Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to Creativists in Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.
Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.
Elizabeth: And our guest today is the inimitable Molly Smith, a renowned theater director and visionary who is stepping down after 25 years as the artistic director of Arena Stage. Years before taking the helm at Arena, she had earned an undergraduate degree in theater from Catholic University of America, and a master’s in theater from American University, both in Washington, DC. In 1979, she returned to Juneau, Alaska, where she was raised and founded Perseverance Theatre, where she was artistic director for 19 years. As artistic director of Arena Stage, her 40 directing credits include large scale musicals, new plays, and classics. She led the reinvention of Arena Stage, focusing on the architecture and creation of the Mead Center for American Theater and [00:01:00] positioning Arena as a national center for American artists through its artistic program. During her time with the company, Arena Stage has workshopped more than a hundred productions, produced 50 world premieres, staged numerous second and third productions, and been an important part of nurturing nine projects that went on to have a life in Broadway. Molly has also directed on Broadway and off Broadway and in many major theaters in the USA and Canada. The list of Molly’s honors and achievements as a Theatre director, producer, filmmaker, and national leader is very long indeed. Welcome, Molly.
Molly: Please don’t read them.
Michael: We have a couple of questions that we start our interviews with, and the first one is this: Clearly, you express yourself creatively as a theater artist, producer, filmmaker, et cetera, but are there other aspects of your life where creativity plays significant role?
Molly: Absolutely. And what a great [00:02:00] question. About a year and a half ago, because I knew I was moving into retiring, which I’m now calling “evolving.” I’m evolving.
Michael: Good word.
Molly: I began thinking about what do I wanna do? What do I wanna do? And what popped up for me is I want to go back to doing pottery. And this is something that I’d done 50 years ago when I was undergraduate at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. And so, I began going to a pottery studio. And I sat down at the wheel and started to throw, and I realized I remembered absolutely nothing from 50 years ago. So I had to learn it all over again. But what I remembered is the joy that I felt with creating with my hands. I love being able to center the clay because it’s about centering your life as well. I love being an individual artist because [00:03:00] for…my life, for over 50 years, I’ve worked with groups as a director. And now suddenly it was about me and a craft. So I have beginner’s mind as I work on pottery. I’m a definite newcomer. And I love learning the craft because it’s very much like the craft of directing. You’re, you learn how to throw, you learn the techniques, which has to do with pulling up the walls, it has to do with fire bisque, it has to do with the way in which you trim the pots, it has to do with the way in which you engage with them, the way you glaze them, the amount of time that it takes to be in the hottest kiln, which is 2000 degrees, and you usually wait about two months before you end up with a pot. Because there are so many steps in between. Very much like directing a play.
Elizabeth: Especially the [00:04:00] hottest furnace possible.
Molly: That’s exactly right, yeah.
Elizabeth: Oh, my gosh. The second question we love to ask our interviewees deals with how you understand creativity itself. There are so many different perspectives on creativity and one of our goals, which is podcast, is to extend the definition of creativity to include a wide variety of human activity. So, how do you personally view creativity or the creative act?
Molly: I think I view creativity as something innate in all of us as human beings. Sometimes it gets crushed at an early age by teachers or parents when they see a little boy doing drawings or creating things and they say, “No, you can’t do that. You have to do sports. I’m gonna put a baseball bat in your hands.” And I think when parents continue to encourage children because they’re natural artists, then there’s a potential [00:05:00] for them to have that as a life force their entire life, whether they end up as an artist or whether they end up being a banker, or whether they end up, whatever it is that they end up in, that there is this part of their life which is creative.
There’s nothing more creative than—whether it’s creating a whole meal, whether it’s creating a dinner party, whether it is creating a program where you’re gonna travel around the world, whether—creativity is what do we imagine. What do we imagine? And then how do we make it real? That’s what creativity is to me. And it can be in all forms of your life. It doesn’t need to be in painting and music and [00:06:00] dance and everything else. It can be in all ways. We are creators of our own lives.
Elizabeth: Yeah, we have a quote that we use from Frantz, the great Frantz Fanon, “In the World through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.” Which completely resonates with what you said.
Molly: Absolutely. That’s beautiful.
Michael: So, picking up on that idea of imagining, what can you imagine? Taking yourself back to your childhood, what were some of your first experiences of creativity, either as a participant or as a witness?
Molly: As a little girl, I had a little camera. It was probably like a little Brownie camera. And so, what I would do is I would take little, tiny dolls and, like, my mother’s alabaster ashtray and little things that I would make trees out of. And at some point, I realized what I was doing is I was actually staging scenes and taking photographs of them. So I think from an early time, I was a director. I was the one who used to always gather the neighborhood kids and put a play in the backyard. I remember at one point we staged a wedding, which of [00:07:00] course was my wedding because I had to be the lead. And when I rode off into the sunset with a little boy in one of my grandma’s long nightgowns. We rode off on his tricycle. So that was an early age. That was an early age. And I was always encouraged by my mother. I was a terrible student because I was only interested in reading and history.
Molly: Math, things like that, not interested. I just had this razor-sharp focus. And my mother, when she would come back from a student-teacher meeting, sweating to her waist, would sit down at the table with me, the kitchen table, and look at me and say, “When you find what you love, no one will stop you.”
Elizabeth: What a visionary statement.
Molly: What a great gift from my mother.
Molly: Who was the one actually taking the heat, because, quite frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t, not being a great student in certain areas, but I just excelled in these other areas. [00:08:00] Nobody could touch me. So I think the teachers thought I was a little off. But the truth is most artists are a little off. They’re outside—
Elizabeth: And this is in Juneau, Alaska?
Molly: No, this was in Yakima, Washington.
Molly: I grew up and was born in Yakima, Washington, and then my family moved to Alaska when I was 16. My mother was a social worker. My dad had died about five months before I was born. So she was a single mom with my sister Bridget and I. And she moved to Alaska for money and adventure and because she’d hit the glass ceiling as a social worker in Yakima, Washington and then became the head of adoptions in the whole state of Alaska.
Elizabeth: Wow. What a, it would be so amazing if there were footage of your early productions. That would be quite the cinematic, I think.
