Since its opening in 1835, just a few blocks from the White House, The National Theatre (The National) has premiered landmark American musicals, including West Side Story in 1957; hosted presidential inaugural balls; and played a significant role in important national events, including the struggle for civil rights. Deeply steeped in the history of the United States, it was at The National that President Lincoln watched the Washington debut of John Wilkes Booth in the title role of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The original theater was reconstructed several times in the 19th century following a number of fires. The current building had its first performance in 1923 and in the early 1980s, the theater underwent a major renovation. The refurbished theater opened in 1984, with President and Mrs. Reagan attending a gala benefit performance of David Merrick’s 42nd Street. Simply put, few theaters in America have the history, prestige, and continuing vitality of The National Theatre.
Beloved actress Debbie Reynolds once said, “When a show plays at The National, it’s playing for America.” The National has welcomed almost every major theatrical star in United States history. It strives to be the “Stage for the Nation,” by presenting the highest caliber performing arts, ranging from Broadway productions to popular entertainment and award-winning educational programming. The National’s 2018-2019 season includes six Broadway productions along with a wide range of educational and community initiatives, such as Saturday Morning at The National, a series of free educational programs for children, and the Community Stage Connections, a free program that brings theatrical and musical performances to areas of the District of Columbia and surrounding communities that have limited access to the arts.
The National has two performance venues - the main theater, with a capacity of approximately 1,700, and the Helen Hayes Gallery, an intimate 125-seat performance space ideal for educational programming and smaller performances. The National also has an extensive collection of archival materials, including playbills, photographs, articles, and posters. Plans for proper storage, access, digitization, and display are currently under development.
While its name may suggest otherwise, The National does not receive government funding. The building is privately owned and leased to The National Theatre Corporation (NTC)—a nonprofit organization established in 1974 and governed by a 15-member Board of Directors. John B. Adams, Jr. serves as Chair. NTC’s fiscal year 2019 operating budget is more than $600,000, consisting of approximately 71 percent in contributed revenue and approximately 29 percent in earned revenue. This does not reflect capital improvement funds. Among other responsibilities, NTC’s three-person staff manages The National’s relationship with National Theatre Group (NTG). NTG is an affiliate of Jam Theatricals and is responsible for the “Broadway at The National” season each year. NTC also guides community engagement, oversees educational programs, and preserves The National and its archives.
NTC’s strategic planning is focused on establishing an even clearer identity, supporting NTG’s mainstage presentations, expanding its community engagement programs, and communicating The National’s rich history in order to distinguish it from its sister theaters and performance spaces. NTC’s corresponding strategic initiatives in the coming years include bringing The National’s archives and history to the public’s attention, increasing its organizational capacity, expanding its economic model, increasing its strategic partnerships, and formulating a communication plan that tells the compelling, inspiring story of The National.