1st Edition

To Repair the World Zelda Fichandler and the Transformation of American Theater

By Mary B. Robinson Copyright 2024
    388 Pages 30 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    388 Pages 30 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book is a biography in the form of an oral history about a woman whose founding of Arena Stage in Washington, DC in 1950 shifted live professional theater away from Broadway and inspired the creation of non-profit theaters around the country. Dianne Wiest, James Earl Jones, Stacy Keach, and Jane Alexander, among many others, share their memories of this intrepid pioneering woman during Arena Stage’s early years.

    As Head of New York University’s Graduate Acting Program for 25 years, Zelda Fichandler also trained a younger generation of gifted actors. Marcia Gay Harden, Rainn Wilson, Mahershala Ali, and other developing actors who became “artist-citizens” under her guidance, talk about the ways in which she transformed their lives.

    Theater practitioners who have lived during Zelda Fichandler’s time will find this book a fascinating and entertaining read––as will all theater lovers, especially those in Washington, DC. And through this vivid and compelling oral history, students and aspiring artists will come to grasp how the theatrical past can shed essential light on the theater of today and tomorrow.


    Foreword by Jane Alexander


    Prologue: Destined to be a Pioneer: Boston and Washington DC, 1924 to 1950

    Chapter 1. Something Was Happening There: Arena Stage, 1950 to 1961

    Chapter 2. Making a Point: Arena Stage, 1961 to 1967

    Chapter 3. Trapped in the Ring: Arena Stage, 1967 to 1968

    Chapter 4. Tension Between the Old and the New: Arena Stage, 1969 to 1973

    Chapter 5. A Long-Postponed Rendezvous: Arena Stage in the Soviet Union, 1973

    Chapter 6. Passionately Involved in Everything: Arena Stage, 1973 to 1978

    Chapter 7. A Very Charmed Circle of People: Arena Stage, 1978 to 1984

    Chapter 8. Changing the Zeitgeist: New York University, 1984 to 1991

    Chapter 9. Adding Some New Energy: Arena Stage, 1984 to 1988

    Chapter 10. An Unbridgeable Aesthetic Gulf: Arena Stage, 1986 to 1987

    Chapter 11. A Sense of Completion: Arena Stage in Israel, 1987

    Chapter 12. Returning to the Room with Actors: Arena Stage, 1987 to 1991

    Chapter 13. Being a Missionary: The Acting Company, 1991 to 1994

    Chapter 14. Taking Those Big Risks: New York University, 1991 to 2000

    Chapter 15. Keeping the Door Open: Arena Stage, 1991 to 2008

    Chapter 16. We Carry on Telling Stories: New York University, 2001 to 2008

    Chapter 17. How Do We Move It Forward? Washington, DC, 2008 to 2016

    Afterword: Passing the Fire


    List of Contributors





    Mary B. Robinson headed an undergraduate directing program at New York University (under the auspices of Playwrights Horizons Theater School) from 1999–2014. She has directed 70 productions at non-profit theaters (including Arena Stage, Manhattan Theatre Club, Second Stage, and Seattle Repertory Company), from 1981 to the present. She was one of 50 directors (along with Zelda Fichandler) featured in American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century (University of Illinois Press, 2008). Author of Directing Plays, Directing People: A Collaborative Art, published by Smith & Kraus in 2012.

    “Zelda Fichandler’s mind and personality spring to life in To Repair the World, a riveting oral history filled with moving recollections and surprising anecdotes on every page. Zelda’s path-breaking career and tenacious vision continue to inspire.”

    ––Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director Emeritus, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company 


    “Zelda curated an environment for growth and self-reflection, and I’m deeply grateful for that. She inspired you on your journey to find your life tools.”

    ––Mahershala Ali, Academy Award-winning actor


    To Repair the World deftly weaves together interviews with Zelda Fichandler’s own writing to provide an invigorating, nuanced, and timely look at the birth of a movement that changed the way Americans think about theater.” 

    ––Carey Perloff, former Artistic Director, American Conservatory Theater