Welcome Pavilion from South with Sedum Swoop // Photo: Richard Barnes

The Art + Architecture of The REACH

The Kennedy Center’s original building may be a box-like structure in its physical form, but it has truly grown into a space that cannot be boxed in. A monument, performing arts space, educational center and must-see stop on a list of tourist travel plans: these are all roles the space has held since opening in 1971. 

Naturally, as the Center’s roles have shifted, so have the needs of the community it serves. That’s where The REACH comes in. An expansion of the Center, its sprawling, subterranean layout and public art installations are just as integral to the vision of this new endeavor as the programming that will take place in it. 

The care and attention to detail invoked by those involved in designing the building and placing the art within provides another layer to the deep commitment of the Center – not only to the legacy of its namesake who cherished the arts so dearly, but for the community it will serve in the years to come. 

THE ARCHITECTURE

Chris McVoy, senior partner at Steven Holl Architects, says the selection of their firm to design The REACH was a once-in-a-lifetime commission – the kind of project that makes up an architect’s dream. 

With its serene, subterranean layout, exterior slopes made up of glistening white titanium concrete and lush greenery surrounding the grounds, McVoy says The REACH represents more than a stunning arts campus or extension of the institution the Center established with its original building.

“We had a chance to transform a 1970s notion of what a national performing arts center [is] into a 21st century vision,” he says. “It’s an expansion of an existing building that hasn’t really been touched since 1971.”

McVoy notes how the performing arts and the spaces that house them have changed since the Center opened, both in the District and nationally.

“This was a chance to take that 1971 model and completely transform it and open it up. In the original building, [the arts] are really now held within a box – a very large box. This was a chance to break that open, turn it inside out and open it up to the city.”

Although the building is made of the aforementioned white titanium concrete, another material is an essential part of the building: natural light. McVoy says that Holl will always say natural light is his favorite material when asked what he prefers to work with.

That affinity followed Holl, McVoy and their team to The REACH in an especially effective way. The sweeping windows, skylights and frosted glass blur the lines between the natural and the manmade. When walking through The REACH, it’s easy to forget you’re in an urban space as you’re enveloped by sunshine and greenery throughout.

“[Natural light] is essential to your psychological sense of well-being,” McVoy continues. “You feel good when you have a connection to the outdoors. You know what the weather is like outside, you know what time of day it is, you know what season it is. When you put that in a rehearsal space or performance space, it gives the artists or the audience a critical connection to the outdoors. It’s inspiring. Often when you’re rehearsing, you’re there eight hours a day. To have this feeling of relief in the light gives a whole inspiration to the process of making art.”

McVoy and senior associate Garrick Ambrose felt inspired during the process of constructing The REACH, pioneering an internal design element with their team just for the space. Called crinkle concrete, it adorns the walls of the Justice Forum and other rehearsal spaces. And although the Justice Forum is the only room in the space without windows, the fluidity created by the design also emulates the same natural serenity as the rest of the building. Its crisp acoustics are also novel, as concrete is not necessarily known for creating purity of sound.

McVoy notes that his team had the idea to imprint the concrete with a texture that does the acoustical work of diffusing the sound.

“We did many studies of what kind of texture we could put into the form work of the concrete to create this diffusion. [Ambrose] was doing experiments and found this idea of a crinkle concrete, where by taking a sheet of aluminum and bending it and banging it up and then using that as the liner that the concrete is cast against, [it] creates the ideal acoustical texture to mitigate flutter echo and diffuse the sound in the space.”

Once perfected, the team took their creation to the rest of the rehearsal spaces. While they met their goal acoustically, the accomplishment is twofold. The fluidity provided by the crinkle concrete is not only aesthetically appealing but provides a metaphorical distinction of the fluidity in the arts that The REACH itself represents.

“When you see this texture, especially in the Justice Forum, it’s immaterial,” McVoy explains. “On the one hand, it [appears] carved out of solid rock. And then on the other hand, it seems as light as folded paper. And then, especially in the Justice Forum where we’re lighting it right along the surface – we’re just raking it with light – the textures [are] particularly pronounced and immaterial. In fact, it’s a concrete structural wall but it feels like a folded texture of light.”

Though the Center’s original space will always stand as the iconic monument to its namesake’s legacy and commitment to the arts, the fluid and flexible notions brought forth in The REACH – both in structure and ideology – surely show the creative future Kennedy advocated for as the catalyst of change in our modern times. 

THE ART

Longtime DC residents will be greeted by a familiar figure when entering the grounds of The REACH: Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstrokes, on loan from The Hirshhorn. The 1996 sculpture is just one of three outdoor sculptures that, along with many other pieces of art indoors, were selected with the help of Dr. Elizabeth Broun.

“I’ve been a longtime admirer of the Kennedy Center and the role they play – not just in Washington but across the country – to encourage the performing arts,” says Broun, The REACH’s visual arts advisor. “It’s an organization with a deep sense of mission and a real commitment to the idea that the arts can really express American life.”

Broun, who served for many years as the director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and retired in 2016, says her involvement in The REACH is a perfect way for her to stay engaged with the arts and work with one of the most prestigious, fabulous arts organizations in America.

She took Kennedy’s legacy as a powerful arts advocate to heart while working with artists, museums and donors to adorn the space. She notes that while a connection to the Kennedy administration was not a necessary requirement for inclusion, there are some beautiful connections to his life that make an appearance at The REACH – namely in the case of painter Sam Gilliam and sculptor Joel Shapiro.

Gilliam’s work, which Broun describes as “lyrical and musical,” drapes across the interior space. Shapiro’s sculpture almost appears to “pirouette” across the lawn, and she envisions it becoming something of an iconic symbol of The REACH due to its visibility from the river, the highway and within the landscape of the building.

“[Gilliam] is really the internationally acclaimed dean of Washington’s artists. He’s long been affiliated with Washington. He came to the city in 1962 during the Kennedy administration, so we liked that reference. We liked that Joel Shapiro was actually in the third cohort of Peace Corps volunteers in India. The Kennedy legacy really does live on and is a very active component in the arts.”

In working to bring this incredible array of American art to The REACH, Broun’s hopes lie in the idea that patrons will see the multidimensional impacts of the arts that harken back to the Kennedy legacy it so gracefully pays tribute to.

