A variety of performances grace stages throughout the District – here's where you can get the best seat in the house.
Washington, DC is a theater town. With theaters big (think the Kennedy Center, Warner Theatre and National Theatre) and intimate (Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Shakespeare Theatre Company), a range of performances and cultural experiences are offered up for every taste in the nation's capital.
Watch ballerinas leap through the air at the Kennedy Center
DC’s most iconic theater, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, hosts hundreds of world-class performances each year and is home to the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera. The Suzanne Farrell Ballet also counts the Kennedy Center as its performance headquarters. The company – under the direction of Farrell, who was famed ballet choreographer (and Kennedy Center honoree) George Balanchine’s protégé – was invited to perform at the Kennedy Center in 1993 and has since become one of the venue’s most enduring attractions. Look for live and livestream performances on The Kennedy Center calendar throughout the year.
Learn more about Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre
In 1865 President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre by John Wilkes Booth. Today, Ford’s remains a working theater with multiple productions each year, but it is also a living museum dedicated to Lincoln’s life and death. During the day, the National Park Service–run venue offers tours of the theater as well as admission to the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership across the street, which features in-depth exhibits on America’s 16th president.
Get wild at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Located in DC’s buzzy Penn Quarter neighborhood, Woolly Mammoth is a cutting-edge, experimental theater dedicated to premiering original plays that push the boundaries of live theater. The New York Times has called the intimate venue “Washington’s most daring theatre company,” and the half dozen plays Woolly produces each year continue to live up to that reputation.
See a world-class musical performance at Strathmore
Just outside of DC in Bethesda, Maryland sits a picturesque performing arts venue dedicated to bringing a diversity of music to the DC region. Music fans will find a comprehensive lineup of folk, rock, blues, pop, jazz, show tunes and more at the modern music venue, The Music Center at Strathmore. Also on the campus, the Mansion at Strathmore presents more intimate programs in its 100-seat theater. The Mansion also hosts afternoon tea service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Also not to be missed, Strathmore has a cool concert venue up the road in Rockville called AMP.
Bow down to the Bard
For more than 25 years, the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC has committed itself to serving as the nation’s premier classical theater. STC operates out of two spaces, including Sidney Harman Hall at the Harman Center, which seats 775, and the Lansburgh Theatre, which seats 451. The glittering, glass-enclosed Harman Center in Penn Quarter showcases classic Shakespeare plays, modern updates and Shakespeare-inspired original shows. For more Shakespearean excitement, visit the Folger Shakespeare Library, which contains the world's largest collection of materials relating to Shakespeare and his works. In addition to the collection, guests can see Shakespeare plays and learn more about the famous playwright with rotating exhibits.
Witness the unexpected at Atlas Performing Arts Center
The Atlas Performing Arts Center is a cultural beacon of the H Street neighborhood, a home for local, national and international art. Atlas offers four performance spaces and presents a wide variety of entertainment, from live music and dance to theater shows and vocal and choral work – you never know what you could see on any given night. Both a community gathering place and a showcase for revelatory work, a visit to Atlas is a visit to the heart and soul of the nation’s capital.
Get on your feet at Lincoln Theatre
Dating back to 1922, the Lincoln Theatre was considered a precursor and influence on the Harlem Renaissance, hosting such marquee acts over the years such as Washington natives Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey, along with greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong. Today, the historic theater continues to attract national talent to its stage with a packed calendar of touring acts. Be sure and check out its partner venue and Washington institution, 9:30 Club.
Pack a picnic for a warm weather performance at Wolf Trap
For DC locals, summer isn’t complete without at least one trip to the Wolf Trap, the only national park dedicated to the performing arts. The suburban Virginia venue hosts an in-demand lineup of touring artists. The open-air theater offers covered seating, but when the weather warms up we suggest buying lawn seats and packing a picnic.
Watch a Broadway show inside the beltway at the National Theatre
Appreciate American theater at Arena Stage
Under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith, Arena Stage’s Mead Center for American Theater is an incubator for American artists and plays. The theater — housed in a glamorous, glass-enclosed venue on the Southwest Waterfront — produces original works and updates of classic American plays all with an eye toward exploring what it means to be an American. Most plays offer several nights of related programming, such as post-performance Q&As with the playwright.
Catch a show at Warner Theatre
A trip to the Warner Theatre is worth it just to see the 1924-era building’s grand architecture. After a $10 million renovation, the venue has been restored to its former glory with features like a marble and gold leaf lobby and a dramatic interior complete with crystal chandeliers and intricate carved ceilings. The venue may be the ultimate throwback, but today you can catch nationally known comedians making a tour stop, Broadway-bound musicals and other modern performances.
Sit on the edge of your seat at Studio Theatre
Dedicated to producing cutting-edge, contemporary theater, Studio Theatre features four intimate theaters in order to offer a rich line-up of the latest and greatest playwrights and remakes of modern classics. Variety once called this hip theater in Logan Circle the place “where local audiences will find today’s edgiest playwrights.” So lean forward and see where this theater takes its audience next.
Celebrate Multiculturalism at GALA Hispanic Theatre
Starting in 1976, the GALA Hispanic Theatre’s mission was to bring Spanish and Latin American plays to DC and celebrate the richness of Hispanic theater. In 2005, as DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood was undergoing a Renaissance, the organization secured a permanent home at the historic Tivoli Theatre and now serves as a national center for Latino performing arts. Look for plays, musical, dance and other Hispanic-inspired and produced performances throughout the year.
See a riveting production at Signature Theatre
In Virginia’s Shirlington neighborhood, locals and visitors alike seek out Signature Theatre, a small venue with big personality. The theater is known for its modern revivals of Sondheim shows, as well as adaptations of overlooked or forgotten scripts, with an original work or two thrown in each season for good measure. Founded more than 25 years ago, the popular theater was launched to fill a void in the theater scene, which at the time was only producing mainstream musicals. Today, the theater continues to be a leader in DC’s flourishing and innovative theater scene.
Tap into an intimate vibe at the Anacostia Playhouse
Get up close to any performance at the Anacostia Playhouse, where every seat is near the action. Resident theater company, Theater Alliance, stages socially conscious, thought-provoking works at the playhouse, set in DC’s historic Anacostia neighborhood. In addition to plays, expect readings of new works, jazz concerts and other events. Check the calendar for upcoming performances.
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