To talk a bit more about your early life, your undergraduate degree in theater was from DC’s Catholic University of America. And your MFA in [00:09:00] directing was from, is from American University, both of which are in DC. And we were talking to our old friend Ernie Joselovitz who even remembers you acting in productions at New Playwrights’ Theatre when the late Harry Bagdasian was in charge. So, can you talk a bit about how those early years in DC shaped your understanding of creativity in the theater?
Molly: Oh, absolutely. I didn’t learn very much in the university systems. American University I learned more because there were, there was the ability to work outside. And it was a young one-year master’s degree program and I wanted to work at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. And they had not had a drama therapist there for many years, so I had the pick of everybody. At that time, there were 6,000 patients there. So I was able to work with the criminally insane, I was able to work with addicts, I was able to work with chronics, people who’ve been there 30 or 40 years, and created a whole [00:10:00] huge talent show as well while I was there. See, I was always creating. And that taught me about the extremes of human nature. So there’s never anything in the rehearsal hall that surprises me. If there is, I’ll just put metaphoric mattresses on the walls and let them throw themselves against them, in and out.
So what I learned is the way in which to create my own internships. There weren’t internships at that time. I knew from the time I was 19 that I was going to start a theater in Alaska, which ended up being Perseverance Theatre. And so I was here to learn everything that I could before going back. Because I knew I would need to teach. And I also knew that as the leader of an organization, one needs to know something about every single area, because otherwise you’ll get eaten alive. [00:11:00]
So, I went to New Playwrights’ Theatre, and I said, “Please teach me how to read new plays.” And they said, “Yeah, we will, and here’s a broom and a mop, and we want you go down and clean the kitchen.” Of course, I did. But happily, they taught me how to read new plays and that’s been an obsession of mine for my entire career, from the time I was probably 22 or 23 at New Playwrights’. And then I did act in a couple productions there. I did also direct Joy Zinoman in something there.
Elizabeth: Oh, Joy was acting?
Elizabeth: Oh my gosh!
Molly: She’s a brilliant actor.
Elizabeth: Is that right?
Molly: She was a great actor.
Elizabeth: We’re gonna talk to her very shortly, so, yeah.
Molly: Do it. Do it.
And then I ended up at places like ASTA and wanted to understand how to run a box office, so, “Show me how to do that. I’ll do it for you.” As well as stage managing. I went to another theater and I said, “Teach me how to hang lights.” So I was creating my own internship, not realizing that’s what I was doing. But now, because we have a big internship program here, which is really [00:12:00] a fellows program called the Allen Lee Hughes Fellowship. I was doing the same thing.
Molly: Just innately.
Molly: So that when my former husband and I went back to Alaska with 50 used theater seats to start Perseverance Theatre, I had seven years of just focusing on everything I needed to know and understand before going back.
Elizabeth: Wow, that’s so interesting.
Michael: So let me ask you about Perseverance Theatre. You founded that in Juneau, Alaska in 1979. Your first production was entitled Pure Gold and was a compilation of stories by longtime Alaska Natives and Filipinos recalling the history of their gold rush days. Now this reminded me of a theater that I explored during my MFA days, which was Eco Theatre by a woman named Maryat Lee.
Michael: Where she went to West Virginia and she worked with, “in the holler,” she called it.
Michael: And I met with her. And just the whole process of working [00:13:00] in an oral culture. And I got the sense that you were working in an oral culture. So what was the experience like and how was doing theater in that oral culture, how does that affect the creative process?
Molly: Yeah, what was interesting about that is when I went back to Alaska, I figured it would probably start, take five years to start the theater. But I was with my sister in nature, which is where I always get my best ideas, in the fir trees, and we were taking a hike in the woods and I said, “I wanna do this, but I’m not sure what I wanna do first.” And she said, “Why don’t you look at something with older people in it?” And I said, “Oh, I don’t wanna do Gin Game or something like that.” And then we began talking and I was like, “Ooh. What if we do something about the pioneers of this area? And what if I go out and start interviewing people who were 70, 80, who [00:14:00] had, whose parents had been part of the gold rush, who’d come in to work in the mines?” There was a white banker that we spoke to as well. There was a prospector who was a white prospector and bear hunter. There were, it was a whole combination of people. And then the stories were so fantastic.
Susi Gregg Fowler put it together into reader’s theater piece with six people. And then I cast the six best storytellers to do it. All with reader’s theater so that they all had scripts in front of them because they were all older people. And when I rehearsed with them in a church social hall, as the weeks went on, I thought, “This is gonna be a total bomb. They are awful. They are awful.” And so we set up in another church, social hall, and the, I was sweating blood ‘cause I thought, “I’m gonna have to get on a plane and go back to DC.” [00:15:00] Set up 50 seats, because I wanted, like, always to feel like we had a packed audience. Audience came in and those actors, those seniors were on fire. And I realized what had happened. Which is they were bored with telling stories to me. Now they had an audience. They were able to tell their stories in such a way that it ignited the whole city. Next night we put up 75 chairs, 100 chairs, 150 chairs.
Molly: I think it eventually ran like 200 times.
Molly: It was made into a video. It toured around the state. We had rotating casts of senior citizens. Because at that time in Alaska, it was really a young state. It was people in their twenties and thirties. And they were hungry to know and understand why people came to Alaska, what they learned, why they stayed there, and why they should stay there. [00:16:00] And this was the show that told them that.
Elizabeth: Interesting. Wow. So, speaking of Alaska a bit more, as you mentioned, you were born in Washington state and your family then later moved to Juneau, which is the capital city, of course. And it is the only capital city, I understand, on the mainland of North America that cannot be accessed by road because of the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city. So, I lived in Colorado for many years before moving east, and my sense is that living inside a large natural ecosystem endows a person with the measure of humility. As a warning at the gate of Colorado’s Estes Park once said, quote, “The mountains do not care.” So, what have your own observations been and your experience of these large natural ecosystems? How has that been a navigational tool for your own creativity?
Molly: I think it has in a very big way. [00:17:00] I carry mountains inside of me because my own creativity comes from nature. It comes from being out in the natural world. And in Alaska, the majority of plays, as I went through all of the seasons, were the Greeks. And I think the Greeks are all about the gods. They’re about man. They’re about the way in which one grapples with the world. And there’s no mistake that when you are in Alaska, you feel absolutely tiny, and you also can feel huge at the same time. Because you can feel strong within that world. So when I say I carry those mouths within me, I carried them here in Washington, DC. So it wasn’t as possible to knock me down. Because I had that strength and strength all the way down into the ground, just like I’m [00:18:00] sure you did in Colorado.
