Guide to the Zelda Fichandler papers, 1950-2000

Zelda Fichandler C0010

Published by George Mason University Libraries

Contact Information:

Fenwick Library (2FL)

George Mason University

Fairfax, Virginia 22030-4444


Phone: (703) 993-2220

Fax: (703) 993-8911



Descriptive Summary

Repository George Mason University. Special Collections and Archives.
Creator Zelda Fichandler
Title Zelda Fichandler papers
Date 1950-2000
Physical Characteristics 104.5 linear ft.; 209 boxes
Abstract This collection contains the working and personal papers of Zelda Fichandler. Items include correspondence regarding productions, staff, finances, playwrights and actors as well as personal matters and speeches and remarks given by Zelda.
Collection number C0017
Language English

Historical Information

Zelda Fichandler was the Founding Director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and its primary artistic force from 1950-1990. Her history-making example, force of personality, and eloquence as a speaker and writer have made her a leading national figure in the performing arts and Arena Stage a model for scores of cultural institutions established around the country. Zelda's personal vision for theatre has had a transforming effect on the entire field, switching the axis from Broadway to the rest of the nation in the production of new work. She is considered a parent of the regional theatre in America.

Zelda embraced a vast sweep of dramatic literature which reverberated through the commercial and non-commercial theatre world and into film and television. She directed many of Arena's productions including Mrs. Klein, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, Death of a Salesman, An Enemy of the People, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and A Doll House; and the American premieres of new Eastern European works, Duck Hunting, The Ascent of Mt. Fuji, and Screenplay. Arena Stage was the first American theatre company, sponsored by the State Department, to tour the then-Soviet Union. Her Inherit the Wind played in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1973, the company performed her After the Fall at the 1980 Hong Kong Arts Festival, and in 1987, her production of The Crucible appeared at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. As a producer, Zelda nurtured all of Arena's plays, making a home for important European playwrights like Brecht, Frisch, Ionesco, Mrozek, and Orkeny, alongside significant American revivals of works by Albee, Miller, Williams, O'Neill, Thornton Wilder, Kaufman and Hart and classics by Shakespeare, Shaw, Moliere, Ibsen, and others. Broadway, too, has felt the impact of Zelda's work, especially with the development of new plays. The Great White Hope, Indians, Moonchildren, Pueblo, A History of the American Film, The Madness of God, Raisin, and K2 all started at Arena Stage. She left the artistic leadership of Arena in 1991 to her close associate, Douglas C. Wager. Zelda also made Arena the theatre of the "second chance," where plays like Summer of the 17th Doll, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and The Comedians found life after commercial failure in New York.

Zelda's concern for the development of young actors led her, in 1984, to take on, in addition, the role of Chair of the Graduate Acting Program and Master Teacher of Acting and Directing at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, a position which she continues to fill. Graduates of this premier program now occupy leading positions in film, television, and the stage, winning top awards in the various media. From 1991 through 1994, she also served as the Artistic Director of The Acting Company, a young company of actors that tours a classical repertory throughout America. The link between professional theatre and training is important to Zelda as a means "to attract young people to the benefits of company work and to train them to perform in the broadest repertory." The idea of "company" has animated her work since the beginning, and her goal now is to establish in New York an acting company composed primarily of graduates from the Graduate Acting Program. Many agents, casting directors, and stage directors consider the Program at Tisch to be the most innovative and creative in the country.

Zelda has received the National Medal of the Arts, awarded in 1997 by President Clinton, the Common Wealth Award for distinguished service to the dramatic arts, The Brandeis University Creative Arts award, The Acting Company's John Houseman Award for commitment to the development of young American actors, the Margo Jones Award for the production of new plays, Washingtonian of the Year Award, the Ortho 21st Century Women Trailblazer Award, and the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers George Abbott Award. The New York commercial theatre world awarded Zelda and Arena Stage the Antoinette Perry or 'Tony' Award in 1976, the first to be given to a company outside New York. In 1999 she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, making her the first artistic leader outside of New York to receive this honor.

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Scope and Content

This collection contains the working and personal papers of Zelda Fichandler. Items include correspondence regarding productions, staff, finances, playwrights and actors as well as personal matters and speeches and remarks given by Zelda.

The bulk of collection contains Zelda's research of plays including; playbills and programs, reviews, articles, correspondence regarding plays and their past productions and audience response letters. Items of note include many papers regarding the original production of The Great White Hope, and information regarding the Arena Stage tour of Russia in 1973.

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Organized by folder.

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Access Restrictions

This collection is currently being reprocessed and is unavailable for research at this time.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions on personal use. Permission to publish material from the Zelda Fichandler papers must be obtained from the Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

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Related Material

Special Collections and Archives holds the Arena Stage records.

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Index Terms

Corporate Names:

Arena Stage (Organization : Washington, D.C.)


Theater--Washington (D.C.)

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Zelda Fichandler papers, C0017, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Arena Stage in 2000.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections and Archives staff. This collection is currently being reprocessed.

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Contents List

This collection is currently being reprocessed. Please contact Liz Beckman, Manuscripts and Archives Librarian, at or (703) 993-5282 with any questions.
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