“People mostly don’t think of the Kennedy Center as being about art, except for maybe that great big bronze head of Kennedy that’s in the foyer. I hope it makes them sort of reflect a little bit that yes, this is a great center for all of the arts in America. It’s encouraging the arts of every type. It’s comprehensive in the same way that President Kennedy’s vision for the arts was to be a beacon and related to our democracy. It’s about public spaces and public art. I hope they respond to all of that.”

For more on the work of Chris McVoy and Steven Holl Architects, go to www.stevenholl.com. Visit www.reach.kennedy-center.org for continuing announcements about upcoming programming at The REACH. 

Christelle Bofale

September Music Picks

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 5

Benjamin Francis Leftwich
While this young English artist may have landed on your radar for his hauntingly beautiful covers of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies)” and The Killers’ “When You Were Young,” don’t sleep on his original music. Although Leftwich does craft tracks you could easily drift off to, I promise that’s a compliment. Hearing his dreamy, ethereal folk live is the perfect way to usher in the cozy months of fall. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $17. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Jennifer Hudson and the National Symphony Orchestra
Since sweeping America during the third season of American Idol, Jennifer Hudson’s star quality has been undeniable. See the singer and actress in a new light this summer. Led by National Symphony Orchestra conductor Thomas Wilkins, this unique take on Hudson’s work will offer listeners the opportunity to enjoy Hudson’s talent and the NSO’s beautiful arrangements against the stunning backdrop of Wolf Trap’s Filene Center. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $45. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis is perhaps best known as part of the indie rock band Rilo Kiley, but her solo career is equally prolific. Lewis comes to The Anthem with songs from this year’s critically acclaimed and all-around excellent On The Line in tow. Her alt-folk tunes and acerbic lyrics have already solidified her as one of the best musicians of a generation. Here’s a fun fact to tide you over until you see Lewis in the flesh: Did you know she starred in the 80s comedy Troop Beverly Hills? Truly a woman of many talents. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $40. Show at 8 p.m. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

Queen of Jeans
Underneath the sun-soaked sounds of this trio are some intense, introspective and healing lyrics, making for a listening experience that’s equal parts cathartic and calming. Late last month, the band released their second album If you’re not afraid, I’m not afraid, a continuation of their fresh-but-retro sound. For the ultimate introduction to the group, start with the album’s lead single “Only Obvious to You,” a captivating breakup song, and dive into the rest of their catalogue from there. Doors at 7 p.m. , show’s at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $10. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7

SG Lewis
You name a successful alt-pop artist from the past several years, and SG Lewis is most likely a collaborator. The likes of AlunaGeorge, Clairo, HONNE and more have turned to the British DJ, songwriter and producer to give them the edgy and atmospheric sound that established his star power. He definitely doesn’t need the help of other artists – it’s more a relationship where they bring out the best in each other – and his solo work is similarly affecting and catching. He’ll appear live in DC, not just as part of a DJ set, which means you’re in for a treat, as Lewis has a gorgeous voice of his own. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $15. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC;
www.ustreetmusichall.com

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

Banks
Genre-bending crooner Banks took several years off at the height of her career to truly hone in on writing and recording new music, leading up to the release of this year’s record III. Feeling burnt out from a grueling tour schedule around her first two records, her retreat to solitude and creativity allowed her to perfect her craft and return with what Pitchfork called her “best album to date.” Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $45. The Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

The Messthetics
While The Messthetics were somewhat born of the ashes of the ever-relevant Fugazi (drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally were both members), they’re joined by fellow DC denizen Anthony Pirog on guitar to create a sound that epitomizes the local DIY spirit but still keeps it innovative. To celebrate the release of their forthcoming record Anthropocosmic Nest, they stop by the Black Cat, a venue as important to the local scene as each of Messthetics’ members. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC;
www.blackcatdc.com

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 14

Seratones
Rock and motown have always been inextricably linked, but Shreveport, L.A.’s Seratones have perfected the blend for the modern age on their sophomore album, Power. Power is right, as you’re instantly taken in by frontwoman AJ Haynes’ captivating voice, layered perfectly with the rest of the four-piece band’s gritty instrumentation. Wrapped up in production courtesy of Cage the Elephant’s Brad Shultz, the breakout band has entered an exciting new chapter in what’s sure to be a long career. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $15. Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16

Bloc Party
Sure, there has been a whole slew of bands announcing anniversary tours around their best albums over the last 10, 15 or even 20 years. But Bloc Party is playing its iconic record Silent Alarm in full on this tour, an album that’s not only the group’s best, but arguably the seminal work in the pantheon of bands producing explosively good records throughout the early 2000s. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $45. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St.
SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17

KAG + Sir E.U
Katie Alice Greer, of local post-punk outfit Priests and Sister Polygon Records, has stated on Twitter that she plans to debut new solo material at this show. While Greer has released work outside of Priests as far back as 2015 (including recording her own take on The Dixie Chicks’ Fly), anyone itching to hear what’s next to come from Greer’s ever-expanding body of work won’t want to miss this show in the Black Cat’s Red Room. Greer is joined by another notable name in the DC music world, Sir E.U, whose transcendental take on rap is not to be overlooked. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18

Marina
You might know this Greek-English singer from when she still recorded under the name Marina and the Diamonds. Now that she’s dropped the diamonds from the stage name, the pop star born Marina Diamandis has ushered in a new era for herself as an artist. She’s touring around not one but two albums she released this year (Love and Fear, respectively) and although one can hope for some old bops to be thrown into the mix, I’m excited to see what this new name and era looks like for one of the most interesting musicians of the decade. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show’s at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $40. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

Ride
After a notable split at the height of the UK’s shoegaze scene in the 90s saw each member of Ride off to their own endeavors (most notably, bassist Andy Bell joining Brit-pop legends Oasis), it was unclear if the group would ever produce new work in the future. Two reunions and many years later, they’re not only back together, but releasing new music as well. Perhaps their reunion could be credited to the increased interest in shoegaze from modern artists, or maybe Ride has just been itching to release new music. No matter the reason, don’t miss some of the pioneers of the genre live. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $35. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC: www.930.com

Tasha + Christelle Bofale
Two of Father Daughter Records’ finest signees on the same bill? I can hardly think of a better way to spend your Sunday. Tasha is a musician and poet from Chicago who crafts warm, dreamy songs about the beauty of black love. Christelle Bofale, who is Congolese and hails from Austin, Texas uses her rich family heritage to inform her guitar driven songs. Here, you’re presented with the opportunity to hear two voices who will inevitably do even bigger things in the coming years, so clear your schedule. Doors at 7 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $12. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

