Fourteen-year-old Scott Sutton of Silver Spring had come to the Kennedy Center twice on field trips to hear orchestras play. "I fell asleep," he said.
But yesterday he attended the center's first open house, "Inside/Out," and had a good time. He saw a play, watched Israeli dancers, laughed as WRC-TV theater critic Arch Campbell put on kabuki theater makeup and costume, and listened to A Shot in the Dark, a rock band. "There's a bunch of different things, so if you don't like one you can do another," he said. "It seems like it lost some of the formality."
In an effort to help the center shed its stuffy image, the Friends of the Kennedy Center spent $35,000 to present the public with a free afternoon of singing, dancing, storytelling, juggling and general clowning around.
To the surprise of the 15 staff members who planned the event, the festival drew about 50,000 people, according to National Park Service estimates. Said Tom Mader, director of the Friends, "I told the staff originally that if we had 10,000 it would be a success."
The crowds made some of the acts hard to watch. At 2 p.m., people stood in the Grand Foyer behind a sea of heads, watching leotard-clad legs and darting hands appear periodically as part of a "dance-exercise performance" by instructors from Diana's exercise studio.
But there were plenty of other things to see. "Sing a song with me to move the heavens," sang the Gay Men's Chorus on the Opera House steps in the Grand Foyer. The 85 men in tuxedos with red carnations competed with a magic show at one end of the foyer, organist William Neil in the Concert Hall, and country music outside. More than 45 area groups donated their performances for the event.
Outside, people bought food, listened to the music, talked with friends and dipped their tired feet in the fountain. They mingled casually with a tall white rabbit, a gray elephant with a pink bow, and a brown bear with a straw hat and yellow spectacles.
Nearby, Geebee the clown (a k a George Black of Reston) beckoned with one finger, and a boy passing by with his mother came racing over. Black, dressed in a pink shirt with matching pink hair, turned an orange balloon into a dog and presented it to the delighted child.
"Being a clown is like being Santa Claus," said Black.
On the Grand Foyer stage, Redskins George Starke and Jay Schroeder did a lively jazz-aerobics dance with Marty Davis, wife of Rep. Robert W. Davis (R-Mich.). Schroeder said he felt "very awkward" because he has no dance training.
As for Davis, who quickly gained Washington fame after posing for a local magazine in a flattering leotard, the workout was tough but "it was nice to be sandwiched between those two hunks," she said.
Davis, who came with her husband and 23-month-old daughter, Alexandra, said the day "reminded me of a gigantic county fair without the rides and animals. It's good clean fun for everyone."