous new restaurantsincluding several from Washingtons most famous chefsare within walking distance to the theater, as well as easy and plentiful free parking during the evenings and on weekends.
Mitchell Schear, President of Vornado/Charles E. Smith, agrees that Crystal City and Arena Stage will produce a great partnership for the area. Great culture and arts has always been a big part of our vision for Crystal City as a vibrant urban destination, Shear said. We are delighted to see this vision take shape with a theater of Arenas caliber and creativity.
The Arena Stage Board of Trustees finally reached a vote to commence construction on the new Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater in October of 2007. With a goal of $125 million, more than $104 has been raised and groundbreaking for the facility is scheduled for sometime in January 2008.
Two years of construction is anticipated to complete the new complex, with a reopening slated for the 2010/2011 season.
In addition to Ella, upcoming shows at the Crystal City venue include Death of a Salesman, A View From the Bridge and the Mystery of Irma Vep.
For more information on current or upcoming shows, call 202-554-9066 or visit www.arenastage.org.