Cosmo Sheldrake
Cosmo Sheldrake is an incredibly whimsical artist. So whimsical, in fact, that I’d be willing to bet if a quirky sort of for kids, but mostly for adults movie like Where The Wild Things Are were made today, he’d be the first choice to score the film. Case in point: his most popular song, “Come Along,” unironically refers to a “heffalump,” of Winnie the Pooh fame. Because of all this, Sheldrake’s electro-folk sensibilities and nonsensical, improvisational style provide the perfect music to get lost in. Doors at 7 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Whitney
Generating from the dissolution of garage rockers Smith Westerns, Whitney takes some of those same influences but spins their sound into something completely their own. Add some blues and folk sounds to the aforementioned jangly nature of rock they’ve been known to play, and you have the makings of a sound that may not make sense on paper but is incredible in practice. The band tours around their new album Forever Turned Around, released last month, which they’ve been quoted as saying to DIY Magazine deals with topics “fear, confusion, and substance abuse.” Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $30. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC: www.930.com

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25

Ezra Bell
Portland’s Ezra Bell sounds very much like they are from Portland. While their musicianship is masterful, their devil-may-care ethos of combining almost every genre under the sun is something that could most certainly only have generated from the cool and carefree Pacific Northwest. If your music taste skews to the classics of the 60s and 70s, this is not a band to sleep on. Instead, head to Gypsy Sally’s and dance through your Wednesday night. Doors at
8 p.m. Tickets start at $10. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26

Oh Land
Nanna Øland Fabricius takes her stage name, Oh Land, as a variant of her middle name. The Danish musician contributes to the brand of icy pop that the region is known for. Her 2019 album Family Tree marks her first album in five years. She’s been busy in the interim, though, starring alongside Mads Mikkelsen in the Danish Western movie The Salvation, composed music for ballet and became a mom. With a background in dance and stage performance, her live show is sure to be a vibrantly good time. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

Frankie Cosmos
Earlier this month, Frankie Cosmos (née Greta Kline) released the whopping 21 track long Close It Quietly, a welcome continuation of the confessional, poem like songwriting that’s made her a go-to voice in the indie rock scene. While I couldn’t complain if Kline played all 21 new songs on this tour, here’s to hoping we hear the old stuff that put Kline on the map, too. For more on Close It Quietly, read assistant editor Trent Johnson’s interview with Kline at ontaponline.com. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $18. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

Generationals
Even if you’ve never heard of Generationals, you’ve probably heard their retro pop sound in a commercial or soundtrack without even realizing it. Sleeper hits like “TenTwentyTen” and “Put a Light On” certainly have a cinematic quality about them. The duo’s new record, Reader as Detective, shows off their evolving sweet but jangly sound into something still modern, always exciting and ready to soundtrack at least the next several year’s worth of movies and TV shows. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $18. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Sir Babygirl
I became familiar with Sir Babygirl, AKA Kelsie Hogue, as an incredibly hilarious and endearing comedic personality on the internet before I ever even heard her music. When I realized she was making music born out of my early 90s, Lisa Frank power-pop fever dreams, in addition to being the funniest queer person on the web, I was fully indoctrinated into the cult of Sir Babygirl. You should join this fun and fluid pop revolution. Consider her live show your baptism. Doors at 7 p.m. Show’s at 8 pm. Tickets start at $12. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2477 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Photo: courtesy of Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia Brings Deeply Personal, Universally Relatable The New One to National Theatre

When Lin-Manuel Miranda calls your one-man show “As perfect a night as you’re gonna get,” it might seem like an it’s-all-downhill-from-here moment. But for Mike Birbiglia, there is no downhill, as the comic, actor, playwright and director’s personal projects continually supersede their predecessors. His latest one-man show, 2017’s The New One, which inspired Miranda’s sterling review, is also Birbiglia’s most honest and transparent performance to date. The show wrestles with Birbiglia’s initial opposition to having children, and how his thoughts on parenting rapidly shifted toward clichés such as, “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” While the story contains tons of jokes, he gets real about feeling like an intern in his own family and having bouts of jealousy toward his daughter. Known for his versatile storytelling, Birbiglia has made frequent stops on NPR’s This American Life, directed films Sleepwalk with Me and Don’t Think Twice (and starred in the former), and has appeared in several popular TV shows. Before he brings his Broadway show to National Theatre on September 24-29, we caught up with him about his process, writing about the personal and his first year as a dad.

On Tap: At what point did you know this story was a one-person show? What about the narrative lent itself to that kind of performance?
Mike Birbiglia: There was actually a gag order in my family about talking about the pregnancy or having a child for the first year, where I would tell [my wife] Jen [Stein] jokes I was working on and she’d say, “I don’t think you should talk about that.” At a certain point, I was in Nantucket at the film festival and they asked me to tell a story about jealousy. I said, “No, I don’t think I’m gonna tell a story.” My wife said, “Well, you’re jealous of Oona.” That’s our daughter. And I said, “That’s true.” On that trip, Jen and I started writing a story together about how I’m jealous of our daughter and that’s the seed of what became the show. Jen started sharing her writing with me and I started sharing my writing with her, and we got really honest about what had happened in that first year [as parents] and the things we had struggled with. That’s why ultimately the show is really funny and has a ton of jokes, but it’s also very close to the bone and I couldn’t have written it without Jen for that reason.

OT: With something so personal, it’s likely you weren’t necessarily planning on telling this story while you were living through it. How do you know when something you’re going through can become a story?
MB: Once you decide that you’re a storyteller of any kind, your whole life is forever looked at through the lens of, “Could that be used as a story?” No matter how happy or sad or weird or strange or cool, it does cross your mind. If a writer says it doesn’t cross their mind, they’re probably lying. My stories, they’re so personal. So, it was important to me that Jen and I were both on the same page about telling the story. Ultimately, the story is about change and how I never wanted to have a child and [how] I was so glad that we had a child. Really, it’s about transformation and the idea that the things we’re sometimes the most reluctant to do are the things that we need most.

OT: What was the toughest thing to admit and be honest about when writing about yourself?
MB: I think the toughest thing was admitting that I could have done better as a dad in that first year of my daughter’s life. I worked too many hours. I traveled too much. I say it in the show, but I was basically the intern of our family. I was the pudgy, milkless vice president. Huge title, no power, also oversees Congress. But if I’m being completely honest, I could have been a better intern.

