This fall, artists and audiences from the Washington, D.C. area, the U.S., and around the globe come together at the nation’s cultural capital to dance, sing, create, collaborate, listen, learn, talk, share, and celebrate the opening of the REACH, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’s unprecedented new expansion, during the free 16-day REACH Opening Festival on September 7–22.
Built for active participation and access, the REACH brings visitors directly into the creative process. From masterclasses and workshops to dance parties and DJ sets, the Opening Festival offers a first glimpse of the many varied and interactive ways that visitors will be able to experience art at the REACH.
With more than 400 free events planned, the multi-genre, multidisciplinary festival features participatory performances, interactive installations, hands-on learning activities, and more, with local and national headliners including Arrested Development, The Second City, Thievery Corporation, Yalitza Aparicio, Bootsy Collins, Renée Fleming, Robert Glasper, Angélique Kidjo, Alan Menken, Tiler Peck, Mo Willems, and numerous others.
Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter explains: “The REACH’s unique design will inspire a wide population to share and own their arts experiences. Building on the Kennedy Center’s rich ongoing programming portfolio to reflect the art of our entire nation, the Opening Festival celebrates all art forms and encourages participation, immersion, learning, and discovery.”
The REACH Expansion
All free and open to the public, the Opening Festival events take place throughout the REACH campus, which features three soaring, contiguous pavilions housing ten defined interior spaces and more than 130,000 square feet of lush, landscaped green space. The entire campus is highly flexible, with indoor and outdoor spaces built to accommodate performances, events, film screenings, workshops, art classes, and studio rehearsals.
At once a public incubator, a hands-on learning lab, and a set of dynamic, light-filled collaborative spaces, the REACH was designed by architect Steven Holl to support the Kennedy Center’s evolving needs as the nation’s vibrant cultural center. Drawing exclusively on private philanthropy to finance the project’s design, construction, and activation, the Center launched the $250 million Building the Future capital campaign. Set in motion by Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein’s $50 million cornerstone gift in 2013, which inspired hundreds of other major donors around the country to participate, this has successfully raised more than $224 million to date.
Opening Day highlights
A glorious microcosm of the Opening Festival, the Opening Day illustrates the rich breadth of experience that the REACH’s versatile, informal spaces are designed to foster. To inaugurate the event, artists and audiences will participate in a campus-wide Opening Procession, and the National Symphony Orchestra will give an open-air performance of Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony conducted by Thomas Wilkins, featuring four vocal soloists drawn from the Washington National Opera’s acclaimed Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, as coached by superstar soprano and Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor Renée Fleming. Stanley J. Thurston will lead the 300-voice D.C. community-based chorus, anchored by the Heritage Signature Chorale, in a performance that promises to draw the crowd together in an uplifting celebration of music, freedom, and solidarity.
The day’s eclectic offerings include a headlining appearance by Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Bootsy Collins, legendary bassist for James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, who joins The Chuck Brown Band for a joyful celebration of Go-Go, the homegrown funk variety dubbed “the heartbeat of D.C.” (Washington Post). Underground Comedy, a local comedy promoter, will present a Stand Up Showcase featuring some of D.C.’s best comedians and up-and-coming talent, and New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck will lead an advanced masterclass. Skylight Soundscapes, a specially commissioned installation by Kennedy Center Composer-in-Residence Mason Bates, will use projections and sounds, ranging from Renaissance choral to German techno, to create an immersive, chill-out lounge space, and from the comfort of the fully equipped Virtual Reality Lounge visitors can put on an Oculus headset and step into new worlds beyond their imagination. Like Skylight Soundscapes, the VR Lounge will remain open throughout the festival.
The Rest of the Festival
There is so much going on during these 16 days, from audience creations and get involved to opportunities to watch artists at work to celebrating our indigenous heritage to music, drama, dance, film, sculpture, and installation.
All REACH Opening Festival events are free, and reservations for timed passes will be required for entry. Reservations will open in August at The Kennedy Center’s REACH web page.