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In the belly of the beastBy Molly SmithFebruary 15, 2017

Free speech is our most valued right as Americans. Arena Stage explodes with this idea. We see it in the work on our stages, we ask it of the children in our classrooms and we expect it of our audiences. We are in a city that revolves around power and we speak truth to power. Our work can embolden others to speak out. In Washington, D.C., unlike any other American city, we are in the belly of the beast.

The whole country is awake and politically active in a way I haven’t experienced in my lifetime, making this the most exciting time to be producing plays. Arena is a theater that welcomes people from every walk of life and all political leanings. We welcome dialogue and fierce conversations because I believe that as a nation, we become stronger when all voices are heard. It is our purpose as citizens. This moment has awakened Americans to their sacred individual duty — to exercise their freedom to speak out for what each believes is right.

Right now Arena Stage is literally on fire with three political plays. I’ve had many people ask me how I was so prescient as the ideas within each play speak directly to this moment in time. Well, it is my job to see into the future, but, frankly, I thought these plays would be performing when our first female President took office. From Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court hanging in the balance, to each patriot’s question about one’s moral conscience, to a CIA operative who is outed by her government — each of these plays examines the fast-paced society we find ourselves in. And asks the question: “What will YOU do?”

Theater involves a search for truth, not the hiding of it; a critique of power, not the exercise of it; an invitation to conversation and insight, not a shutting down of dialogue. Roe articulates the passionate feelings on both sides, and this play gives both their due. On the heels of a new presidential administration, Watch on the Rhine brings forward a discussion of patriotism and what it means to be American. Intelligence asks the critical question of motives of those who hold political power, and what an individual can do — or is forced to do — to fight for justice.

Our country is continuously examining what it means to be American and the values that are important to our nation and our families. How we advocate for these values says a lot about us individually and collectively.

At Arena Stage, we commit to making art more powerfully and more provocatively than ever before. The arts have always been on the front line of fight against fear. You, our audience, drive us forward with the roars we hear each night, the provocative discussions in the lobby, the soul searching questions. Learning and understanding American stories of politics and power makes us more informed as a democracy — and can shed light on how we can come together as a nation to face personal and political adversaries. Sometimes the way we understand our lives is through stories about this moment in time, and sometimes through plays from an earlier era that underscore where we are in history.

One woman told me after opening night of Watch on the Rhine that when she got home she would not turn on CNN but would take a shot of whisky, sit and just think about the world before she fell asleep. Hopefully when she woke up, she felt energized into action. If the ideas in these plays inspire you to spark conversations with your loved ones, contact your elected representatives and become active in your community, theater has done its job. We won’t shy away from a meaningful debate about personal rights even in the midst of a heated political environment.

This is our country and we are the leaders we’ve been searching for. This is our moment.