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Performing Arts

The U.S. Capitol isn’t the only place to see the theater in DC. Check out these trusted venues.

Located just three blocks from the White House, the historic National Theatre stages popular touring shows for audiences year-round.


When Broadway leaves New York City, it oftentimes finds itself right here, at The National Theatre.

The National Theatre is one of the nation’s oldest continually operating theaters, first pulling up the curtain in 1835 to the play Man of the World.  Located on Pennsylvania Avenue, the auditorium attracts everything from national tours of Broadway classics to pre-Broadway performances and premieres. Performances gracing the stage this year include Hal Holbrook in Mark Twain Tonight!, Blue Man Group and West Side Story. Check out the rest of the lineup here.

For 60 years, Arena stage has been devoted to American theater. With the opening of the glittering Mead Center for American Theater, Arena Stage has become a national center for the arts, attracting big-name actors and eager audiences.


The nation takes center stage here, where the performances center on American-born works.

Feeding slices of Americana to the masses since 1950, Arena Stage remains an exciting option in Washington, DC’s booming theater scene. In fact, the theater plays to an annual audience of roughly 300,000 people. The stage lives in the Mead Center for American Theater, which opened a sleek facility in 2010 that takes its aesthetic from the look of a jellyfish. To this day Arena Stage continues to serve as a major lifeblood of original American theater. See the current season’s list of shows here.

Perhaps the most famous theater in the country, Ford's Theatre is the infamous site of President Lincoln's assassination. The theater and museum are open for public tours.


Ford's Theatre
Famous for its history more than anything, the Ford’s Theatre still delights with performances to this day.

President Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865 while seeing Our American Cousin at this very playhouse. Ford Theatre’s next performance came on January 30, 1968, more than 100 years later and after a $2 million renovation. The grand interior was recreated, including the presidential box where John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. Today the site features a museum as well as the Center for Education and Leadership (across the street), which measures the lasting effects the 16th president has on the country. As for the theater, the show must go on. Current productions can be found here.

The jewel of U Street, once known as "Black Broadway," the Howard Theatre reopened in 2012 after a dazzling $20 million renovation. The décor is inspired by the legends including Duke Ellington, The Supremes and James Brown who played on the original stag


Once thriving in the days when U Street was called “Black Broadway,” the Howard Theatre has returned to its former luster.

After being closed down in the early 1980s, the Howard Theatre was restored in 2012 following a $29 million renovation. In its heyday, the venue featured everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie to DC’s own Duke Ellington. Nowadays, it showcases some of the best in live entertainment. Comedian Wanda Sykes and funk soul sister Chaka Khan were some of its earliest headliners after its 2012 re-opening. See who’ll grace the stage this year.

Shakespeare Theatre Company's Harman Center for the Arts in Penn Quarter hosts classic Shakespeare plays and cutting-edge classics in the making.


Get thee to the Shakespeare Theatre Company and see why it received a Tony Award in 2012 for “Regional Theatre.”

Sure, you’ve heard The Bard before, but watch the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s performances and you’ll come away thinking the works of the playwright (and some of his contemporaries) are decidedly 21st century. And that’s just how the STC wants it. See its mission: “Present classic theatre of scope and size in an imaginative, skillful and accessible American style that honors the playwrights’ language and intentions while viewing their work through a 21st-century lens.” The theater consists of two performance spaces: the Harman Center for the Arts, an 800-seat stage located downtown, and the Lansburgh Theatre in Penn Quarter, a 451-seat venue. The Shakespeare Theatre also produces two weeks of free Shakespeare during the Shakespeare Theatre Free-For-All. Otherwise, the Shakespeare Theatre Company will be putting on performances of Henry IV, Part I; Henry IV, Part II and Noel Coward's Private Lives.


One guarantee about the Kennedy Center: There’s something shaking every night.

While it boasts some of the most famous musicals, plays, concerts, award ceremonies … you name it, the site’s Millennium Stage puts on a free performance at 6 p.m. every day, 365 days a year. Another way the Kennedy Center makes good on its mission of being a living memorial to JFK is it hosts performances by the Washington National Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra. Highlights of the 2014-2015 season include the Tony award-winning musical Evita as well as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Click here for a list of the current performances on all its stages.


What you get at this art lover’s haven is mind-blowingly stimulating theater with an edge.

Tucked into a side street in the Penn Quarter is the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, an unassuming space for the brash and bold theater company known for its provocative productions. The 265-seat venue is incredibly intimate and features a state-of-the-art design that has netted awards from the likes of the American Institute of Architects and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. The company sees itself as “becoming the epicenter of challenging new theatre in America.” Check out the list of current shows for the 2013-14 Season.


The Atlas is a community-oriented theater for educating, training and showcasing professional and aspiring performance artists.

The Atlas Performance Arts Center is a historic venue in H Street NE. The Atlas started as a movie theater, closed in 1976 and was revived again following a $22 million makeover in which the space grew to encompass three adjacent structures. In 2005, the Atlas Performance Arts Center opened its doors to present what it deems “innovative, thought-provoking performances” and to “provide arts education opportunities for DC’s Near Northeast community.” See a list of upcoming theater performances.


Majestic architecture and a throw-back feel make for a memorable evening of entertainment any time you see a production here.

From its days showing vaudeville and silent films when it was known as the Earle Theatre to surprise shows from the Rolling Stones to its current acts with comedy legends, bands and more, the Warner Theatre is an institution in DC entertainment. The elegant, grand theater is Romanesque and features a variance of red hues, ornate designs and velvet curtains. The site is the annual home to the BET Honors ceremony. In the coming months, the stage will be graced by Lewis Black, Bob Saget, YES and the legendary B.B. King. Click here for the events calendar.