The oldest cultural institution in Washington, D.C., and the second oldest theatre in the country, The National Theatre embodies a richly layered history. Since opening its doors in 1835 the venue has played an important role in American theatrical heritage. One of the ways in which The National has fulfilled this role is through its nurturing in tryouts of such musicals as West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, and, more recently, Mean Girls and Beetlejuice. It has also presented a dazzling array of performances ranging from concerts by artists such as the celebrated Jenny Lind, to Sting headlining The Threepenny Opera, and also including appearances by John Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Ian McKellen, Laurence Olivier, Spencer Tracy, and many more. Helen Hayes, “First Lady of American Theatre,” traced her theatrical career back to the time she saw her first play as a young child in the balcony of The National Theatre.
These are just a few of the stories from The National Theatre and they are documented, along with many other musicals, plays, dances, circuses, speakers, and other events, in The National Theatre Archive. The National has proved a resilient organization as well, surviving four fires and a building collapse, while always remaining a vibrant force in D.C.’s artistic life. With an array of education and community service programs in addition to its full theatre season, The National is an invaluable resource for Washington and beyond. The National Theatre Foundation is tasked with the preservation and conservation of the collection.
Do you have a piece of The National’s history?
We accept donations of various materials to support our archive. Please contact The National Theatre Foundation at 202-783-3370 and we will speak to you about your items.
The Washington Post: The National Theatre marvels at some 200-year-old theater gossip by John Kelly
The Washington Post: Dancing through the archives of D.C.’s oldest theater, the National by John Kelly