Kennedy Center Snapshot
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Sept. 11, 2009
This massive complex overlooking the Potomac River has seven stages (nine if you count the two free Millennium stages in the Grand Foyer) and is one of the best places to catch world-class talent such as Cate Blanchett, appearing in "A Streetcar Named Desire" (Oct. 29-Nov. 21), as well as lighter offerings such as "Young Frankenstein" (Dec. 15-Jan. 10). "In any given year," says Max Woodward, the center's vice president of theater programming, "you can see practically anything you're interested in."
Where to eat? Two in-house restaurants offer the most convenience: the cafeteria-style KC Cafe and the fancier Roof Terrace Restaurant. Off-campus, there isn't much in the immediate neighborhood, but Notti Bianche (202-298-8085; http://www.nottibianche.com) and Dish + Drinks (202-338-8707; http://www.dishdc.com) are good options in nearby hotels.
Concession-stand fare: A cut above: prepared sandwiches and baked goods; beer, wine, cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks.
Tickets: Ticket prices vary widely, depending on the production. Seats for "Streetcar" in the Eisenhower Theater, for example, start at $58 for the side balcony and run to $110 for the box tier. Prime orchestra seats for this show will set you back $80 to $90, depending on the performance.
Getting there: The center is an eight-minute walk from the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station. Or catch a free shuttle, departing every 15 minutes from the 23rd Street curb just outside the subway entrance. On-site parking is $18.
Season spotlight: Three Terrence McNally plays, including one D.C. premiere, in three theaters next spring: "Golden Age" (March 12-April 4 in the Family Theater); "The Lisbon Traviata" (March 20-April 11 in the Terrace Theater); and "Master Class" (March 25-April 18 in the Eisenhower Theater).
Kennedy Center Overview
Opened in 1971, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has become one of the nation's busiest performing arts venues, with more than 3,000 performances that play before nearly two million patrons each year. It is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Ballet and the Washington Opera, and hosts artists from around the world. The center's profile raised even higher recently, thanks to a repertory festival of Stephen Sondheim musicals in 2002 and the beginning of a five-year partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2003.
-- Brad Hathaway
Here are the primary venues of the center:
Opened in the former American Film Institute Theater space in December 2005, the 324-seat theater is home to the Kennedy Center's performances for children.
Located at either end of the Grand Foyer are the two stages for the free concert series, offering open-to-the-public performances every evening (except Dec. 24) at 6. These shows are simultaneously fed to the Internet and can be viewed live from streaming video-equipped, Internet-connected computers anywhere in the world.
-- Brad Hathaway
A renovated Concert Hall opened in October 1997 with better acoustics and improved access for people with disabilities. From onstage box seats you can see the conductor's face. Some chorus seats, behind the stage and facing out into the audience offer a "musician's-eye-view" of the proceedings. The handsome hall has plush, dusty-red seats, gold-colored checkerboards inlaid on the fronts of the balconies, and wooden panels placed throughout the house. Among the original features retained are the crystal chandeliers, which have been reconfigured. The embossed hexagonal patterns on the ceiling have been buffed up but remain intact. The largest of the Kennedy Center auditoriums, the Concert Hall has 2,518 seats.
-- Beth Brophy
A friendly looking bronze bust of Dwight Eisenhower peers down from the box tier of the Eisenhower Theater. At 1,142 seats, the Eisenhower is the smallest of the three theaters on the main level of the Kennedy Center. There is something cozy about sinking into a plush red seat surrounded by wood-paneled walls as the lights high above your head fade and the red curtain rises to reveal a new performance. Although the exclusive box tier claims the most-expensive seats, the orchestra rows often offer a more intimate connection with the performance, because the seats are physically closer to those on stage. The first tier proves a good vantage point for taking in the whole picture and the reactions of the theatergoers below.
-- Nicole Lewis
There is no mistaking the grandeur of the place -- the exquisite Lobmeyr crystal chandelier, a gift from Austria, dwarfs the one used in "The Phantom of the Opera." The theater has 2,318 seats and one of the largest stages of its kind in the country. Productions tend to be big and flashy, not to mention pricey, although there's always standing room if the show is sold out. Ballets, musical theater and operas are performed here, and patrons like to get gussied up for a night out at the Opera House, especially on the weekends, but no official dress-code exists. The four levels of the theater can give your legs a real work-out: orchestra, box tier, first tier and second tier. The box tier claims the most expensive tickets and if you are lucky, you'll sit near the White House box, which is reserved by the White House and usually occupied by someone or other from the administration (former first daughter Chelsea Clinton was a fan of the ballet). The Kennedy Center Opera House is perhaps best known nationally as the home of the annual Kennedy Center Honors recognizing lifetime contribution to the arts. Taped at the center in early December, with the president and first lady in attendance, the show normally airs on television the week between Christmas and New Year's.
