Arena Stage presents virtual slate with mini musicals, love letters in the mail

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews virtual programs at Arena Stage (Part 1)

It has been nearly a year since Arena Stage shut down due to COVID-19, but that’s not stopping the virtual output from D.C.’s most prolific theater.

“We’ve got a robust lineup of digital programming for this winter-spring season,” Artistic Director Molly Smith told WTOP. “We’ve got three films coming up.”

The first film, “Arena Riffs,” is a collection of musicals premiering on March 17.

Playwrights Psalmeyene 24, Shauna & Abigail Bengson and Rona Siddiqui are each writing 20- to 30-minute musical pieces, Smith said.

“Thematically, one includes the grief and void created by the pandemic,” Smith said. “Another is a nationwide reckoning on racial justice; one is about finding rough and strong joy in the middle of difficult times.”

The second film, “Indigenous Earth Voices,” will premiere sometime in May. Arena commissioned six Indigenous writers to interview six Indigenous people, directed by Indigenous directors with music from Indigenous artists, Smith said.

“It will explore people’s relationship to the Earth … subsistence, family traditions, land rights, myths and legends, tribal situations, treaties and issues that impact Indigenous cultures.”

The third film, “Arena’s Voices of Now Ensemble,” will premiere later in June.

The same group recently put together a film called “Inside Voices.”

“They are now gathering once again working with ensembles of youth artists for another film,” Smith said.

In addition to the films, you can re-experience Arena’s 2019 production of Ken Ludwig’s “Dear Jack, Dear Louise” with an interactive “Love Letters Experience.”

“It was love letters written between a man and a woman during World War II,” Smith said. “What if we sent the love letters to our audience? On Day 1, you get a love letter from Jack. … On Day 4, you get a letter from Louise. They’re all designed lovingly and painstakingly by our prop shop — eight different letters over a six-week period.”

It’s all a way of maintaining creativity in a virtual pivot during the pandemic.

“We’re in the 11th month,” Smith said. “A lot of what we’re doing online is going to continue.”

She noted that all of the theater’s classes and its summer camp drew students from around the country and the world. “We would have never had that type of reach” without the pandemic, she added.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews virtual programs at Arena Stage (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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