OT: What’s the writing process for your one-man shows? How do you approach formulating the narrative?
MB: My director Seth Barrish and I have worked on four solo plays that have been off-Broadway: Sleepwalk with Me, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Thank God for Jokes and now The New One, which moved to Broadway. The way we work is when we arrive at what we believe to be the main event of the show, we work backwards. In other words, with Sleepwalk with Me, it was jumping through a second-story window. With My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, it was being in a car accident and deciding to get married. With Thank God for Jokes, it was telling an inappropriate joke at an awards show. And with this one, it was the moment I understand all the clichés people say about having children. All the things I made fun of and laughed about for all these years [suddenly] made sense to me. So, we really built backwards from that to understand what’s the most impactful way to arrive at that feeling.

OT: What does it mean to have had this performance on Broadway? Was that something you aspired to? How did that experience differ from your previous productions?
MB: Going to Broadway was something we had talked about with all three of the other shows. This one felt like it was the right thing because it was in some ways the most universal. It’s about having a child, but it’s also really just about change and deciding to be alive and what it means to be alive and why we choose to be alive. Plus, it was maybe the funniest of the shows. In terms of Broadway itself, I think what’s special about that is that you enter a community of people who you admire coming to your shows and you going to their shows. I went to Heidi Schreck’s show What the Constitution Means to Me and she came to my show. I went to Rachel Chavkin’s musical Hadestown and she came to my show. That kind of back-and-forth between being in a community of shows and supporting each other, I think that’s the most special part of it. For me, it’s not what street you’re on.

OT: You went to Georgetown University and had a stint at DC Improv. Does performing in DC feel like coming home at all?
MB: I think the most exciting thing about performing in DC is that I can invite Jake Tapper and Neal Katyal to come to the shows. The second most important thing is that I lived in DC and started doing comedy there. It’s very meaningful to me to think that when I was seating people and bringing nachos to tables at DC Improv, the idea that I would be performing my Broadway show at National Theatre down the street would be unfathomable. But in the same way, everything in your life is unfathomable. It’s just a matter of which type of unfathomable it ends up being.

Mike Birbiglia’s The New One runs at National Theatre from Tuesday, September 24 through Sunday, September 29. Tickets start at $39. For more about the one-man show and Birbiglia, visit www.birbigs.com.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.com

Photo: courtesy of Studio Theatre

Unanswered Questions Remain Relevant in “Doubt: A Parable”

Where did society’s curiosity go? What happened to the doubts? These are some of the questions that playwright John Patrick Shanley asks in his 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Doubt: A Parable. Studio Theatre brings the thoughtful play to 14th Street from September 4 to October 6 with associate artistic director Matt Torney at the helm. The story centers on a 1964 Brooklyn Catholic school where a charismatic priest takes an interest in a young boy, leaving the school’s headmaster suspicious of foul play. As Studio prepares to ask the play’s many questions, we talked to Torney about this contemporary masterpiece and its jarring subject matter.

On Tap: Why did you decide this season was the right fit for Doubt?
Matt Torney: The first thing is that it’s one of the plays that seems to be many years ahead of its time. In the preface, the playwright talks about the year he’s living in [as] an age of certainty [where] everyone was very certain about what they believed and what they experienced. He wanted to know what happened to doubt, what happened to curiosity. We’re always looking for contemporary classics, and the political time we’re living in is fraught and certainty is rampant. We thought it was a great time for us to visit the play, and to see how it’s aged and how it can reengage.

OT: What specifically drew you to the play?
MT: I’m from Ireland [and] I went to a Catholic school, and the idea of what it means to be a Catholic and have that history is something personally relevant to me. This play made me feel uncomfortable and scared me a little bit, and that’s always a good sign. It got under my skin, and I had some questions I didn’t have answers to.

OT: What is your approach when directing a play with so much clout and acclaim? Does it make you want to bring your own vision more or less?
MT: My process always begins with the actors. We have to make it feel very alive. Even when you do contemporary classics, you don’t want to treat them as museum pieces. You have to make it feel vivid right now. The thing that drew me to it is that the questions felt very alive to me. The play hadn’t been answered or solved, and the questions it was built on were so relevant and poignant.

OT: One of my favorite aspects of Studio’s productions are the set pieces and the intimacy of the spaces. How are you approaching Doubt from those perspectives?
MT: Just the [set design] alone is perfect for an intimate space. You’re being invited into a private office and a private garden. It’s an enclosed world that’s opened up a crack [and] you’re able to peek into [it]. What happens behind closed doors? What are the conversations about power and faith?

OT: What would you say to people who are unfamiliar with the play? Why do you think it’s not to be missed?
MT: [At] the center of the play is an accusation against a priest. There’s not much evidence to prove it, but there’s a lot of circumstances that cause the accusers to be certain. That mystery of the play is interesting dramatically because who’s right and who’s wrong isn’t clear. There’s a huge gray area of challenging power dynamics and gender dynamics.

Doubt: A Parable runs from Wednesday, September 4 through Sunday, October 6. Times vary. Tickets $60-$80.

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

Photo: Taylor Bonin

The Growlers Just Keep Going

The Growlers’ frontman Brooks Nielsen brings up his band being sued – unprompted – several times throughout our conversation. Nielsen, who also tells me at the front of our call that he’s “sweating his ass off in Louisiana,” seems to wear the lawsuit as a badge of honor.

The scrappy band, formed in California’s sprawling multigenre DIY scene in 2006, occupies a hallowed space in the music industry. Most attuned to modern music know the band, but they exist in a world of their own creation – sometimes letting big name collaborators in, but always staying true to their intentions. And when a wanton outside influence tried to knock them down, they won. If I found myself in his shoes, I’d be proud, too.

At the center of the suit was the name “beach goth,” a term coined by Nielsen and company that he says has always existed as a nickname for the band. In 2012, they made Beach Goth into a full-on festival around Halloween with revelers running around in costumes, enjoying music and watching live performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on the beach.

“It got a little too big too quick,” he elaborates. “We were working with the promoter, and the guy was a douchebag and kind of just taking his own liberties. He was thinking about money and trying to grow real quick. We figured it out and called his bullshit, and he sued us. There were a lot of learning experiences in the festival world of how this business really works.”

But Nielsen says they survived the lawsuit, and have the name and are working to continue it.

“Now we have all control, so we’re doing it our way. We just want [to use it for] our own parties again. We get to curate it completely ourselves. It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s still fun ‘cause the kids love it.”

