Requiem for the founder of the St. Edward's University theatre program and co-founder of Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage, Edward Magnum
One of the country's true theatrical pioneers, and an important figure in local cultural history, has died. Edward Mangum, founder of the theatre program at St. Edward's University and co-founder of Washington, D.C.'s storied Arena Stage, passed away on January 10 following brain surgery. He was 87. A native of Texas -- he was born in Greenville -- Mangum struck out for the East Coast in the 1930s to study theatre at Catholic University. He did more than study as it turned out. Wandering into the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church on a December night in 1936, he found a play in progress. Intrigued, he introduced himself to the business manager of the group that was performing, and was almost immediately thereafter named its director. For 10 years, he led the Mt. Vernon Methodist Church Players, building it from a tiny amateur company performing in the church sanctuary to a company of 150 actors and technicians working in a 300-seat theatre. At the same time, Mangum was working toward a master's in theatre at Catholic, with instructors who included Department of Speech and Drama founder Gilbert V. Hartke and Walter Kerr. It was from Kerr that Mangum took the idea of basing a theatre's repertory on classic dramas, original works, and experimental forms, a format he applied with great success to the Mt. Vernon Players and to the company that was a true pioneer in the regional theatre movement and arguably Mangum's greatest legacy, Arena Stage. In 1950, Mangum joined forces with Zelda Fichandler, a student of his, during his first teaching job at George Washington University, and Thomas Fichandler, her husband, to co-found this attempt to create "a living stage" for "drama-hungry playgoers outside of the 10 blocks of Broadway." They secured an old burlesque house -- the Hippodrome Theatre at Ninth and New York -- scraped the gum off the seats, spruced up the shabby old theatre, and transformed it into a 247-seat, arena-style venue for live drama. Arena Stage opened its doors on August 16, 1950, with a production of Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, directed by Mangum. He went on to stage nine more shows of the company's 17 productions that first season, including The School for Wives, Alice in Wonderland, The Taming of the Shrew, and Of Mice and Men. He directed another five shows in the theatre's second season, but his severe arthritis prompted a doctor to recommend that he move to warmer climes, and so Mangum parted ways with the Arena, taking the directorship of a theatre in Honolulu. From there, Mangum traveled the world as both theatre professional and theatre educator, landing in Austin in the mid-Sixties and spending the final years of his career here. As fate would have it, he ended that career much as he began it: in academia, getting a theatre program off the ground. In his first job at GWU, Mangum helped develop the first degree program in theatre. At St. Ed's, Mangum did the same, establishing the school's theatre program on the principle of using guest artists working alongside students in university productions to provide the students with "direct opportunities for observation and association with working professionals." In an additional nod to his early career, Mangum co-designed the school's Mary Moody Northen Theatre, modeling it, at least in part, after the original Arena Stage. In 1979, Mangum was honored with the school's annual award from the Center for Teaching Excellence. In 1982, he retired as Minnie Stevens Piper Professor of Theatre Arts. He is survived by his wife, Maria Francisca Martinez-Mangum.