-- Nicole Lewis
Take the elevator in the Hall of States to the second level of the Kennedy Center and you'll discover two things: great theater spaces and great views. The theater closest to the notorious Watergate complex is the 512-seat Terrace Theater. A bicentennial gift from Japan, the interior swims in deep purple with velvet lavender seats, each row on a gentle grade affording perfect sightlines to the stage. The most traditional and the most quirky programming can materialize in this space. Each spring the Terrace Theater presents its chamber music series, showing off new artists and old favorites. Each fall, the theater transforms into a venue for the cutting edge. This theater has an intimate setting and generally cheaper ticket prices. And you can't beat the views if you choose to stroll outside on the Roof Terrace during intermission.
Remember to pick up tickets for the Terrace on the main level in the Hall of States box office. If you arrive unfashionably late and have to wait a few minutes to be seated, don't despair: A TV monitor across from a comfy couch (purple, of course) displays the action on stage.
-- Nicole Lewis
By day, the Theater Lab at the Kennedy Center entertains children seated on rows of orange-carpeted benches. By night, '70s disco music blares from a tacky hair-salon set and an audience of all ages watches "Shear Madness," the half mystery, half farce that has been ensconced here since the 1988 season. The long-running show, plus staged readings of plays in progress, is the bill for the Lab, originally conceived as an experimental theater space (Willem Dafoe and Gary Sinise played here for free once upon a time). There is no curtain; the set sits naked on stage, giving audiences a sense of being part of the show. Black swatches of material create the theater's walls. Inches behind the fabric lies the production office and dressing rooms. With 399 seats, this is the smallest and sparest of the Kennedy Center's performing spaces; the atmosphere is functional, rather than elegant. It's a place for children to feel comfortable for what may be their first introduction to live theater.
-- Nicole Lewis
The KC Jazz Club enlivens the intimate, roof-level Theater Gallery.
Tours at the Kennedy Center
This Free Tour Is Just the Ticket
By Amy Orndorff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008
There is a certain magnificence about the Kennedy Center with its red-carpeted Grand Foyer. Its seats have held royalty, presidents and those who can pay more than $100 to witness the best that the arts have to offer.
What makes the Kennedy Center extraordinary is that its mission is to make the arts accessible to everyone from America's most notable citizens to its most ordinary ones. You probably know about free Millennium Stage shows daily at 6 p.m., but did you know that you can get into the Kennedy Center's theaters -- without buying a ticket -- as part of free daily tours?
On a recent Sunday morning, the 10 people who stood in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall admiring the organ with its 4,144 pipes and 11 Hadelands crystal chandeliers were in jeans and tennis shoes. They were visitors from abroad as well as area residents, but one thing was clear: Everyone was, well, ordinary.
Members of the Friends of the Kennedy Center, a 500-person volunteer group, lead 45-minute tours whenever someone stops by their kiosk on the main foyer level. Positioned near the elevators from the parking garage, the tour leaders are the first people visitors see when they walk in. A new tour starts about every 10 minutes.
Brochures for self-guided tours are available, but the real fun is going with a docent, who takes guests into the expansive theaters and discusses little-known facts about the center. Did you know that the ceiling in the Concert Hall can be raised and lowered to create the best acoustics possible?
The docents are quick to point out that the nation's home for the performing arts is filled with gifts from other countries: curtains, artwork and even a theater. With that kind of international presence, there's little doubt that the Kennedy Center is truly for everyone.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?Tours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Go as early as possible on the weekends since certain theaters close for matinees. During the week, later is better. Take off work early, tour the center, find happy hour deals at the center's kiosks and catch the Millennium Stage show.
WHERE IS IT? 2700 F St. NW (Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU, with free shuttles). Tours depart from the kiosk on the main level, midway between the entrance plaza and the Grand Foyer. If you can't find it, anyone in a red jacket will point you in the right direction.
WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION? 202-416-8340 or http://www.kennedy-center.org.