But it’s a giving over to nature. And it’s being able to utilize nature at the same time. My partner, Suzanne, and I have a cabin in Alaska which we built—we didn’t actually build it, other builders built it, but we did put in the Creosote logs so we did part of it—and it sits right in an area that is on the water. It is an inlet that has a 2,500-foot depth to it. So big whales could come up in it, ferry boats, anything can come. It’s surrounded by fjords. It’s got a big salmon river there and we have about 18 grizzlies in the area. And so, we’re always surrounded by nature. And I’m really looking forward to when I evolve and have left Arena Stage, we’ll spend seven weeks there. And that will be the longest time that we’ve been able to [00:19:00] be there. And so I’m curious about what do I become next?
Elizabeth: Yeah. Elaborating on this, I’m really interested in knowing if the raw, staggering power of Alaska’s natural world prepared you for the raw, staggering power of political, military, and legal worlds in the nation’s capital.
Molly: Oh, I think it absolutely did. I also think I lived in a capital city for 25 years. It was writ small. It’s an island culture there because there are no roads in or out. You have to fly in, you have to take a boat. Washington, DC is a capital city that is surrounded by a beltway, so it’s an island culture as well. It’s the same types of people that are here that were in Alaska. It’s the strivers, it’s the people who want to make their mark. It’s the people who have something to say, who are thoughtful, who are [00:20:00] driven, very much like Washington, DC. Only, there people actually can chop their own wood and make a fire, fix an engine, fix a motorcycle, which is very different from here.
Elizabeth: It would be helpful perhaps if more people knew how to fix motorcycles. Your, the Arena’s Power series somewhat speaks to that, I think, in a very profound way.
Molly: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s the Power Play cycle. And when I was here at Arena in the beginning, I kept saying to people, “I think I’m gonna start looking at political plays because this is a very political city.” And people said, “You’re crazy. Don’t do it. Nobody will come.” I said, “First of all, I think you’re wrong. Because this is our red meat. This is what we live in.” They said, “No, nobody will go.” So as soon as we started doing plays that were political in nature, boom, the audience came. They came and they came again. [00:21:00] Because this is our world, right? This is what makes Washington, DC distinctive. And I was looking for, what is that distinctive voice in Washington, DC? We’d already reframed the work that we were going to be doing, which is American plays American ideas, American artists. So we’d already done that and put it broadly over the entire United States. And then, because we were resident in our own communities, what’s the next step from that? And with Power Plays, it’s 25 plays, starting in 1770, going all the way through the 2010s, right? And it’s one play for every decade. We’ve now produced 10 of them and we have commissions with another 14 writers. So I only have one writer left. And I’ll do that before I leave.
Elizabeth: Wow. Excellent.
Michael: Now that’s a, I love that notion of that that’s your community, this political community, [00:22:00] and that’s what DC is. Now when you were at, you were at Perseverance for 18 years.
Michael: 19 years. So in many ways it’s like raising a child, right? And then you come to Arena when it’s 48 years old, and then you’re here for, what, 25 years. Now, I, you’ve spoken about the need to acknowledge the legacy of a place, and clearly when you’re founding it, you are building the legacy. Can you speak about the, how working within the weight of a legacy sort of changes or affects the creative process in the shaping of something new?
Molly: Yeah, I think it’s really important to step into that history, to understand the history, to reflect the history, and to bring it forward. So, I describe it as coming to Arena, I ended up with a big, beautiful robe that was studded with jewels. And sometimes that robe really [00:23:00] weighted me down and I had to make sure it didn’t pull me back—and Zelda and Doug wouldn’t ever want it to be pulled back—and how I could use it to propel me forward.
I think of working at Arena as riding a tiger every day. And I grab onto the nape of its neck. Sometimes it tries to knock me off, sometimes it turns around, tries to bite me. But, and when we are in the power of what Arena is, I love it for its strength, its flexibility, its elements of danger, and its ability to be able to just run really fast. So that’s one of the things that I’ve loved about Arena.
Zelda is someone that I, when I was a student, I had a many season subscription. So I used to watch everything that she did here. I was very engaged with her ideas and the creation of the not-for-profit movement, [00:24:00] which was really 75 or 80 years ago, right? Created by three intrepid women. Two in Texas and Zelda here, of course with her husband Tom, and with Ed Mangum, who was her teacher at George Washington. She was a Russian scholar. And so, I always watched what she had done here and the way in which she formed seasons and her thinking process behind it. We were different because I was not as interested in a company as she was, although I had a company for a period of time in Alaska. But I would always watch her from afar.
And then when Doug became the artistic director, I’d watch him from afar too, and looked at what he was doing with the American musical and what he was doing in terms of new plays. Because before that time, for 40 years, Arena did very few new plays. And there’s The Great White Hope, right? There, there are other new plays that they did, but it [00:25:00] was really more about the Eastern Europeans. It was really more about the big classics, like Chekhov and Ibsen, that was their métier because it was a company of actors and that was her passion. And then Doug came in and started really starting to reflect the American musical.
And so when I came in and it was all about American work, the American musical is central. It’s seminal to what we do. It’s our art form. Nobody else created it, we created it. And I knew that was gonna be something very important in the life force of the organization. But I hated the American musical. I thought it was not a serious art form. I didn’t do the American musical in Alaska, although I had other people do it. But I couldn’t deny what was happening in audiences. And people kept encouraging me to do it. My partner Suzanne did, Gilbert and Jaylee Mead, did Mark Shugoll did. And finally I [00:26:00] just thought, “Okay, I’m gonna bite the bullet.” And my first big musical was South Pacific. And I woke up after the first morning of directing and I said to Suzanne, “I was born to direct musicals.” And then nobody could stop me, and I have amassed the reinvention of a lot of great pieces of musical theater.
Because of that, because I have this reinvention mind, I’m a builder as an artistic director, I build things. I like to build things, I like to make, whether it’s big buildings like Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, or whether it’s building a program like the Power Play series. And I think that’s one reason why I made the decision to evolve and retire is I’ve completed just about everything I wanted to complete.
Michael: So what did you discover about the American musical that made you suddenly fall in love with it?
