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The Walnut Street Theatre (or simply The Walnut), located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker at 825 Walnut Street, is the oldest continuously operating theatre in the English-speaking world and the oldest in the United States. The venue has three stages: the Mainstage, for the company's primary and larger productions, the Independence Studio on 3, a studio located on the building's third floor for smaller productions, and the Studio 5 on the fifth floor, which is rented out for independent productions.


The Walnut Street Theatre was built by the Circus of Pepin and Breschard, which toured the United States from 1807 until 1815. Pepin and Breschard constructed numerous venues in cities along the East Coast of the United Statesmarker, which often featured, along with performances of their circus, classical plays as well as horse dramas. The theatre was founded in 1809, going by the name of The New Circus. In 1811, the two partners commissioned architect William Strickland to design and construct a stage and orchestra pit for theatrical performances and the theatre's name was changed to The Olympic. The first use of The Walnut Street Theatre as its name occurred in 1820, however it was changed back to The Olympic in 1822 and then back again to The Walnut, this time for good, in 1828.

The Walnut was the first theatre to install gas footlights in 1837. In 1855 it was also the first theatre to feature air conditioning. The theatre switched to electric chandeliers and footlights in 1892. The theatre has undergone many renovations since its opening.

The first theatrical production at the theatre was The Rivals in 1812 (President Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette were in attendance). Edwin Booth and John Sleeper Clarke purchased the theatre in 1865, and then the theatre became part of The Shubert Organization in 1941. While part of the Shubert chain, the theatre housed many pre-Broadwaymarker tryouts of soon-to-be classics, including:

On October 15, 1966, The Walnut Street Theatre was designated a National Historic Landmark and in 1969, the theatre was purchased by a non-profit organization and turned over to the new Walnut Street Theatre Corporation. On September 23, 1976, it was the site of the first presidential debate between Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter. The Walnut Street Theatre Company was formed in 1983, a non-profit regional producing company. In 1984, the Walnut Street Theatre School was established and over 1,200 students enroll annually, and 1986 introduced the Independence Studio on 3 series.

To this day, the company produces five productions a season on the theatre's main stage and is the most subscribed theatre company in the world. In Fall 2008, the theater celebrated its 200th season of live entertainment.


  2. Havard, Bernard and Sylvester, Mark D. Walnut Street Theatre. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2008. p9
  3. Google BooksWalnut Street Theatre

Further reading

  • Webster, Richard J., Philadelphia Preserved. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976.
  • Teitelman, Edward, and Richard W. Longstreth, Architecture in Philadelphia: A Guide. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974.
  • Havard, Bernard and Sylvester, Mark D., Walnut Street Theatre. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2008

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