The origins of the school can be traced back to a seminar in 1954, where the idea of a Central institution for theatre was mooted, subsequently a draft scheme was prepared in 1955, and the Sangeet Natakfg Akademi, which had Jawaharlal Nehru as its president, started drawing plans for the institution. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Delhi, Bharatiya Natya Sangh (BNS) with assistance from UNESCO, independently established the 'Asian Theatre Institute' (ATI) on January 20, 1958, and in July 1958, ATI was taken over by the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA), India’s National Academy of Music, dance and drama of Government of India.
In the following year, the government merged it with the newly founded school, and thus NSD was established in April 1959 under the auspices of Sangeet Natak Akademi. Initially the school was situated at Nizamuddin West, and was called 'National School of Drama and Asian Theatre Institute, whose first batch passed out in 1961. During his tenure as the director of the institution, Ebrahim Alkazi (1962–1977), not just overhauled the syllabus, but also had the students dig and build platforms for a theatre in the backyard of a rented Kailash Colony house, where NSD had moved. Later when it moved to its present location, he also designed two theatres for NSD, including a 200-seat studio theatre, and the open-air Meghdoot theatre, under a banyan tree.
In 1975 it became autonomous organization, under the erstwhile Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture, Department of Culture, with the name 'National School of Drama' and relocated in May 1975, to its present premises at Bahawalpur House, the residence of Bahawalpur a former princely state. However, the place is generally known by adjacent (now demolished) Mandi House, the former residence of Raja of erstwhile Mandi princely state. In 1999, the School organized its first National Theatre Festival, 'Bharat Rang Mahotsav', generally held during the second week of January each year.
In 2008, the institution celebrated its golden jubilee at its annual theatre festival, Bharat Rang Mahotsav, with a gathering of its alumni from all over the country, the festival’s satellite edition in Mumbai showcased plays of NSD graduates, including Ratan Thiyam’s Prologue, Bansi Kaul (Aranyadhipati Tantiya), Neelam Mansingh Chowdhury (The Suit), Sanjay Upadhyay (Harsingar), Baharul Islam (Akash), Mohan Maharishi (Dear Bapu) and M K Raina (Stay Yet Awhile). Waman Kendre was appointed as Director the school in 2013. He will serve a five-year term. He has done post-graduate with research in folk theatre of Kerala from NSD. He belongs to the nomadic Vanjara tribal community of Marathwada and was one of the leading lights of the Dalit theatre movement in Maharashtra in the late 1970s.
On 16 March 2005, the Government of India granted the NSD the status of deemed university. However, in 2010 the NSD Society asked for the deemed university status to be revoked since "[it] could undermine the professional training, autonomy and flexibility required in the creative fields such as theatre." Thus, in October 2011 the status was revoked on request of NSD.
The professional performing wing of NSD, the 'National School of Drama' Repertory Company was set up in 1964, with an aim to promote professional theatre in India. It first head was Om Shivpuri, followed by Manohar Singh, Ram Gopal Bajaj (Acting Chief), J.N. Kaushal (Acting Chief), Anuradha Kapur (Acting Chief), and Suresh Sharma,Sagar Kamble, Atul Singhai (Animation chief).
Today, the Repertory Company, has staged over 120 plays based on the works of about 70 playwrights and featuring around 50 directors in several countries, and various cities across the nation, and has its own festival every year, called Annual Repertory Company Summer Festival, in which it perform new and past plays. In 2004, the repertory celebrated its 40th anniversary with a theatre festival in New Delhi.
In 1989 NSD established the ‘Theatre-in-Education Company’ (T.I.E), called 'Sanskaar Rang Toli', today it has become India's premier educational resource centres, and coaches children aged 8 to 16 years. The company regularly performs plays for school and adults audiences alike, and has its own yearly theatre festivals, 'Jashn-e-Bachpan' and Bal Sangam.
In a bid to decentralize its activities, NSD opened Regional Resource Centres (RRC) across India, the first of which was opened at Bangalore in 1994.
Bharat Rang Mahotsav, or the 'National Theatre Festival', established in 1999, is the annual theatre festival of National School of Drama (NSD), held in New Delhi, today it is acknowledged as the largest theatre festival of Asia, dedicated solely to theatre.Naseeruddin Shah, Sai Paranjpye, Anupam Kher
B.V. Karanth, Naseeruddin Shah, Ratan Thiyam, Om Puri, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Anupam Kher, Irrfan Khan, Madhu, Bansi Kaul, Shah Rukh KhanBest Actress in a Supporting Role
Rohini Hattangadi: Gandhi (1982)
B.V. Karanth, Devendra Raj Ankur.Bansi Kaul
B.V. Karanth, Shrijit Pillai, B.M. Shah, Manohar Singh, Uttara Baokar, Ratan Thiyam, Prasanna, Surekha Sikri, Naseeruddin Shah, Mohan Maharishi, M.K. Raina, Bansi Kaul, Ram Gopal Bajaj, B. Jayashree, Bhanu Bharti, Amal Allana, Dulal Roy, Rita G. Kothari, Robin Das, Seema Biswas, Gurucharan Singh Channi, Dolly Ahluwalia, Prem Matiyani, Nadira Babbar, Shanta Gandhi, Ashok Sagar Bhagat, J.N. Kaushal,Ashok Kumar Giri, Devendra Raj Ankur, Anuradha Kapur, Suresh Bhardwaj, H.V.Sharma, Ranjit Kapoor, V.K.Sharma, Rohini Hattangadi.
G.N.Dasgupta, H.V.Sharma, Sudhir Kulkarni, Dolly Ahluwalia, Suresh Bhardwaj, S.Ramanujam
Award for Best Actress/ActorTannishtha Chatterjee: Bibar
Subrat Dutta: Bibar
NSD has had ten directors since its establishment in 1959:Satu Sen (1959–61)
Ebrahim Alkazi (1962–77)
B. V. Karanth (1977–82)
B. M. Shah (1982–84)
Mohan Maharishi (1984–86)
Ratan Thiyam (1987–88)
Kirti Jain (1988–95)
Ram Gopal Bajaj (1995-Sept.2001)
Devendra Raj Ankur (2001-3 July 2007)
Anuradha Kapur (July 2007- July 2013)
Waman Kendre (August 2013 onwards)
The schools has three auditoria within the campus:Abhimanch Auditorium
Apart from that it has a studio theatre and minor performances spaces used on special occasions, like the Bharat Rangmahotsav.