Anything that gets about 400 school-children -- black and white -- clapping their hands enthusiastically and singing a rousing chorus of "Amen" is unusual. And if it's free, it's even more unusual.
"Movin' On Up" at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater is both. It's a dramatic presentation of well-orchestrated singing and dancing that depicts the basic outline of the black struggle -- from African roots to slavery, emancipation and the rigors of urban life (with some blues -- including a great cabaret scene -- and church music.)
This is all offered up in an hour -- a good length for grammar-school children.
The presentation by Afri Productions, a troupe of former-teachers-turned-performers who now play across the country, is fairly sophisticated and very polished, if not particularly original.
"Movin' On Up" will be presented this week to invited groups of school-children from the metropolitan area and on Saturday (the last day) to the general public at 10:30 a.m. and noon as part of the largest program the Kennedy Center has ever done in recognition of Black History Month.
The Center calls it a "mini-festival," and it includes poetry and music as well as drama.
"Movin' On Up" contains "material, ideas you've seen before," said Carole Huggins, producing director of Programs for Children and Youth in the Kennedy Center's Department of Education. "But it's the experience of moving through that in a fast-paced hour that gives you something. It's more visceral than intellectual. I think you take something with you when you leave."
This weeklong festival is produced free by the Programs for Children and Youth department, assisted by a Washington poet named Jonetta Barras.
Other activities include another dramatic presentation focusing on events and individuals in American history called "Black Images/Black Reflections, presented by the Howard University Children's Theater with public performances at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Musical Theater Lab.
Also on Saturday, at 12:30 p.m. in the Musical Theater Lab, the Center will host a program called "Meet Your Black Washington Author," a very informal opportunity to meet such authors as May Miller Sullivan, Ophelia Egypt, Sharon Bell Mathis and E. Ethelbert Miller. And at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday there will be a jazz performance in the Center's North Gallery by the University of the District of Columbia Jazz Septet.
In the Grand Foyer, Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 6:30 p.m., Washington area high school ensembles will perform. Tuesday night features the McKinley Wind Ensemble; Wednesday night, the Woodson High School Male Chorus, and Thursday night the Cardozo High School Concert Choir.
No tickets are available in advance for any event. For theater events, the Center suggests that people arrive at least half an hour before the show begins.