Molly: It’s totally subversive. It’s the most [00:27:00] subversive art form that we have. You can do a song like “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which is about racism, and it ticks into people’s brains and they’re tapping their fingers and they’re listening. Whereas normally if they were hearing that in a theater, their brains would be running in the other direction. They wouldn’t wanna hear. But because of the way music works on our psyches, because of the way that it works internally on our souls, we can take in a breadth of information in an entirely different way than we do on a straight play.
In London, they did a whole test where they had heart monitors on everybody in the theater and they found that midway through a production, everybody’s heartbeat was exactly the same. So you were able to do that with an audience. And audiences go out of musicals, ‘cause [00:28:00] musicals normally are ultimately about love in one way or another, and they feel differently.
And I also loved the form because it’s music, dance, and theater. And because you can invent and reinterpret the American musical in many different ways. And so that was something that I was hungry for.
Elizabeth: I wanna expand upon this discussion of theater as an art form. You have said eloquently that, quote, “Theater gets created between the actor and the audience. There’s a space in between us where the play gets created every night and it has to do with the ideas, the thoughts, the memories that come from the audience to the actor and vice versa.” I’m reminded of just such a moment, for example, at a production of Arena’s Miracle Worker years ago when we brought our then five-year-old son and our good friends the Kinlows [MM1] brought their four-year-old son Eugene. In [00:29:00] that moment in the play where Anne Sullivan helps the blind and deaf Helen Keller connect the tactile symbol for water to the water running through her hands and she says, “Wawa.” And these little boys who were just at the cusp of literacy themselves were just riveted. They were leaning forward in their seats. It was just an extraordinary moment. Just such a great example of what you’ve talked about. You have had doubtless countless moments like that when an audience is just electrified. Can you share another example with us?
Molly: Oh, sure. The first person who spoke to me about that, about this idea of what’s created between the audience and the actors is the great playwright Paula Vogel, who really observed that in things like How I Learned to Drive, which we commissioned in Alaska at Perseverance. And it’s…what’s the kind of listening that happens in an audience where an audience is completely quiet [00:30:00] and you can see that the audience is creating their own visual life for what they’re hearing, from their own lives. And we would hope that what we are doing in the theater is branding people so that when somebody wakes up in the middle of the night and they’re having an argument with their husband or their wife, one of the plays may pop into the frame. “Just like what happened here. Just like what happened here.” Because theater opens us up to having some of the hard conversations because it’s something that we have shared together. So in a sense, it’s the creation that happens in between the actor and the audience and what the audience takes out into their own lives when it’s something that has impacted them. So that’s how it spins out, I think.
Michael: Because you, you’re already talking about this intimate experience, the intimate relationship between the audience and the actors of a play. When you’re, and you’ve worked a lot with new plays, so how do you gauge [00:31:00] the potential of a new play for creating those kinds of moments? Or is there any way to gauge that?
Molly: With new work, the first thing that I look for, is this a story that hasn’t been told yet? Or is this the best of its class? And that’s how we look at season planning as well. And in reading new work, the first thing that I will look at, is this an unusual voice? Is this a voice I haven’t heard before? How does this play look on the page? What is it doing rhythmically? What are the ideas in it? Of course, what’s the core storytelling as well? But those are things that will keep me going after the first 10 or 20 pages. If that isn’t there, I let it go. I let it go.
So, we’ve commissioned some absolutely wonderful writers here. Great example is Exclusion, which is happening at Arena right now, Ken Lin, which is about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1822. [00:32:00] And he’s brought it forward into this moment in time. So it’s also about, what does Hollywood do with the individual voice? And he is done it all through satire and humor and then a gut punch as well. He’s a remarkable writer. And I got to know Ken, 22, 23, 24 years ago. He was one of the first writers that we brought in. So it’s thrilling to really watch his trajectory. So I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s the way that I look at new work.
Michael: Sure. And then, continuing just with new work, I, you talked about like with musicals that there, the stories are somewhat, are simple enough to be almost disarming of people’s comfort zone so that they’re willing to listen to things that maybe in a more serious drama, they would just shut down, that maybe fulfill all the criteria you just talked about. That’s gonna push the audience too into discomfort, [00:33:00] or have you?
Molly: I think that theater is about discomfort.
Michael: Right, but—
Molly: I think the theater is about allowing people to be off kilter. Someone said the other day that being in a theater seat is the most dangerous place in the world. And I think that’s true in many ways. Because as artists, our job is really to push the edge and push the edge of comfort and safety, right? It’s also to bring people in, to refresh them, to entertain them, all those other things. But part of our purpose is really that. We’re doctors of the soul. And as artists, what we need to be able to do is to take in the world. That’s why when you see Mead Center for American Theater, it’s all glass walls. We’re always reminded of who we’re making theater for. And that’s why I read the newspaper all the [00:34:00] time, that’s why I listen to news shows all the time, that’s why I have conversations with people. To be able to synthesize what’s happening in the world and what will happen in the world a year or two from now, to be able to make choices on season selections. We need to be able to reflect back to the world, what’s happening, and to remind people of it and open their eyes to it in one form or another. And that’s what I think our purpose is.
Elizabeth: I wanna speak a little bit more about how as one of the theater community’s, the theater world’s most accomplished artists, truly, your artistic career seems to have been nourished and sustained by synergistic friendships with other trailblazing theater artists and collaborators and practitioners across many fields. [00:35:00] You’ve mentioned your long friendship in collaboration with the playwright Paula Vogel and you’ve also worked with Tim Acito and Moisés Kaufman, Charles Randolph-Wright, and Sarah Ruhl, and many others including dancer and choreographer, Maurice Hines and others. Could you talk a bit about the role that such discourse and exchange plays in your creative process? Can you tell us more about the synergy you draw from this, these kinds of collaborations, or if there are guiding questions or organizing principles that anchor your collaborations?
Molly: Putting the artist at the center of every theater is the most important work we can do. People will try and fool you to believe it’s about the business or it’s about what we eat up on the cafe, or it’s about this, or it’s about that. It is not. So if you put the artist at the center, that means one of your most important roles is the care and feeding of artists.
Most artists are itinerant, right? They’re traveling from place to place. So what’s the kind of care that we [00:36:00] take with artists to do their best work? We know if they’re coming someplace like Arena, that they have a high degree of excellence, a high degree of drive. And when they come into this building, I ask people to hit the roof, which means it’s 65 feet high. This whole building was created for American artists. And so what are you gonna do about it? How are you gonna do your best work? And so that level of driving people, asking the right questions, comforting them—I’ve got a fainting couch in my office and I often will have playwrights or artists come in and throw themselves down on it, tell me about what they’re thinking about or what they’re afraid of, and we unpack it, look at it, and then find other options for them.
