The Welcome Pavilion, center, and the Skylight Pavilion, left, at the Reach, the Kennedy Center’s new annex that’s opening this weekend. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

More than six years and $250 million after the Kennedy Center announced its ambitious expansion plans, the sprawling complex dubbed the Reach opens to the public this weekend. Its introduction to Washington is a free, 16-day festival of the arts, with a packed schedule of hundreds of events reflecting the Reach’s wide-ranging cultural mission.

This Saturday alone, there are around 40 items on the agenda: master classes teaching Beyoncé’s stage choreography, workshops about making art with recycled materials, screenings of short films, open rehearsals and performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kronos Quartet and the Chuck Brown Band.

Over the next two weeks, there’s probably something you’ll want to see at the Reach. Here’s a guide to experiencing Washington’s newest cultural hub.

Remind me — what’s the Reach?

The sprawling complex, located just to the south of the performing arts center, provides additional rehearsal spaces for musicians and dancers, as well as facilities for which the Kennedy Center doesn’t have room, such as hands-on classrooms for visiting students. It’s designed to offer behind-the-scenes access to the public, who can watch rehearsals from a balcony overlooking a dance studio, for example. The studios and rehearsal rooms can also be used as intimate performance venues for smaller productions.

In addition to 10 indoor spaces, there’s a public plaza, slated for outdoor concerts and movie screenings, a cafe and coffee bar, and a pedestrian bridge over Rock Creek Parkway that allows access to the Kennedy Center from the Rock Creek Trail along the Potomac River.


The Skylight Pavillion, as seen from the bridge at the Reach. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The Skylight Pavillion at night. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

So, how do I get into the festival?

Free, timed-entry tickets are required to enter the facility during the opening festival. Three time slots are available each day: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1:30 to 5 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. (A special 6 a.m. Daybreaker session on Thursday offers sunrise yoga and a 7 a.m. dance party, but the last tickets were snapped up earlier this week.)

Tickets were released to the public Aug. 7, and passes for the sessions with the biggest draws — a block party with hip-hop legends De La Soul on Sept. 14, a National Dance Day celebration hosted by choreographer Debbie Allen on Sept. 21, comedy showcases with Patton Oswalt and Rachel Dratch on Sept. 20 — “sold out” weeks ago. In fact, there are no tickets left at all for this weekend, or any Saturdays or Sundays during the duration of the festival.

But I really, really want to see an artist that’s “Sold Out.” What are the chances I can still get in?

Festival organizers know that not everyone who wanted to hear De La Soul or bring the kids to the singalong “Muppet Movie” (Sept. 15) got tickets, and they’re aware that not everyone who claimed passes will actually show up. That’s why ticketless visitors will be sent to the Kennedy Center’s Hall of Nations, where entrance to the festival will be allowed on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We expect and want to accommodate those who will be in the standby line, and those who may not have been part of the initial rush” of tickets, says Michelle A. Pendoley, the Kennedy Center’s director of public relations. “While we’re confident that some in the standby line will be granted entry for most time slots, it’s not possible to predict how many will get in for any given slot.”

If you’ve got your heart set on seeing a certain performer, try to arrive as early as possible and be patient. The indoor, air-conditioned waiting area should make for a more pleasant experience.


The Justice Forum auditorium, with its distinctive crinkle concrete walls, will host film screenings and panel discussions during the opening festival. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

I got a pass for the time slot when my favorite artist is performing. How can I make sure I see them?

It’s important to note that your ticket only guarantees that you can enter the grounds of the Reach at the time you reserved. There are three entrances: two at the Kennedy Center, and one via the bridge from the Potomac. Organizers suggest you arrive up to 30 minutes before your ticketed time, to help get through lines and security. You’ll be free to roam around at your leisure, taking in the new buildings — don’t miss the crinkly acoustic walls in the studios, or the glass-walled Skylight Pavilion’s views of the river — and whatever performances happen to be going on. A free app, called Reach Fest , includes a planner and live schedule.

However, the Kennedy Center’s website firmly states that tickets for a certain time slot “do not guarantee entry to any specific event. The reason is space: The Reach’s overall capacity is 5,000, but that number is spread across 130,000 square feet indoors and outdoors. Take Saturday night as an example: The outdoor plaza where the Chuck Brown Band and Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins are performing holds 2,000 people. The indoor Studio K, where 1990s hip-hop artists Speech and Arrested Development perform, has a capacity of 350, and the Justice Forum auditorium, where Charles Burnett’s “Selma, Lord, Selma” is being screened, has 144 seats.

