At age 4, she moved from Boston area to Washington D.C. as her father accepted a job at the National Bureau of Standards. Aged 8, she performed as Helga in Helga and the White Peacock at the Rose Robison Cowen’s Studio for Children's Theatre.
Zelda Diamond's husband, Thomas C. Fichandler (August 9, 1915 – March 16, 1997), along with Edward Mangum, a statistician and economist, was a cofounder of the Arena Stage theatre in 1950 in Washington, the city's first integrated theater, in a tiny former art-film cinema. As audiences grew, the theatre moved to "The Old Vat Theatre" which the company created in an abandoned distillery on the Potomac riverside. The Fichandlers were able to build a new theatre complex. Zelda Fichandler served as Arena's artistic director from the theatre's inception until her retirement at the end of the 1990-91 season. During that time, Arena Stage became known as one of America's premier regional theatres. Under her leadership, the Arena won the first regional Tony award in 1976, became the first American theatre to tour the USSR (1973), as well as the first regional theatre to transfer a show to Broadway.
Fichandler directed numerous plays at Arena Stage including Death of a Salesman, Uncle Vanya, A Doll's House and Six Characters in Search of an Author. Several of her Arena Stage productions toured internationally, including Inherit the Wind and The Crucible.
From 1984 until 2009 Fichandler was chair of the graduate acting program and Master Teacher of Acting and Directing at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. From 1991-94, she was artistic director of The Acting Company.
Her honors and awards include the Common Wealth Award for distinguished service in the dramatic arts (1985); the Helen Hayes Award for directing The Crucible (1988); and the National Medal of Arts in 1996. She was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1999, the first artistic leader outside of New York to be so honored. In 2002, Zelda delivered The Americans for the Arts 15th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center.
Fichandler died in her home on July 29, 2016, in Washington, D.C., due to complications from congestive heart failure. She was 91 years old.
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