Actress Tana Hicken Celebrated and Remembered

Linda Levy


Monday, September 29 at Studio Theatre

Washington, DC – On August 17, the professional theatre community lost one of its brightest lights – actress Tana Hicken. Her life, her love, and her legacy will be celebrated on Monday, September 29 at 7:00 p.m. at Studio Theatre. Included will be appearances by many of Hicken’s colleagues, including actors Henry Strozier, Phillip Goodwin, and Holly Twyford, and directors Joy Zinoman and Donald Hicken. Each will share their memories and appreciation for an unparalleled artist who helped shape the future of the American theatre during one of its most exciting periods of growth and innovation.

To RSVP for the event, please click here.

A consummate actress, activist, wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and teacher, Hicken touched the lives of millions in the course of her 70 years. During a long and acclaimed stage career, she illuminated the human experience for hundreds of thousands of audience members in 153 productions, with some of her most memorable performances occurring just last year. In the greenrooms and hallways of lucky theatres, she influenced thousands of artists and students. Away from the theatre, she impacted the lives of countless individuals as she crusaded for those less fortunate than she.

Hicken was born on June 27, 1944 in Gadsden, Alabama at the conclusion of World War II and the beginning of a new chapter of political activism. Her parents were proud socialists who endowed her with convictions that would last a lifetime. After attending Antioch College, sure of her path, she embarked on what would become an acclaimed 47-year career in the theatre.

At theatres in the US and Canada – and in Washington and Baltimore in particular – Hicken played the iconic female roles of the American theatre with chameleon-like versatility: Mary Tyrone, Emily Dickinson, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Dolly Levi, Goneril, Titania, Hedda Gabler, Lady Macbeth, and dozens of others. Critics and audiences found her portrayals witty and heartbreaking, powerful and memorable. With each new role she paid homage to her character’s innermost life, revealing their secrets in a way that left her audiences no choice but to join her on the ride.

Hicken first arrived at Arena Stage in 1967 and joined the resident company in 1984 alongside Robert Prosky, Richard Bauer, Halo Wines, Henry Strozier, Mark Hammer, Terrence Currier, and Stanley Anderson. When the company disbanded 14 years later, Tana was the last to leave, and unabashedly vocal in mourning the loss of such a vibrant model for excellence in the American theatre.

During the Washington stage of her career, Hicken was recognized with 19 Helen Hayes Award nominations and two awards, for Norah in The Wild Duck and for Mary Tyrone in Long Days Journey Into Night, both at Arena Stage. Backstage, she was creative, flexible, and nurturing; a diligent professional, role model, and mentor. Joy Zinoman, Studio Theatre’s Founding Artistic Director and current Director of Curriculum and Teacher Training, always told her young actors, “If you want to learn something about acting, just watch Tana.”

True to her upbringing, Hicken considered her role as an American citizen of equal importance to her work on stage. In 1967, with just three days notice, she was called to Arena Stage to play two roles in Major Barbara. She used one of those precious days to plan and participate in a rally to protest the Vietnam War. She was an ardent activist – marching, boycotting, and striking for labor rights, salary parity for actors, and improved conditions for farm workers.

It was at Hartford Stage in the 1970s that she met her beloved husband Donald, noted director, and chair of the Baltimore School for the Arts Theatre Department. Married for 42 years, the Hickens collaborated on 14 theatrical productions, as well as their beautiful daughter Caitlin Bell.

Because the lives of so many artists and audiences have been touched by the work of Tana Hicken, Studio Theatre is requesting that those wishing to attend the event on September 29 at 7 p.m. complete an RSVP form.


Together, with the region’s dynamic professional theatre community, theatreWashington creates and invigorates audiences, strengthens the region’s theatrical workforce, and celebrates excellence on Washington stages to build and an even more vibrant community for all.