Open Air Theatre & Theatre Garden

partially overhead view of fountain jets shooting up from a sea green stage, against a backdrop of tall green trees
Formal, Historic, Playful
Best Seasons to Visit
Spring, Summer, Autumn
0.85 Acres

With a setting that’s impressive in its own right, this grand space is a feat of carefully considered design with thoughtful details. Theater wings tucked into the arborvitae and fountains embedded in the stage add an element of sophisticated visual drama to this charming performance venue. The underground dressing rooms allow for large productions to spring up in the middle of our formal Gardens. Top billing also goes to the 750 illuminated jets colorized with 600 lights, which run daily while in season.

The Open Air Theatre has hosted well over 1,500 performances since it opened more than 100 years ago. From musical acts to military bands, guests have enjoyed every imaginable type of production. The venue’s 1,500 seats allow for the comfortable enjoyment of the likes of Martha Graham, Rufus Wainwright, and Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, to name a few. 

Please note: The water features of this garden can be enjoyed from mid-April until early January.

View Open Air Theatre fountain show schedule

A Bit of History

Three people stand on an outdoor stone stage in a garden in an old black and white photo from the early 20th century
Margaretta Carpenter, Pierre S. du Pont, and Alice Belin on the outdoor stage of the Villa Gori, February 1913. Photo courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.

In 1913, founder Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) and his future wife, Alice Belin (1872-1944), traveled to Italy and France and visited a number of villas, including Villa Gori in Siena, Italy. Inspired by what they’d seen, Pierre initiated the design and construction of the Open Air Theatre soon after their return home. At the couple’s annual garden party in 1914, they debuted their new venue to 300 guests, who were treated to dinner and dance performances to the sounds of Beethoven. After half a dozen numbers, the finale had harlequins and dancers emerge, frolicking amongst the guests as they threw confetti and garden roses, before disappearing quietly amid the shadows of the surrounding trees. Newspapers reported that the evening was an unequivocal success, comparing it to a scene at Versailles. 

Just two weeks later, Pierre was already planning updates: Water jets and electric lights were added to the stage, along with “secret joke fountains,” inspired by fountains Pierre enjoyed during his visit to Italy. Much to the surprise (and delight) of the guests, water would spring to life when they least expected it. Over the years, Pierre continued to evolve the theater, adding underground dressing rooms, colored lights to illuminate the fountains, and a "water curtain" to use between acts. Since its renovation in 1926-27, the Open Air Theatre has undergone relatively little change.

The Theatre Garden

Whether you’re enjoying an intermission or waiting for the show to begin, have a seat and enjoy this striking formal garden. Once known as the Terrace Garden, today’s Theatre Garden features an eye-catching composition of drought-tolerant plants. Located behind the Open Air Theatre, this area emphasizes sculptural shapes, textural contrasts, and rich foliage. In the early 1970s, a redesign by famed landscape architect Thomas Church aimed to provide an attractive, illuminated evening garden for the patrons of the Open Air Theatre, as well as a stunning entrance to Flower Garden Walk. 

While the structure of this garden still echoes the work of Church, the design reflects a more contemporary approach to planting, featuring hardy, desert-inspired plants in a range of blues and purples, with prominent silver foliage that gives this space an otherworldly feel in the evening.