For me, as an artistic director, the kind of work that I do in the rehearsal hall on somebody else’s work [00:37:00] is to help them get to their best work. So I don’t go in and give notes about how I would direct a particular production, it’s notes on what they’re already doing and how to get it to that next level. I think that’s really important, and I think that’s why it’s massively important for people who are artistic directors to be directors themselves. Because otherwise you can’t help them get to the best ideas that they have.
The other thing that’s really important to me is community engagement, which we have a really fertile community engagement program here. We reach out to around 20,000 young people a year. They are the theater makers and the audiences of the future. And it’s really important through improvisation classes, through classes that we have that is around devised work to encourage [00:38:00] them in that really important question you asked in the beginning, which has to do with creativity, right. How do we help support being people being creative? The school system isn’t able to do it as much anymore. All of their arts money, as we all know in this room, have all been cut off, right? And so, it’s up to the theaters and the museums and the orchestras to really bring in that kind of programming. And that’s part of what we do. That’s what makes this a 501c3 is we’re an educational entity.
Elizabeth: I wanna elaborate a little bit about your artistic leadership that you were talking about. We have read that you delegate full creative control to your directors, which must be an experience of incredible freedom and empowerment for them. So, what fuels your creative faith and trust in directors? Are they a part of, whether these directors are part of Arena’s core creative team, or they’re guests from other [00:39:00] theatrical orbits. So could you speak a bit more about this aspect of your artistic philosophy?
Molly: Oh, absolutely. I think one needs to cede that control to whoever it is that is the director of a project They’re inside in a way that I could never be inside it. They’ve already been researching it for a year or more, right? They’ve already brought who they’re really interested in as their designers, the actors. I have final say over actors, designers that they wanna bring into the process. That’s important to me because they’re sometimes when I’ll say, “I don’t think you wanna work with that person.” Or, “Oh, that is not somebody we’re gonna bring into Arena.” However, once they’re in the rehearsal hall and once they’re going, then my purpose is to help support them. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had projects that I’ve had to end in the middle of rehearsal where this is not what I call in the bracket. [00:40:00] I have a bracket. You have to be at least in the low part of the bracket where the fire engines come in and I’m leading the fire engine. And that means that sometimes we’ve had to let projects go. And sometimes we’ve had to let projects go or actors go or designers go as we’re moving into tech. It has happened.
Michael: That must be painful.
Molly: So to say that, to say that I totally cede control is not really true.
Elizabeth: Not really, yeah.
Molly: It’s not really true. And I’m watchful. I’ll go into the rehearsal hall midway through rehearsal period as they’re in final design run, as they’re in tech, mostly when they’re in previews as well. But if there’s a project that’s in really good shape, I’m much less there. I’m much less there. So, it all depends. That’s really your job as artistic director. Excellence. If you’re not getting to excellence, what are we doing?
Elizabeth: Good point.
Michael: So, just focusing just on you as a director now. And [00:41:00] I’m, as a director myself, I’ve always been fascinated by the creation of the environment that is gonna be best for nurturing the artists’ creativity.
Michael: If you could speak to your own process about creating that environment that is gonna work best for this group of actors. I’ve worked with actors on various levels and sometimes the environment needs to be somewhat different for different groups of actors.
Molly: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so cool.
Yes, when I was a director in training, I went out and, in much the same way that I created my own internship, I went out and watched great directors work. So I would call a director, or I would find out about a directing program and go in and watch everybody from Garland Wright to Lee Brewer, I called Robert Wilson at one point and watched him for a week, and watched the way in which they work. [00:42:00] Ariane Mnouchkine, over in France, watching her work. All very, very important to me because, directors, it’s actually a lonely career. And you’re not usually with other collaborators in the room, right? You’re with the actors, but you’re not with those collaborators who are watching your work and giving you advice as you go.
And so there were certain things that I learned from different people. One is I realized, oh, if I want people to be creative, I need to create a rehearsal hall that is all about that. So usually early on I’ll do a series of very different kinds of exercises. Sometimes I’ll do one, sometimes I’ll do another. But one might be mapping out the whole world of the play. So getting everybody up on their feet and having them move in this space depending on which part of the country they were born in. And then they have conversations about it. Or doing an age line [00:43:00] and finding out how does it feel to be the age that you are. And then doing an age line about the play and then doing something that has to do with, you were born as a middle child, you were born as an older child, you were born as a younger child, you were born as an only child. Go into groups around that. Now do the same thing around the character. So you start to build a community within your world. And, of course, you’re giving them lots of information about the world of the play as well, and they’re reading actor packets at the same time.
Then we’re around the table and I spend at least three days around the table, which for many people, they get up on stage right away. I think that’s crazy because you could answer so many questions around the table that you’d never be able to answer out here, but I don’t answer those questions for them. Around the table you could ask anybody any question that you want as long as it’s not a leading question. So the actor then is able to answer what they’re thinking [00:44:00] and I start to see where their head is, what kind of personality they have, how bright they are, what they’re driven by, what they’re really curious about.
And then at the end of the first week of rehearsal, I do an improvisation. So, say for example, they would need to do an improvisation that has a moon in it, a piece of music that they could either sing or play, a critical turning point in that character’s life, a clear beginning, middle, and an end, and one prop. And they have to do it alone. They each do a three-minute improvisation in front of the entire cast. And then the cast doesn’t criticize them. The cast feeds back to them what they have just seen. And that person has to sit there and listen to all of it. So what that does is it breaks down a system of this is the chorus, this is the [00:45:00] lead, this is the—I don’t think in that way, I think in the way of an ensemble. Because you’re only as strong as your weakest member. And what happens then for people who may be playing larger roles is they’ll see somebody who normally only has one or two lines, they’re up there doing a whole three-minute improvisation and God are they creative. Now, there are also things that I will steal from that that I’ll use in the design of the production as well. We’ll be in the middle of staging, and I stage improvisationally through the actor, I’ll say, “Remember that moment when you did this particular kind of a tap dance? I want to see that now. Let’s try that now.” So what it does is it allows people to understand what the collaborative process is in real time. It isn’t just something that you talk about, we’re collaborative, we’re this, we’re that. You actually have to do it through action, which is very much what theater’s about. You do it through action. [00:46:00]
Elizabeth: I wanna expand a bit on this whole collaborative process. Something I’m fascinated with is the visual design. Kind of riffing on their early childhood experience of creating stage pictures back with your little dolls and the shells and things, Arena has long been known for its stunning and often mind-blowingly and innovative production values. Like those in The Blood Quilt byKatori Hall, I’ve seen productions here that had production values that just gave you chills. Can you talk a bit about your collaboration with designers? And in the genesis of your artistic and aesthetic concept for play, when do visual representations come to mind? How does that look?
