In June, as the pandemic blanketed much of the country, Dave Steadman ’03 started a job as the chief development officer of the venerable National Theatre in Washington, D.C. Working from home, he is steadily building a network of donors, but the theatre-loving Steadman is missing total immersion in the historic venue.
When it’s safe, he will move into his official office on Pennsylvania Avenue, where he can stroll across the mezzanine foyer into a world-class 1,700-seat, Broadway-style theater. That’s a pretty good place to soak up fund-raising inspiration.The performing arts have long inspired Steadman, a Hamilton music major.
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“One of the reasons I'm so interested in this world was my own experiences on stage in Wellin Hall, doing musicals in the Events Barn, and Hamilton’s artistic universe in general,” he said.
He’d made a career in education fundraising, first at Hamilton and later at St. Albans School in D.C. In March, when the opportunity arose, Steadman decided to make the move to the National Theatre.
When he saw a chance to use his experience to engage donors to do increasingly more for the theatre, Steadman didn’t let the growing pandemic deter him.“I'd seen plenty of shows in The National, a beautiful theatre, and to get to be closer to that world that I love in a different way, was really intriguing for me,” he said.
“Why not?” he asked himself.
The theatre, not far from the White House, opened in 1835 and prides itself on its deep roots: it claims to be the oldest cultural institution in the nation’s capital and the oldest venue in the country that still presents touring Broadway productions. But the National Theatre Corporation (the nonprofit responsible for the stewardship of the space), said Steadman, is very much like a startup in that it hasn’t built as robust a donor base as might be expected in such an institution. That’s where he comes in.
The National is a creature of two parts. Steadman works for a nonprofit that is responsible for the operation and preservation of the building, and the nonprofit contracts with an outside organization to run the mainstage programming side of the equation. The whole operation is weathering the pandemic, but it’s challenging, Steadman said.
Still, the National has survived severe circumstances over the decades. It’s burned down four times and collapsed once, but its biggest existential threat, said Steadman, came in the 1970s, when developers considered razing it. That’s when the nonprofit corporation formed to safeguard the theatre’s future. Now that’s Steadman’s mission, too.