When the National Theatre was first established, it was supported by some of Washington DC’s wealthiest patrons, who wanted their city to have a world-class theatrical institution. In the wake of the 1922 collapse of the nearby Knickerbocker movie theater during a snowstorm, the vintage limestone building was redesigned and reinforced for safety; its interior remained largely unchanged until a full-scale renovation in 1984. This renovation, quite fittingly, was overseen by a theater production set designer.
Things to know before you go
- With two performance venues, the theater attracts local, national, and international artists that entertain audiences of all ages.
- Audio-described and open captioned performances are available.
- Wheelchair and scooter users can be accommodated in all sections; wheelchair accessible restrooms are located on the third and fourth floors.
- Outside food and drink is not permitted; beverages are available for purchase.
How to get there
The National Theatre overlooks Freedom Plaza, just a few blocks from the Metrorail’s Metro Center station (serving the Red, Blue and Orange Lines). Street parking has a 2-hour limit, so drivers are encouraged to seek out public lots in the area or valet park at hotels like the adjacent JW Marriott, the Willard InterContinental, or the W Hotel.
When to get there
Check calendar for showtimes; ticket prices vary per show, with occasional free community programming. Broadway season subscriptions guarantee skip-the-line tickets with preferred seats at each show. A 15% military discount is available.
The National Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue has seen more than 6,000 productions in addition to presidential inaugural balls. A box on the left side of the stage has hosted every president and his wife; Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt were particular fans of the plays presented here. Plans are in the works to conserve, store, digitize, and provide access to photos and documents such as playbills and posters of theater history.
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