From the sound of it, Nielsen loves it too. They returned to another true form recently, self-producing and releasing their upcoming sixth record Natural Affair on their own (you guessed it) Beach Goth Records. Nielsen insists the creative process between him and the only other permanent Growler, guitarist Matt Taylor, and their “secret Growler” collaborator Kyle Malarkey hasn’t changed much since the band’s inception. But eliminating outside influences of some too-big-to-fail names (Julian Casablancas and Dan Auerbach, to name a few) allows them further clarity of voice and vision.

When it comes to purity of sound, Nielsen is something of a self-proclaimed musical isolationist. Aside from being a voracious reader and trusting his gut when it comes to writing, the frontman doesn’t look to much else for inspiration. This isn’t a bad thing, though. In a world where plenty of bands seem to always be on the prowl to capitalize on whatever zeitgeist of sound has captivated the music press, The Growlers subvert that trap by keeping things pristinely consistent.

“We haven’t really progressed that much musically – it’s a slow growth,” Nielsen says of his creative modes. “And I’m still an old grump and I don’t look at anything [or] really listen to anything. I just read a little and try and get as much time in with my people when I’m home. I’m not really affected by the outside world at all. It’s kind of still in that same zone.”

Despite his reluctance to allow his creative bubble to be permeated by outside influences, literature remains at the center of Nielsen’s process, serving a twofold function: helping him to craft the observant, poetic if sometimes dark lyrics (where the beach goth ethos comes into play) and keeping him sharp during marathon tours.

“When we’re on the road, we get really stunted. It’s six guys and boredom and drinking too much [while] confined in small quarters. You start turning into a child again. It helps spring my creativity and vocabulary back.”

Be it a festival, album or tour, no matter what The Growlers do, it’s all done authentically. There’s something to be said for having trust and total control over your own process, and not letting anyone – not even a lawsuit – sway you from your vision.

“It just has to come naturally,” Nielsen says of Natural Affair, but he could be speaking of any one of the band’s endeavors. “We don’t discuss what the record’s going to be, what it will sound like or what style we should go for. It just feels taboo. [We have this] kind of gradual, slow growth that people can accept. It’s not too much of a jump [from] the shark.”

The Growlers play the Black Cat on Friday, September 13. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are $35. For more on the band and Natural Affair’s fall release, visit www.thegrowlers.com.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com

Photo: Michael Stein

What’s On Tap: DC Beer Week 2019 Celebrates Collaborations, Comradery and Craft Beer

DC Beer Week is back with eight days of beer-themed festivities around the District, from September 8-15. From homebrew competitions and fun runs to comedy nights and crab feasts, the options are endless. We caught up with the creative minds behind Bluejacket and District ChopHouse’s beer menus about this year’s DC Beer Week lineup and the 2019 Solidarity Beer, a German kellerbier crafted at Bluejacket with nearly a dozen collaborating brewers.


Barrett Lauer
Head Brewer at District ChopHouse & Brewery

On Tap: What got you into brewing?
Barrett Lauer: I was working in the kitchen at The Wharf Rat [in Baltimore] and became friends with the brewer through our mutual love of beer and music. He offered me an apprenticeship, and I never looked back.

OT: What beers do you gravitate toward on a menu?
BL: I usually will start with a lighter, lower-ABV beer first. In the summer, I will start with a German pilsner, Vienna lager or Czech pils. If it’s chilly, I may want something more like a Scottish ale. I always like to try kellerbiers, especially at a brewery. Good, lighter beers are trickier to make because the flaws stick out.

OT: Do you sell any special bottles at District ChopHouse?
BL: We have some vintage beers that we sell. We also hold tasting events, like our upcoming cask event, where we serve some special beers from local breweries. We will also be serving the Solidarity Beer brewed for DC Beer Week.

OT: It seems like the beer industry is more collaborative than other types of businesses. Does that ring true for you?
BL: The local brewers all share the same goal of exposing more people to craft beer. If they try mine, they will go to Bluejacket, Atlas or one of the other local craft breweries and vice versa. Once you’ve had flavorful, fresh beer, it’s hard to go back.

OT: What special events do you have planned for DC Beer Week?
BL: We are hosting Cask [Day/Night] on September 6. We will line the perimeter of the brewers’ lounge with tables and patrons will be able to pour their own beers. There will be an assortment of ales and lagers and other beer styles. There will be Oktoberfest, dunkels (dark German lager), blond ale, hazy IPA and more. 

OT: What’s unique about cask ales?
BL: With a cask, after primary fermentation, it’s put in a vessel and then primed. Sometimes, you may add more hops. Some darker beers may have chocolate, toasted oak or coffee. The carbon dioxide produced by secondary fermentation is typically not as carbonated and is typically a softer texture than forced CO2.

District ChopHouse & Brewery: 509 7th St. #1, NW, DC; www.districtchophouse.com


Ro Guenzel
Director of Brewing Operations at Bluejacket

On Tap: How did you get started in brewing?
Ro Guenzel: I started as a homebrewer. My mom bought me a pale ale homebrew kit when I turned 21. My second homebrew was a German pils. They are my love. 

OT: What is one piece of advice you’d give to new beer drinkers?
RG: For most beers; drink fresh. The cellaring of beer introduces the unknown. 

OT: What inspired this year’s Solidarity Beer? What’s notable about a German kellerbier?
RG: The Solidarity kellerbier is a youngish lager beer [and] hazy amber in color. It is modestly bitter and balanced out with a touch of caramel malt. It has plenty of German hops in the flavor and nose.

OT: How did you decide on the style and recipe?
RG: When picking the beer, we try to pick something that fits in with the portfolio of the host brewery [and] that will get brewers excited, showcase what they make and be something that people will want to drink. We took the time of year into consideration. Kellerbiers are typically unfiltered, unpasteurized lagers from the German brewing tradition. The name translates directly to “cellar beer.” 

OT: Do you have any upcoming special releases or events?
RG: For DC Beer Week, we will be serving all of the collaborators’ beers at the kickoff party on September 8. Bluejacket will can about 50 cases of Solidarity Beer for sale out of the tasting room. This year for the first time, all the proceeds will be donated to the DC Brewers’ Guild. [At Snallygaster 2019 on October 12], there will be over 400 beers from 150 breweries around the world. Bluejacket will be serving cans as well as kegs. 

OT: What are you drinking now?
RG: All of this talk of German beers put me in the mood for a nice German festbier.

Don’t miss DC Beer Week from September 8-15 at various locations around DC. Visit www.dcbeerweek.net for the full lineup of events and learn more about Bluejacket and District ChopHouse below.