Molly: Visual representations are immediate. As soon as you read a play, you immediately are starting to visualize what it is, visualize it with the actors, visualizing it with the world of it.
And then, [00:47:00] I’m a great museum goer. I think that as directors, that’s super important. And I also love film. And so, when I start to work with designers, I’ll often talk to them about how, “Ooh, really interested in Rothko for this.” And, “Let’s take a look at some of this.” And we may look at the color. We may look at the, at the swoops of design that he did. Or I might look at Winslow Homer, or I might look at Hopper, and bring those in. And that then triggers the imagination of the designers, whether it has to do with costume design or set design or lighting design, and then they’ll riff on that. They’ll take that into other directions because of course that’s their creative work.
So I’m not narrow about that. If somebody wants to move in a different direction, if it works for the play, it’s whatever works, right? Whatever [00:48:00] works. And we have the best shops in the country here at Arena Stage. We have many people who’ve been here for 25, 35, 40 years. They can create anything. They can create anything. So that’s the kind of creativity that you see. Because designers want to work here because their dreams on paper can be manifest on stage, and that’s rare. A lot of other places, can’t happen. A lot of other places don’t actually put the resources behind it. We do.
Elizabeth: Must be a thrilling experience for your designers. To have that possibility and that kind of conceptual process.
Molly: It’s the best. And the, these shops are so exquisite, we’ll be in the middle of tech rehearsal, and I’ll ask for something. I’ll ask for a new or different prop. I’ll ask for something to be changed on a costume, within two hours it’s done. And they’ll bring it in.
Elizabeth: And am I understanding it correctly that your shops are [00:49:00] still here? They’re in this large complex, they’re all in the same, under the same roof.
Molly: That’s very much what I wanted.
So, before we came here, we were spread out. We had community engagement downtown on T Street. We had our rehearsal hall across the street in a parking garage, basically, where we would suck gas on our way into a concrete bunker with no windows.
So, when I spoke to Bing Thom, who was a brilliant architect, I said, “I want light in as many areas of the theater as we can get it. I want everything under one roof. It all has to be under one roof.” Because I believe what happens is there’s a synergy that happens between different departments when you can walk down the hall and see somebody and say, “What are you thinking about this?” Or “I had this idea about this.” Or a director could go from the rehearsal hall upstairs and could go down [00:50:00] to the set shop and see what was being built and say, “Ooh, that’s not what I was really thinking about. We have to call the designer.” And you can stop problems much more quickly.
And we also had our technical staff be part of the design process with the 50 or 60 different architects that we were working with to really talk about adjacencies. And that has to do with your rehearsal hall is on one level, right behind, under that level is the costume shop. Right under that are is where the theaters are. I would never wanna be at a theater where all the shops are outside, 10 miles away. What is that about? What is that about in time, energy? We’re always having to cart people then. In cars, get in traffic, they’re in a whole other world, then they come back—I mean it, having it all in a really compact way has [00:51:00] meant that we have this combination in this center of beauty and usefulness, those two things. And if it wasn’t useful and efficient, it went out.
Elizabeth: Riffing on this synergy that you are talking about, theater, as everyone knows, is the most collaborative of artistic forms and it relies, as you talked about, on so many different individuals from the artistic staff and the crew and the stage management and the front of house and admin and development and finance, et cetera, et cetera. And one of the core values linked with this collaboration is the ethical obligation each participant has to the whole process. You can’t simply willy-nilly disengage and derail this larger creation, whether it’s at Arena Stage or a much smaller theater. So reliability is a foundational principle to a life in the theater. And that doesn’t seem to be true in all sectors of society. So can you speak about this intersection [00:52:00] of reliability and creativity?
Molly: Oh, that probably has to do with “the show must go on.” Don’t you think?
Elizabeth: That principle, yeah.
Molly: I mean that, that principle, and then we had this moment where the show didn’t go on with the pandemic. So I think we’re back in the period of rebuilding that muscle. Because there’s been so much change that’s happened in the theater, in all the theaters, in the last two or three years that I believe we’re in the middle of a second revolution. The first one was for not-for-profit theaters. Really moving away from for-profit theaters and saying we could have great theaters resident in our own communities. And now we’re in the middle of something where it is enormous change, where everything in the country is going up and down. We’re like on a big roller coaster, right? And I think it’s a [00:53:00] revolution. It’s a revolution around how people work in the theater, how many hours they work, pay scales. We see what American theater, how you examine value, what’s valued by people, the way in which people talk to each other in the rehearsal hall or in senior staffs, or how, how we work. Now, what’s interesting to me is it’s not actually about the art form, it’s really about working conditions. It’s really about, how do we work with the outside world? And that’s ongoing. And I think it’s gonna take about 10 years to get through that. So it’s revolution.
Michael: One of many taking place currently.
Molly: That’s right.
Michael: Now, going back to the space and your, the creation of the new Arena Stage. I mean I’m, I’ve always been fascinated, and I wrote a dissertation on it, about how theater plays out in the public sphere and its larger discourse. So [00:54:00] that even people who don’t go to the theater, how they experience the theater.
And so I, I still remember the first time I saw the new space. I think I was walking down from the Safeway, and I was like, “Wow, a spaceship has landed and I’m about enter that spaceship.” And I still remember that. It was visceral experience. And so I would just love for you to talk about the process that you went through working with, you said 50 architects and, yeah, and I understand getting the whole community under one roof, and that’s more internal, but the, just the external artistic expression that is the building. How did that branding process, what were the, what was the process of creating that Arena and that expression?
