Washington, DC’s Arena Stage was the first professional regional theatre in the nation’s capital to welcome a racially integrated audience; the first to perform behind the Iron Curtain; and the first to win the Tony Award for best regional theatre. This behind-the-scenes look at one of the leading theatres in the United States shows how key financial and artistic decisions were made, using a range of archival materials such as letters and photographs as well as interviews with artists and administrators. Close-ups of major productions from The Great White Hope to Oklahoma! illustrate how Arena Stage navigated cultural trends.
More than a chronicle, America in the Round is a critical history that reveals how far the theatre could go with its budget and racially liberal politics, and how Arena both disputed and duplicated systems of power. With an innovative “in the round” approach, the narrative simulates sitting in different parts of the arena space to see the theatre through different lenses—economics, racial dynamics, and American identity.
“There are certain things that are sufficiently obvious and necessary that you wonder how the world managed to get by without them. The wheel is one such example. . . . Donatella Galella’s America in the Round just might be the ‘wheel’ that American theatre history and criticism has needed all along. . . . In focusing on Arena Stage, a highly recognizable and influential regional theatre located in the United States’ capital, Galella gifts her reader with the opportunity to rethink the American theatrical landscape anew.”—Theatre Journal
“America in the Round has little to no competition in terms of its historical, political, economic, racial, and cultural reach in capturing the zeitgeist of Arena Stage from its beginnings in 1950 to its current mega status. This well documented research—told from the perspective of a former employee of Arena—accords this bustling, state-of-the-art regional theatre the serious and sustained attention that its long and distinguished record commands.”—Sandra G. Shannon, Howard University
“Providing a close and nuanced reading of both the developmental history and identity negotiations of one of our nation’s most successful and celebrated theatres, Galella deftly offers a ‘real-life’ (and still current) case study from which theatre practitioners, administrators, and scholars can learn as we continue to define, activate, and fortify the potential within America’s regional theatres.”—Faedra Chatard Carpenter, author, Coloring Whiteness: Acts of Critique in Black Performance
"America in the Round is a unique scholarly project, deftly researched, analysed and written by Donatella Galella. [The book] is filled with clearly articulated scholarly framing and a depth and breadth of knowledge about a single (and singular) regional theatre. By the time the reader reaches the (very satisfying) conclusion of the book, Galella has delivered on every promise that she makes in her introduction. Her rigorous critical analysis and bold interrogation of Arena Stage’s history is done without hesitation but also with great respect. Galella argues that, because of the company’s unique standing amongst its peers, it deserves our attention. I would say the very same thing about this innovative book.”—Studies in Musical Theatre
2020 Barnard Hewitt Award, honorable mention