Bluejacket: 300 Tingey St. SE, DC; www.bluejacketdc.com

Disclosure: Dan Rozman is an investor in several breweries and The Minister
of Membership for Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP).


DC Beer Week Events

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

Porktober Fest
Mark your calendar! The second annual Old Ox Porktoberfest is happening the first day of September. Celebrate Labor Day Weekend with the release of Oxtober Bier, pretzels and pastries from The Baekehaus, a pig roast, and other delicious pork dishes from RESQ BBQ Catering. Enjoy live music from Felix Pickles and Rowdy Ace, a stein-lifting contest, and more. 4-9 p.m. Free to attend. Old Ox Brewery: 44652 Guilford Dr. Ashburn, VA; www.oldoxbrewery.com

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7

Brews Around the World: DC International Beer, Wine & Food Festival
Join this celebration of the very best of global beer and cuisine in our nation’s capital. You’ll get your own tasting glass for unlimited tastings of more than 80 carefully selected beers in a single session. Plus, two dozen amazing wines, 10+ ciders, hard sodas, gluten free options and more. There will be a DJ playing music all day and lots of outdoor games, arts and activities. 12:30-8 p.m. Tickets $20-$69. The Bullpen: 1201 Half St. SE, DC; www.brewfestdc.com

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

The Area Two Experimental Brewing Showcase

Join The Sovereign as they celebrate DC Beer Week 2019 with the fine folks from Area Two Experimental Brewing. You’ll see six wild and funky beers from the brand new Connecticut brewery. Meet master brewer and co-founder Phil Markowski of Area Two, which is a sour, barrel-aging and experimental brewery from Two Roads Brewing Company. The offshoot brewery will produce a wide range of sour beers, including spontaneously fermented ales inspired by the legendary Lambics of Belgium. Headlining the list is the award-winning Hexotic 2019, a Lambic-inspired ale aged two years in oak barrels, then conditioned on mango, orange, passionfruit, guava, pineapple and guanabana. All Two Roads beers will be priced individually by the glass and in 4 oz. tasting pours. The menu is subject to change without notice. 5-11:30 p.m. Free to attend. The Sovereign: 1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW; www.thesovereigndc.com

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 14

Beer Yoga

Bring your own mat and flow through a flight of Right Proper Brewery favorites during this hour-long power yoga class. You’ll sip and stretch at Right Proper’s Production House in Brookland. Come for yoga, nama’stay for beer. One three-glass flight included in yoga class ticket purchase. Noon-1 p.m. Tickets $15. Right Proper Brewing Company Brookland Production House and Tasting Room: 920 Girard St. NE, DC; www.rightproperbrewing.com

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

Heurich Oktoberfest: Senate Beer Style
This Heurich Oktoberfest celebration has a new twist: The Senate Beer revival will be fully available to the public for the first time, and some new partners will help celebrate. This Oktoberfest-style biergarten festival will take place in the Castle Garden and feature Senate Beer plus brews from Sankofa Beer Company, Red Bear Brewing Co., ANXO Cidery, Silver Branch Brewing Co., Supreme Core Cider, Crooked Run Brewing and Streetcar 82. Owners and representatives of these breweries and cideries will be onsite. All tickets include unlimited tastings and full-pours, a meal and one pretzel, all locally made. 1-4 p.m. $65-$85. Heurich House Museum: 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; www.heurichhouse.org

Oktoberfest Kick Off Party at Hops N Shine
Join Hops N Shine to celebrate the start of Oktoberfest! Participate in stein hoisting competitions, eating competitions and specials all Oktoberfest long. 2-5 p.m. Free to attend. Hops N Shine: 3410 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.hopsnshine.com

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25

Pints & Paint Nite
Grab your friends and unleash your inner artist at the Original Paint Nite. You’ll go from a blank canvas to a masterpiece of your own, with plenty of laughs along the way. Guided by a talented and entertaining artist, you’ll be amazed at what you create, and how much fun you have doing it. Instruction is provided by an expert host, so no experience is required, and everything you need is supplied. Fill up on the many Solace brews on tap. 7 p.m. Tickets $35. Solace Brewing: 42615 Trade W Dr. #100, Sterling, VA; www.solacebrewing.com

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

5th Annual Make It Funky Wild Beer Festival
It’s Denizens Brewing Co.’s fifth annual ‘Make It Funky’ Wild Beer Festival, which celebrates the unique and mouth-watering style of wild and sour brews. Craft beer fans from all over the DMV will gather to sample funky beers from breweries around the region while listening to live music. This year’s focus is on mixed fermentation and barrel-aged beers only, so you’re guaranteed to get the best of this style from participating breweries. 12-5 p.m. Tickets $62. Denizens Brewing Co.: 1115 E W Hwy. Silver Spring, MD; www.denizensbrewingco.com

Oktoberfest Outdoor Party at Port City
Port City’s most popular limited release beer, Oktoberfest, deserves its own party. There will be games, prizes, competitions such as stein hoisting and costumes, music, food and plenty of beer. Don’t miss out on their biggest event of the year. Enjoy food from Pizzeria Paradiso, Village Brauhaus, Borinquen Lunch Box Kitchen and Daddy G’s Craft Salsas. Noon-10 p.m. Port City: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.portcitybrewing.com

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

DC Beer Week Fun Run
Kick-start DC Beer Week 2019 by participating in the inaugural DC Beer Week Fun Run. Registered participants will receive a free beer at the starting point Right Proper Brookland Production House, and then a free beer at the end of the run at Red Bear Brewing Co. Race proceeds benefit the DC Brewers’ Guild. All are welcome for this 2-mile course down the Metropolitan Branch Trail between Right Proper and Red Bear. Register in advance or at the starting point at Right Proper. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets $10-$25. Right Proper Brewing Company Brookland Production House and Tasting Room: 920 Girard St. NE, DC;  www.dcbeerweek.net

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 9

3 Stars Home Brew Extravaganza
Celebrate DC Beer Week by competing in this year’s 3 Stars Brewing Homebrew Extravaganza. Clone this year’s Solidarity Beer – a kellerbier, Double IPA and wild American sour beer. Entries are due no later than 9 p.m. Monday, September 2. Visit dcbeerweek.net for awards and category details. 6-9 p.m. $5 per entry. 3 Stars Brewing: 6400 Chillum Pl.NW, DC; www.dcbeerweek.net

