Hana S. Sharif Makes History as First Black Artistic Director for Arena Stage


October 16, 2023

Arena Stage is making history again with its first Black artistic director!

The theater company’s previous artistic director, Molly Smith, retired this summer after spending 25 years at the Washington D.C. theater. Now, Hana S. Sharif is ready to step in, beginning with the 2023 fall season.

“Following in the great footsteps of the iconic Zelda Fichandler and the visionary Molly Smith, it is such a joy to be artistic director here at Arena Stage and something that in some ways feels manifested,” Sharif told WTOP. “I remember when I was 19 years old, saying and writing down that one day I would be artistic director of Arena Stage, so it does feel like a gift to be able to lead this company in the next phase of its life.”


She continued, “My mom said I was a bit of a dramatic child, so very early, she put me in theater.”

Sharif was born in Atlanta, Georgia, however, she spent her childhood in Houston, Texas.

“I started writing plays when I was very young,” she added. “I produced and directed by first play when I was 17. We called it ‘Black Butterfly,’ this combination of poetry, movement and monologues that I had written for my high school. … It really was this transformative, catalytic moment in my life. … It blew open my idea of what might be possible in terms of a career.”

Sharif studied at Spelman College, where she started her own production company, Nasir Productions. She then went on to graduate school at the University of Houston, which let her be able to take care of her mom, who was battling cancer.

After she finished grad school, she worked at Hartford Stage in Connecticut for almost a decade. She later moved to Boston before spending five years at Baltimore’s Center Stage. In 2018, she joined The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, becoming the first Black woman to lead a major regional theater. When she learned that Molly Smith was retiring, Sharif set her sights on her longtime dream — Arena Stage.


“There was no way that I could not throw my hat into the ring,” Sharif said. “One, Molly is truly a visionary leader for the last 25 years. She’s been at the forefront of the field. As a woman coming up in the field, she really has been an inspiration for myself and so many other female artistic directors. … It felt like the universe was calling. For me, there was something almost spiritual about the opportunity. … I feel very fortunate and excited about the future.”

Photo by Arena Stage

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