The Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theatre, known as the BDT, originally known as the Special Drama Company, was established in autumn 1918 by the Commissar for Theatre Affairs Maria Andreyeva. The famous actor Nikolai Monakhov led the Special Drama Company, which brought together the Theater of Tragedy under the direction of Yury Yuryev and the Theater of Artistic Drama under Andrei Lavrentyev.

The Bolshoi Drama Theatre's first season opened with Friedrich Schiller's tragedy Don Carlos which premiered on February 15, 1919.

In 1964 the theatre was granted the status of an academic theatre. In 1970 its second, smaller stage was inaugurated. In 1992 the theatre was named after Georgy Tovstonogov. The main auditorium has a capacity of 1,116 while the smaller one holds 120.

In its early years, the theatre's reputation largely rested on Alexandre Benois and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, former activists with the World of Art movement, as well as the architect Vladimir Shchuko.

In 1956 Georgy Tovstonogov became the leading director at the BDT. He managed to create an ensemble of unique personalities, who together formed the Soviet Union's best theatre troupe, including Innokenty Smoktunovsky, Oleg Borisov, Tatyana Doronina, Yevgeny Lebedev, Sergei Yursky, Yefim Kopelyan, Vladislav Strzhelchik, Kirill Lavrov among others. Respected actors such as Alisa Freindlikh, Oleg Basilashvili, Lyudmila Makarova, Zinaida Sharko, Valery Ivchenko and Nina Usatova are all members of the BDT Company.

After Georgy Tovstonogov passed away in 1989, Kirill Lavrov, People's Artist of the Soviet Union whose talent was recognised with numerous state awards, was unanimously elected BDT artistic director by secret ballot.

Since April 2007 Temur Chkheidze has been artistic director at the BDT, by then already named after Georgy Tovstonogov.

The theatre's current repertoire includes plays staged by Temur Chkheidze, Nikolai Pinigin, Grigory Dityatkovsky, Andrei Maksimov, Sergei Yashin, Gennady Trostyanetsky and Anatoly Praudin.