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

DC Total Tap Takeover at ChurchKey
ChurchKey will once again devote all 55 of its draft and cask lines to beers brewed right here in the District for the fifth straight year. A true tribute to the collective greatness of DC’s brewing scene, they’re showcasing a wide array of one-offs and rarities, both on cask and on draft. Birch & Barley will feature executive chef Jarrad Silver’s four-course tasting flights paired exclusively with DC-brewed beers. All beers will be priced individually by the glass and in 4 oz. tasting pours. 4-11:30 p.m. Free to attend. ChurchKey: 1337 14th St. NW, DC; www.dcbeerweek.net

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12

Women in Beer at Red Bear Brewing
Celebrate women in the craft beer industry with a panel discussion of all things beer, why the brewery industry is a great place for women to work and more. The event will also include a special beer release, brewed in collaboration with the Pink Boots Society – a Belgian blonde. Proceeds of beer sold benefit the local DC Pink Boots Chapter. You’ll hear speakers Leah Cheston from Right Proper, Melissa Ramano from Pink Boots, Katie Marisic from the DC Brewers Association and more. 6-8 p.m. Red Bear Brewing Company: 209 M St. NE, DC; www.dcbeerweek.net

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13

Yacht Rockin’ & Brau Poppin’ DC Beer Week Sunset Beer Cruise
Sail into the final weekend of DC Beer Week on the Potomac Riverboat Company’s Miss Mallory for the inaugural Brau Poppin’ & Yacht Rockin’ sunset cruise. Ride along the Potomac sipping on DC Brau and listening to yacht rock curated by the Brothers Brau. Ticket includes a two-hour sunset cruise departing from The Wharf’s Transit Pier in Southwest DC, heavy hors d’oeuvres and a DC Brau. Additional beer and other beverages will be available for purchase on board. For the full details on tickets, visit www.potomacriverboatco.com. 6-8 p.m. Tickets $75. The Wharf: 970 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.dcbeerweek.net

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 14

Brewers On The Block
Brewers On The Block is back for its sixth annual cele-BREW-tion. Sponsored by DCBeer.com, join the fun as Suburbia hosts 40+ local brewers at Union Market, where hopheads and brewers can meet and drink. You’ll hear live music from Big Bad JuJu. General admission includes unlimited tastings, conversations with local brewers, souvenir tasting glass and live music starting at 3 p.m. The VIP ticket includes hour ahead event access, extra face-to-face time with the brewers, UNICORN beers and frozen hoptails from Suburbia. 2-6 p.m. Tickets $55-$75. Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.dcbeerweek.net

Lavender's Matt Wright, Emily Carlson, Alli Vega and Trent Burns // Photo: Zoe Hannah

Lavender Talks New Music, Friendship and the Best Show They’ve Ever Played

Two original songs, a Black Keys cover and a Battle of the Bands competition make up the beginnings of Lavender. Formed originally as a one-time thing between friends and ardent music lovers at American University, their intention was not to get to the level of notoriety they currently possess on the local music circuit. Nevertheless, the band is well-loved for their anthemic indie-pop sound and the affinity they possess for one another, both creatively and personally, that translates beautifully into their music.

The four-piece band, made up of Emily Carlson (bass/vocals), Alli Vega (guitar/backup vocals), Matt Wright (drums) and Trent Burns (guitar), has come a long way since their supposedly one-night-only gig. They caught up with On Tap about their influences, new music, the support the city has given to them and more.  

On Tap: At the beginning, you were all living in a house together. How did that help or hinder your musical process?
Matt Wright: Band practice was super easy [all laugh]. One of us would just go into the extra room that we converted into a practice room and yell for the others, or I would just play the drums. Everyone would come down. It was a different kind of way to experience music, with us all living together.
OT: It seems that your incredible closeness to one another is a hallmark of your band. How do you work to translate this to your music?
MW: I think it has helped the songwriting process a little bit because it’s gotten to the point where we can read each other super easily. And so when one of us has an idea, it just takes a look from Alli to know, “We’re not gonna do that.”
Alli Vega: [Laughs] I literally knew you were going to say that. I’m the one who can’t hide feelings, ever. So if I like or don’t like an idea, it’s very apparent. 

OT: You list a ton of influences on your social media. With four band members and diverse tastes, how do you incorporate everything that inspires you into Lavender’s music?
Trent Burns: Something that I really appreciate about the band is that I think we all also have various genres or artists that we’re into that are outside of each other’s wheelhouses. I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for indie pop through Alli and Emily’s tastes.
AV: I am constantly surprised by what Matt listens to. Matt, you have such eclectic taste in music. Who is that guy from YouTube who is kind of a joke but really talented at piano?
MW: Oh, Lewis Cole. He’s a hilarious multi-instrumentalist but he’s also just a bizarre person. I sort of pride myself on my ability to send Alli strange things and say, “Hey, we should do something like this.” 

OT: You’ve played alongside some incredible local and national acts in a ton of different area venues. Any favorite experiences?
All in unison: Opening for Wolf Alice.
AV: It was so random. I think that was Trent’s second show with us. We got a phone call that was like, “Hey, Wolf Alice wants you to open!” And Wolf Alice is one of my favorite bands. So going into the venue and it being sold out and for one of my favorite bands – and they were so nice to us – like all of that. I was like, “This is what I want. I want this forever.”
Emily Carlson: There’s a small moment that stuck with me. I think it was a Songbyrd show where a father came up to me and he had a little girl with him who was maybe 9 or 10, and she looked so shy and he was like, “This is her first concert ever and she’s just amazed.” I was like, “Wait a minute, I can do that for someone?” That was such a cool moment of like, “Oh yeah, we do music for us. But we do music because it’s impactful.”

OT: I noticed your Instagram bio is “We swear there’s new music coming.” Was that in response to people asking about new music?
AV: The song we’ve been working on, we’ve been working on for well over a year now. We had all these songs we’ve been playing live that were originally recorded last fall to help our friend’s capstone project. I work at a music venue and fall is a busy time of year and Emily’s a teacher, so things kept getting pushed back. All these songs that were new at the time are like a year old and still not out. People who come to our shows are like, “So do you have a recording?” And we’re like, “Yes.” Now we actually do. We have a release date. There’s a single coming out September 6. It’s going to be great. We’re finally there. [The Instagram bio] is mostly for [us] to be honest. We’re holding ourselves accountable.

Lavender’s new single “Head in the Clouds” will be released on September 6 with an EP to follow. Celebrate its release at Pie Shop with the band on October 20. Tickets are $12, doors are at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. For more on Lavender, visit www.lavenderdc.bandcamp.com.

