Alexandria, VA – Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The Little Theatre of Alexandria has quite a story to tell. With a lengthy history of presenting everything from emotional dramas, Broadway musicals, and rom-coms to farce, historical epics, and snappy British humor, the theater has given its audiences a wide range of top-notch entertainment to choose from over the decades.
This year alone the theater earned a whopping 58 nominations from the Washington Area Theater Community Honors (WATCH Awards). With help from the theater’s historian Kim Smith-Salmon and LTA President Frank Shutts, we dug into the archives to reveal the history of the small yet mighty theater that continues providing an extraordinary contribution to the arts in Alexandria.
In 1934, inspired by a community theater in Lynchburg, VA, Alexandria resident Mary Lindsey mounted LTA’s first production at the height of the Great Depression by inviting a drama group through St. Paul’s Church. Formerly known as the Peacock Players, the 200-person strong membership met several times at Gadsby’s Tavern to plan three one-act plays.
The following year they incorporated as The Little Theatre of Alexandria, premiering with Holiday by Phillip Barry, which was performed at The Lyceum Hall for two consecutive nights. Initially, the Lyceum was the primary staging point for the theatre. For the rest of the first year, one-act plays were interspersed with full-length plays, some recent Broadway hits.
Once performances were opened to the public, the LTA mounted productions in Gadsby’s Tavern, Carlyle House, and during the war years at the Alexandria Cameron Street USO Center. In 1957 the Alexandria City Council granted the group a property lease at the corner of Wolfe and St. Asaph Streets to construct a permanent structure. Legend has it that the beautiful wrought iron gates enclosing the garden courtyard are from either the Truman White House or Old Executive Building – a mystery the theater is researching.
In November 1960, ground was officially broken on the structure – once a vacant lot used by neighborhood children for pick-up games of softball and kickball. The first performance at 600 Wolfe Street took place in November 1961 with Send Me No Flowers. LTA produced its first musical, The Boyfriend, opening the door to over 60 years of musicals and plays at the new location.
The first presidential visit was President Harry Truman and his wife, Bess, who came to a Gadsby’s Tavern production in 1947. This was the first time a U.S. president visited LTA and the first time a U.S. president had been to Gadsby’s Tavern since Andrew Jackson.
More recently, The Little Theatre of Alexandria has been visited by First Ladies Barbara Bush and Laura Bush as well as President George Bush when daughter-in-law Margaret Bush performed in Neil Simon’s Proposals in the fall of 2001. Older members recall regular visits from President Truman and Lady Bird Johnson serving punch during intermissions. Numerous senators and members of Congress, including John Warner and Mark Warner, have been spotted in the audience as well as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. But the biggest surprise may have been when Thornton Wilder attended a production of his play Our Town in 1939.
Over the years several LTA actors went on to successful careers in theater and television. Marcia Gay Harden appeared at LTA in 1982 in Neil Simon’s I Ought to be in Pictures. Dermot Mulroney took classes at LTA when his mother was a member. TV actor Steve O’Connor took classes and appeared in several shows. Calvin Remsburg went on to a career in the theater, and actors like Tom Wiggin have appeared in national soaps.
The Little Theatre is currently represented on Broadway in The Life of Pi by actress Salma Qarnain who appeared in LTA’s 2000 production of Hair. One Washington Post reviewer called the theater “the Kennedy Center of Community theaters without the obvious trappings.”
The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years opened on June 3 and runs through June 24. For tickets and information, visit TheLittleTheatre.com or call the box office at 703 683-0496.