You are bound to see something you like at Wolf Trap, even if it's only what the people sitting nearby brought for dinner. Wolf Trap is not just one theater that offers music and dance, but a collection of performance areas presenting such acts as mime, lectures and fireworks -- and a vast green playing ground where members of the audiences stage their own suppers in a variety of styles.
In fact, there are those who have made an art of attending Wolf Trap. Generally, there are two basic audience acts -- Fashionable Patron, and Poor But Knowledgable -- and in winter, indoors, they can only be expressed by the way one lounges. (To convey chic, you dress up and lounge over a box railing, holding your opera glasses; to play artistic, you dress down and lounge pver the standing-room railing, dangling your copy of the score.)
In summer, however, the outdoor setting invites a more complicated drama. The dinner scene is always crucial in plays and movies -- hot food ladled in the kitchen to people in jeans conveys humanism, cold wine in the dining room with evening clothes indicates wit, and so on.
The fashionable act can now be done as The World Is My Private Domain, by having an Edwardian picnic in which as few concessions as possible are made to the rather glaring fact that it is being eaten outdoors. People have been known to bring butlers, silver, crystal and four courses to these scenes, which are conducted at linen-covered picnic tables, after which the party sweeps on to choice seats in the Filene Center. Dress for this is along the traditional British lines of I-dress-the-way-one-ought.
However, an equally chic, more convenient and much cheaper way of playing this is to spread the proper tablecloth on the lawn-seating area. This not only means that the tickets are apt to be $5 rather than $20, but the butler would be de trop and one can give him the night off. Besides, it attracts a larger audience, especially if the first act (cold soup) is staged before the curtain goes up and the subsequent acts are held during intermissions. (At all fashionable picnics, more than one wine is served, of course, so it is advisable to leave that last intermission for off-stage business.) Dress is more in the style of informal-evening-of-poolside-dancing.
The True Art Lover show also offers several possibilities. It is all very well for people to illustrate their artistic natures by scorning artistry of dress, but risky to extend this careless attitude toward food. One answer is to serve well-made food badly. It should smell very good but be eaten from the pot. Or it can be well-chosen ingredients -- in this case, the smell of the cheese gives it away -- still in the plastic wrapping and grocery-store sack. The important thing about dress here is not so much the jeans and T-shirts worn, but the way in which the people who wear them look at those who have dressed up.
One can also refuse to put on an act for free and just go to see what Wolf Trap has to offer. Wolf Trap does put on its own shows. It even serves its own food, at two concession stands and at a buffet in the dinner tent (reservations required), which also sells a carry-out picnic.
Shows at the Filene Center open June 3, with a week of Metropolitan Opera, which has been making Wolf Trap its only area stop because the audience capacity, over 3,000 each in the seats and on the lawn, is larger than elsewhere. Other engagements that have become annual include the Joffrey Ballet, July 31 through Aug. 3, the Eliot Feld Ballet, Aug. 9 and 10, Virgil Fox's Heavy Organ, midnight on June 30, and Anna Russell, Aug. 17.
What is being billed as "an unprecedented panorama of traditional and contemporary Chinese culture" is the program of dancers, acrobats, instrumentalists and singers from the People's Republic of China July 18 through 22.
The Wolf Trap Opera Company, featuring singers who have participated in its education program, will do Stephen Douglas Burton's new opera, "The Duchess of Malfi," and Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Gondoliers." Two musical comedies, "Gypsy" with Angela Lansbury, June 19 through 24, and Tony Randall in "The Music Man," Aug. 29 through Sept. 1, will be presented.
And then there will be evenings of Van Cliburn and Sarah Caldwell; Ella Fitzerald, Aaron Coplan, Johnny Cash, Carlos Montoya, Pete Seeger with Arlo Guthrie, Tony Bennett and Yehudi Menuhin.
That's just the main theater. The Theatre-in-the-Woods has marionette, mime singing shows daily, with children's opera on Saturdays at 11; and the Meadow Tent has performances of "The Curious Computer from Planet X" at 10:30 and noon, and lectures coordinated with the performances -- for example, a discussion of the life of the life of a ballet performance -- before the shows. These events are all free, but reservations must be made by calling Wolf Trap's Interpretive Office at 703/281-5587 or 281-5588 weekdays between 9 and 4.
Spread out all over the park will be the National Folk Festival, July 29, with craft demonstrations, concerts and workshops, the all-day Fourth of July picnic with Air Force music and fireworks, and the International Children's Festival, presented by the Fairfax County Council of the Arts on Sept. 2, 3, and 4.
And you can also make your own arrangements, through the Special Events department, to give a children's birthday party at Wolf Trap (perhaps taking advantage of the two daily children's shows and scheduling a picnic in between) or to give a pre-performance party, reserving up to six picnic tables. Dress for these events should be . . . Never mind. Just bring a wrap for evening events, when it's apt to be a lot cooler than in Washington, and a lot of sun oil for daytime ones. FOR OPENERS
If you don't count the gala benefit May 31 (with Elizabeth Taylor as chairman, Bob Hope as master of ceremonies and "Famous Friends from stage and screen in a Star-Studded Evening!," or the barbershop harmony parade June 3 (with the Fairfax Jubilaires, the Alexandria Harmonizers and WMAL's Tom Gauger), the season opens June 5 with the Met's productions of "Rigoletto," "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci," "Boris Godunov," "Rigoletto" again, "La Favorita," "Don Giovanni" and "Madame Butterfly."
Other shows scheduled for June include a two-day dance spectaclar (12 and 13), Peter Duchin (14), Crystal Gayle (15), the National Symphony (16 and 17, and again 29 and 30, with different guest conductors), Guarneri String Quartet (18), "Gypsy" (19 through 24), New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble (25), Maynard Ferguson (26), The Fabulous Fours (27), Tony Bennett (28) and, as June turns into July, Virgil Fox (midnight June 30).