Molly: I think under one roof is actually central. If you were to look at this building, there’s a 450-foot flying roof over top of these glass walls all the way around the three theaters, [00:55:00] because we knew we wanted to keep the two historic theaters, which is The Fichandler that was built in 1960, the Kreeger that was built in 1970—and that was Harry Weiss, who actually also created our metro. They were his first theaters. And they’re iconic theaters, they’re really important theaters.
So for the third theater, we wanted a different shape. The Kreeger is a modified fan shape. The Fichandler is a theater in the rectangle, really. It’s a theater in the round, but it’s in a rectangle. And so, the way in which I kept describing it to Bing Thom, is, “It’s like this.” And I would hold out the cup of my hand. And he said at one point, “It’s an oval.” And I said, “Yeah, because it’s for wew American work and it is really to reinvent the classics and it’s for all of our programming with young people. [00:56:00] So it needs to be something that, that envelops them.” And so then he came up with this gorgeous shape, which is the Kogod Cradle. Walking into it, it’s a spiral, which is like a Richard Serra sculpture. And it is the only proscenium at Arena. It’s the only proscenium. It’s the smallest space. Okay, how quirky and interesting is that?
The other thing that was really important to me, and I think the board and the staff, is we wanted to have shared community spaces. Before that time, if you were to walk out of the Kreeger or the Fichandler, you would end up, as you all remember, in a parking lot! Right? So you would never see somebody if a friend of yours was going to the Kreeger and you were going to the Arena, you wouldn’t see them. But we wanted a place where all three theaters could converge and that’s the grand lobby.
We also wanted this whole idea of everything under one roof. [00:57:00] We’ve got two light-filled rehearsal halls, moved the shops from the basement because I wanted them to have natural light, and they’re the people who live the longest at Arena Stage, moved them all up. So everything, every single shop, has natural light now. And put admin down. And people were very afraid that they wouldn’t have enough natural light there. They have so much natural light that now they almost have to wear sunglasses. That was part of the idea.
And the idea came from Bing Thom reading our mission statement that has in it, “deep and dangerous in the American spirit.” And he said he designed from that. What could be more dangerous than all these glass walls? All these glass walls that undulated when there was an earthquake here 10 years ago. I was in my office and, being from Alaska, they were dancing. And I ran around the building afterwards to see where we [00:58:00] had breakage or anything else. Nothing. Had the people come in and look at the building, nothing. I called Bing Thom immediately I said, oh my God, “Did you build this to a withstand an earthquake?” And he said, “No, but I built it to a withstand a hurricane.” And so it actually moves four inches in both directions. It, he’s one of the great sculptural architects. As you move through the building, everything is at a four-degree tilt in either direction, which is part of what makes it feel very human, like even our glass is.
Molly: That helps in terms of sunlight coming in because it’s at this slight torque. There are 18 of these big pillars surrounding us, but they don’t actually hold up the building, but they balance the building. And if you look, you’ll see a big steel piece that’s like a ballet slipper [00:59:00] on pointe, and the whole building moves with that. So it’s like a big ship because Arena’s the mothership.
Michael: So my initial experience was the right one.
Molly: Your initial experience was right. Yes. It’s the mothership.
Elizabeth: One of the other things that I wanted to ask you about in, in your final Molly Salon, you had a conversation with your colleague Jocelyn Clarke, who’s the dramaturge and program facilitator at Arena and really extraordinary artist in his own right. And among the cogent remarks he said was that most people think of artists as, quote, “frivolous people.” Which made me laugh at one point, but it’s a truly demoralizing observation and I won—I certainly, no one could ever think of Molly Smith as a frivolous person, a human being. So, can you talk a bit about why you think people consider artists frivolous, and how can artists disabuse their friends and families and the general [01:00:00] public of this notion?
Molly: Listen, it’s a heartbreaking idea. It’s a trope. It’s a trope. I run into it with board members, I run into it with staff members, I run into it with audience members. We have to quote, “control” the artists because they’re gonna go out and spend money all the time. It’s not true at all. Most artists I know are turning over every dollar one time, two times, three times. That’s the way they work. Artists are the great savers of things that have been used before. If you were here at Arena, could go into some of our warehouses. We have 73 years of costumes. We have costume pieces, we have big rooms that are just full of hats, we have big rooms that are full of shoes. We use these things over and over again. That’s part of our purpose is we repurpose.
Molly: We repurpose everything. And [01:01:00] I think it’s harmful. I think this idea of artists being frivolous creatures is harmful and I think disabusing people of it at any opportunity is something that artists need to do, you know and just give clear examples of where that hasn’t been true and clear examples of where executive directors or managing directors have been frivolous with money. And so you actually have to look at all sides of the coin. Because otherwise people continue that. And they continue it because they get together in little groups and they begin thinking that. It’s groupthink. And it’s why people don’t encourage their children to become artists.
Elizabeth: Good point.
Molly: Because they think, “Oh my God, how are they gonna make a living? Oh my God, what are they gonna do?” Let’s talk about what would happen if the arts were not here. Take all your paintings down, take all your [01:02:00] photographs down, take all the rugs up, take all the design of your beautiful jewelry off. Stop thinking when you turn on the radio that you’re gonna have music, you’re not gonna have music, you’re gonna have talk radio. When you really imagine a world without art, where’s the joy in being alive?
Elizabeth: Yeah, good point.
Michael: So, combining that with the, your earlier, sort of, discussion of your riding the tiger, which is anything but frivolous. People that ride tigers can’t be frivolous, they’d get eaten. If you could speak to the—riding a tiger for 25 years, it sounds utterly exhausting, but you don’t need to speak to that—but what is the effect of that intensity? ‘Cause clearly it conveys the intensity of the whole journey, but what is the effect of that intensity on the creative process? Obviously, it’s like any kind of stress, it can be negative, but then ultimately it can be invigorating. Could you maybe just speak to that a little bit?
Molly: Yeah, I think I’ve made friends with that intensity. [01:03:00] I’m an intense person myself and I knew when I came to take on this job that it would be intense following in Zelda and Doug’s footsteps, right? And I knew that Arena is a tiger. So in order to be with the tiger, one also needs to make friends with the tiger. So sometimes I take little thorns out of the tiger’s ass. It’s a relationship. It’s a relationship.
And I think the saddest part for me in leaving Arena is leaving the incredible people here, the people that I’ve worked with for so many years, the people that I’ve formed friendships with. And I’m leaving my tiger here for Hana Sharif for when she comes in. It’s waiting for her.
