White House History Journal › The Presidents and the Theater

“It is not difficult to see a certain parallel presidents might sense between their own specified time on stage as head of state and the slice of life encapsulated in the duration of a play,” said William Seale, editor of White House History. “Part of being president is a performance, in which is conveyed, inescapably, a message; the White House is the president’s stage and always has been.”

For more than two hundred years the president’s White House stage has welcomed scores of singers, actors and other artists, first as celebrity callers and later as scheduled performers. Nearly all presidents have enjoyed theatrical performance and many sought it out. This interest has taken various forms from concerts to plays. Modern times have seen the custom of after-dinner events featuring a not-to-lengthy concert, solo, or reading, first initiated by President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, continue to be popular. Whatever the format, presidents and performers alike have always realized the importance of their audiences and played to them accordingly.

White House History, issue 30, explores The Presidents and the Theater spanning the field from opera to musical comedy to presidents and Shakespeare, with side visits to theater and the youngest first lady; a glimpse of a famously obnoxious theatrical guest; and a comparison between Lincoln’s White House and that other iconic Lincoln place: Ford’s Theatre.

White House History is published twice each year by the White House Historical Association and features articles on White House history, architecture, fine and decorative arts, and gardens, as well as stories about the occupants of the White House and their experience living there.

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The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to enhance the understanding and enjoyment of the White House. All proceeds from the association’s trusts, publications and other items are used to fund acquisitions of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent collection, to assist is the preservation of the public rooms, and to further its educational mission.