Once a room or venue hits capacity, that’s it, which is probably going to encourage fans to arrive early and camp out well before the performance time for the artist they want to see. You’ve been warned.


A nighttime view of the Reach from the Roosevelt Bridge, with the original Kennedy Center building in the background. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

I have tickets for two time slots on the same day. Do I have to leave and get back in line at the end of the first one?

No. Each day of the festival has a different theme, such as jazz (Sunday) or classical and Broadway (Wednesday), with performances throughout the day. If you have tickets for multiple sessions, make sure you arrive on time for the first one of the day.

“An intentional break in activities between each time slot” serves as a cue that the session is over, Pendoley explains, but they’re not going to make everyone exit. If you have tickets for the next one, you’re welcome to hang out until the next round of activities begins.


One of the multiuse rehearsal studios. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

I don’t want to wait in long lines, even for De La Soul, but I want to see what the fuss is about. Can I just drop in on my lunch break next week?

That’s probably the best way to get a feel for the Reach: As of press time, none of the festival’s weekday 10 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. time slots were sold out, which means you should be able to show up and walk in.

While many of the daytime programs are targeted at families, there are plenty of other things to see and hear, such as the National Symphony Orchestra’s rehearsing with Broadway stars for a tribute to composer Alan Menken (Wednesday at 1 p.m.); a conversation with best actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio of “Roma” (Tuesday at 11 a.m.); or musicians from the Opera House Orchestra performing “a concert in the chill-out lounge space” of the Skylight Pavilion (Monday at noon). And there will be hands-on activities and a virtual reality lounge, among other things, open daily.


A view of the River Pavilion, which has a coffee shop and small restaurant. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Will there be anything special to eat and drink, or are we stuck with the Kennedy Center cafeteria?

There are two new options at the Reach: a coffee bar in the main Welcome Pavilion, and the River Cafe, a coffee shop and small restaurant, in the River Pavilion — the space farthest from the existing Kennedy Center.

Food at the festival is being “curated” by two locals: chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto and Brothers and Sisters, and Eric Hilton, the owner of Marvin and the Brixton, and a co-founder of the electronic group Thievery Corporation, which performs at the festival Sept. 13. The schedule features meet-and-greets with D.C. chefs from all eight wards, whose food will be featured during these spotlights. More menu options at the River Cafe will come from Bruner-Yang’s existing concepts. There also will be food trucks throughout the festival.

Beyond the festival, Bruner-Yang and Hilton will begin curating pop-ups at the River Cafe sometime in 2020, though all the details aren’t clear yet.

If performances are free, what about parking?

The Kennedy Center’s usual parking rates — $20 in advance, $23 at the door — will apply throughout the festival. The most economical way to get there is the usual free shuttle bus, which runs daily, every 15 minutes from outside the Foggy Bottom Metro station, but expect crowding and lines during popular events. At peak times, such as weekends, it might be faster to walk the half-mile from the Metro station.


The lobby of the Welcome Pavilion. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

What kind of events and activities will be at the Reach once the festival’s over?

One of the goals for the Reach is to provide visitors with a behind-the-scenes views of rehearsals and the creative process, by making the studios open to the public. “There is no backstage space,” Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter told The Post in June. “It’s not like there’s a front of house and back of house.” Daily guided tours will be offered after the festival ends.

The Kennedy Center hasn't released a Reach-specific calendar yet, though the Moonshot studio, which offers interactive and hands-on activities, will begin offering Saturday morning drop-in events for families on Sept. 28.

The Reach’s first visual arts exhibition is “Portraits of Courage,” a collection of 66 paintings of veterans by former president George W. Bush, which will be on display from Oct. 7 to Nov. 15. (Free timed tickets are required.) Other highlighted happenings include an Oct. 1 book signing and discussion with Ben Folds, a National Symphony Orchestra artistic adviser, and “Let’s Talk Dance,” an Oct. 5 discussion about legendary modern dance choreographer Merce Cunningham’s artistic process as part of the Kennedy Center’s “Merce Cunningham at 100” program.

If you go

Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. kennedy-center.org.

Dates: Saturday through Sept. 22.

Admission: Free. Timed-entry passes are required, and are available via the Kennedy Center’s website.