Michael: Oh no. Just let her know where it is.
Molly: It’s waiting for it her in the best way because there’s power in it.
Molly: She’ll make friends with it. [01:04:00] She’ll figure it out. She’ll figure out how to ride it.
Elizabeth: To, to riff a bit more on this riding a tiger. Obviously, working in the theater industry is just extraordinarily intense and, as you mentioned, the maxim of “the show must go on,” et cetera, et cetera. So I don’t think anybody in the theater world would disagree that the pace and intensity of theater is extremely hard or challenging to a person’s home life and relationships, et cetera. And you mentioned that there’s a bit of pushback coming now out of the pandemic among the ranks of theater makers to slow down the theatrical process and engender more work-life balance. Do you have any, sort of, departing thoughts about that?
Molly: Yeah, I think that there are ways to be able to slow down some of the things that you’re doing. And I fear that’s gonna be on the backs of artists. It won’t be on the backs of administrators. That makes me nervous. That makes me nervous for the future. That, what is that going to mean? Are we [01:05:00] gonna be doing fewer productions in the world of theater? We’re already seeing it quite a bit. Is that a good thing? That may be a good thing. It may be something that’s more thoughtful.
But if you’re doing fewer productions, you’re having fewer audiences and it’s the audiences that fill the seats, that fill the coffers of the organization. So how do we not just maintain, but how do we grow audiences? And this has been a question for a long time. Ticket prices are astronomical. How do we do things that bring people in a whole different way? We have a program called Pay-Your-Age, which we’ve been doing for a number of years, and now we are really advertising it. And for certain productions like Ride the Cyclone, it’s been a huge boom to that production for young people to come in.
But we need to keep finding ways to democratize the theater. Because the, it’s paying for too large of a [01:06:00] percentage of the theater. Contributed needs to be paying for more. You know, at Arena before the pandemic, 75% of what we lived on came from earned income.
Molly: Only 25% came from contributed. Now, since the pandemic, that’s a different story. I don’t know what we’re at now. We’re probably at 60-40 or maybe even 50-50. I think it’s better to be at, like, at least 60-40 because then you can knock down your ticket prices more. And also offer more ways for people to be able to see the productions.
Michael: Now, Elizabeth’s already mentioned the Fanon quote, “In the World to which I travel, I’m endlessly creating myself,” and that act of becoming, that act of creating, for me, expresses the essential need for creativity in each individual life. As a way of concluding our interviews, can you speak to the role creativity has had in the creation of your [01:07:00] life and of a healthy life in general?
Molly: Yeah. It’s interesting now because after I retire, I will evolve, and we’re going on a four-month trip. Before I came to Arena, we went around the world twice.
Molly: Got round the world passes. They’re an amazingly cheap deal where you have to make decisions about all the places that you wanna fly. You have to go all in one direction. So you have a packet of tickets that you carry with you, right? You just go from country to country. You have to do it I think within a six-month period of time. We took three months each time.
And what I’ve hungered for in this job at Arena is an ability to do some of that deep travel that I did before. Because I’m always able to see my life and the world more clearly from afar. Right? If I see it from afar, it’s a little bit like [01:08:00] seeing the theater piece in the place in between the actor and the audience. I see my life from afar when I’m in Greece, right? I see it there in a whole different way. It’s when I was traveling in Europe that I decided to start a theater at 19, ‘cause I could see my life clearly. So now for that four-month period of time, I bet I will start to move into what’s next for me. Because I’m not making any decisions about that. What do I move into? Do I move into something that’s more political? Do I move into film? Do I move, do I do more theater? Do I do—what am I gonna do? Do I write more? What’s that next step for me? And that’s a solo journey. That’s a solo journey. As the creation of all of our lives are, right. It’s created in community, and it’s created with one’s family and one’s friends. But it needs to be something that you’re figuring out yourself. [01:09:00] Otherwise it isn’t true.
Elizabeth: One of the last questions that we love to ask our interviewees is what practical advice you would give to listeners on how to nurture and sustain your own creativity. So, you’ve spoken about many of your practices and creative practices, are there other concrete practices or habits you’d recommend people take?
Molly: Yeah, one thing I did for years is morning pages. And so I would write three pages every day. It was just brain runoff. I didn’t go back to it, I dumped it every time. It could just be scribbles, it could be things that I was sinking, things that I was dreaming about. And that’s part of what moved me into film many years ago. So I would highly recommend it because in a sense it gets rid of all the stuff in there, and then you start to get down into the gold that’s going on. So I would say morning pages.
The second thing is lean into the conflict. [01:10:00]
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Molly: Don’t be afraid of it. Because the conflict is often where there’s a way through. Because we don’t actually end up trusting anyone unless we risk with them. Right? There’s risk and then you move into trust. People keep saying, “Trust me.” Nobody’s gonna trust you until you’ve had an experience together where you have come out of it somehow. And it’s been a difficult experience. So don’t be afraid of that. Not being afraid of controversy, ‘cause it helps form us as human beings.
And find ways to follow your own path. Follow your own star.
Elizabeth: Oh, this has been an amazing interview. Oh my gosh, Molly Smith, thank you so much, so very much for so generously sharing your time and expertise with Creativists in Dialogue. It’s been just a delight.
Michael: Thank you.
Molly: It’s been fun to talk to you about it. Great questions. [01:11:00] Really an amazing series and I congratulate you for your creativity in coming up with it and actually doing it.
Elizabeth: I should put in that we, we have a small grant from Humanities DC to do a deep dive into theater, community-embedded theater in Washington DC from about 1970 to about 2010. So, this will be a wonderful discussion element that we can include in that series, so thank you again.
Molly: I love it. Thank you.
Elizabeth: Tremendous thanks to all our listeners. To those of you who are free subscribers, please consider becoming paid subscribers so that Creativists in Dialogue can continue bringing you insightful conversations about creativity from Washington, DC and beyond. Thanks.
Special shout out to Creativists in Dialogue’s production team: Audio engineer Elliot Lanes, social media manager Erinn Dumas of Dumas83, and transcription editor Morgan Musselman. Thank you all.
For more information about Creativists in Dialogue, please visit creativists.substack.com or our Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn pages. To learn more about our other projects, please visit elizabethbrucedc.com or rmichaeloliver.com. This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and subscribers like you. Thanks.