HAS IT REALLY been 30 years since Arena Stage opened in the dingy old Hippodrome movie house across from the old public library? Many of us still have vivid memories of those first theater-in-the-round seasons of this ambitious local company, and how Arena Stage won audiences by offering fare of the highest and most imaginative sort. From here to a basement home in the Old Vat, named after the now-demolished brewery, and then on to the handsome complex it now occupies in Southwest, Arena Stage never forgot its local origins or its commitment to the theater movement. Today there is a resident theater in performance on three stages as well as an inner-city touring company for children and the handicapped.

The accomplishments of Arena State, lovingly guided by its founder and director, Zelda Fichandler, go far beyond the limits of this town, too. Among the many works that began here and eventually enriched Broadway as well as films and television were "The Great White Hope," "Indians," "Moonchildren" and "Raisin." Seven years ago, the company was the first to bring American drama to the Soviet Union. Three years later, Arena Stage won a special Tony Award -- the first time the Tony had wandered so far off Broadway. Two years ago, there were performances of two plays for the Hong Kong Festival of the Arts.

Tomorrow, Arena opens a new season with a production of Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo." If past records hold, support for Arena Stage at the box office will continue strong -- attendance has usually run at about 90 percent of capacity. Still, the quality of its productions and cost of experimentation, innovation and community service all mean that Arena Stage is anything but a profit-maker. What it does make is a rich contribution to the life of this town, which we hope will continue to be encouraged by those who help through their own contributions each year.