Pie Shop: 1339 H St. NE, DC; 202-398-7437; www.pieshopdc.com

The 2019-2020 Performing Arts Guide: 30 Must-See Shows

Performing arts season is in full swing, and with it comes our staff picks for some of the most interesting and buzzworthy shows of the 2019-2020 season – from daring theatre productions and robust film festivals to contemporary dance and riveting opera. We also picked the brains of three directors and a playwright about their respective upcoming productions at some of our favorite theaters including season openers Doubt at Studio Theatre and Everybody at Shakespeare Theatre Company. Though our city’s performing arts scene is too expansive to capture in just one list, we’re confident that we’ve put together a solid rundown of works that will resonate with arts enthusiasts across the District.

FALL

NOW THROUGH SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6

Cabaret

Directed by Shakespeare Theatre Company Associate Artistic Director Alan Paul, this Tony-winning classic musical set in 1929 Berlin follows novelist Cliff, who finds himself swept up in the life of the cabaret. Bunked at Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house with bawdy emcee and provocateur Sally Bowles, unexpected relationships form – including one between their landlord and a Jewish fruit seller. The score features classics such as “Willkommen,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Money.” Tickets are $37-$85. Olney Theatre: 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 5 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

Washington Improv Theatre Road Show
Washington Improv Theatre’s company performs alongside featured comedic ensembles like I Don’t Know Her, Goodison and Bring Back the 90s. Every night offers something new and exciting, as the lineup changes and different guests take part. Therefore, no two performances are ever the same. Tickets are $18. DC Arts Center: 2438 18th St. NW, DC; www.dcartscenter.org

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12

Taffety Punk Presents Riot Grrrls: Othello
Don’t miss an all-women production of Shakespeare’s Othello starring Danielle A. Drakes in the titular role and Lise Bruneau as Iago. The women of Taffety Punk Theatre Company began the Riot Grrrls theatre project as an activist reaction to the lack of gender parity on DC stages. Directed by Kelsey Mesa, this production includes all the tragedy and excitement of the Bard’s play including swords, daggers and murder, performed by some bad-ass actors. Capitol Hill Arts Workshop: 545 7th St. SE, DC; www.chaw.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 4 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6

Michael Rapaport
Outspoken, opinionated and very New York, Michael Rapaport will make his first visit to DC Improv this fall, bringing a flair for the dramatic while comedically complaining. He’s worn various Hollywood hats with stints as an actor, podcaster and producer, but his true calling has always been on the stage, raising his voice and yelling jokes directly in your grill with the kind of apathetic humor only a lifelong Knicks fan could possess. Various times and ticket prices. DC Improv: 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.dcimprov.com

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 5 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6

Atlas Presents Dance: Cafe Flamenco
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, dancers from FuriaFlamenca Dance Company offers a fun evening of cabaret-style entertainment. Led by artistic director Estela Vélez de Paredes, dancers will perform traditional flamenco dance. Guitarist Torcuato Zamora will provide live music. Tickets are $20-$30. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

Bentzen Ball
It’s the 10th anniversary of the Bentzen Ball, Tig Notaro’s collaboration with Brightest Young Things and perhaps the funniest weekend in the District. This year, Notaro’s recruited the likes of Maria Bamford, Pete Holmes, Jamie Lee and the New Negroes (featuring but not limited to Baron Vaughan of 30 Rock, Jaboukie Young-White, a.k.a. one of the funniest people on Twitter, and musician/comedian Open Mike Eagle). There’s even more to be announced, including a very special guest who will join Notaro herself onstage. Times vary. Festival tickets $154.20, individual show tickets also available. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.brightestyoungthings.com

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 22

Disney’s Newsies
Based on the true story of New York City’s newsboys going on strike in the summer of 1899, Newsies was a hit movie before going on to Broadway in 1992, capturing a Tony Award for best score. With songs like “Carrying the Banner,” “King of New York” and “Seize the Day,” it’s easy to understand why. The musical boasts music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. For Arena’s production, Edward Gero plays Joseph Pulitzer and Erin Weaver plays Katherine. Tickets are $66-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

SOLE Defined
As the inaugural Dance Place Artist-in-Residence, SOLE Defined, is set to turn their bodies into percussive instruments of the utmost versatility. Whether through tap dance or loud thuds caused by their bodies bouncing off each other and their surroundings, this Maryland dance theatre will translate global rhythms into a powerful, expressive art form. 8-10 p.m. on Saturday, 4-6 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets $25-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Roadshow with Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith
From the front of a gas station to the mall to Hollywood to Hollywood again? Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith are returning to the big screen this fall as Jay and Silent Bob in Smith’s latest film Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. To celebrate the duo’s return to the big screen, Smith and Mewes are hitting the road with a live show, where fans can peep the movie with its stars. Snoochie boochies. 9 p.m. Tickets $50+. Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse: 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA; www.arlingtondrafthouse.com

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17

Rent
The 20th anniversary production of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning musical returns to the National Theatre. Based on a reimagining of Puccini’s “La Bohème,” the musical follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven New York City artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. With a memorable score, the show is a rollercoaster of emotions and one of theater’s most lauded musicals of the past two decades. Tickets are $54-$114. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.com

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24

8th Annual Film Festival: REEL TIME AT GALA
The GALA Hispanic Theatre will take storytelling from the stage to the screen as the famed company produces the 8th iteration of its Latin American film festival, focusing on Bolivia, Mexico and Brazil. From classics to contemporary works, the movies shown over the course of the event will provide viewers with a glimpse of the vast amount of stories from around the world. Times and ticket details to come. Gala Hispanic Theatre: 3333 14th St. NW, DC; www.en.galatheatre.org

WINTER

THURSDAY, JANUARY 9 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2

Sheltered
America didn’t get involved in World War II until the later stages, so when Hitler began his assault on Jewish people in Europe, it wasn’t uncommon for new stories to get buried beneath the fold. Sheltered takes place in 1939, during America’s stint of inaction, at a cocktail party that turns into a political and moral debate, as a couple attempts to make a decision that could save the lives of suffering children the world over. You might be wondering, what’s the debate? Well, as you’ve likely experienced in the past few years at cocktail parties and family holiday dinners, bringing up politics (no matter how life or death) often causes tension. Times and dates vary. Tickets $30-$69. Theater J: 1529 16th St. NW, DC; www.theaterj.org

TUESDAY, JANUARY 14 – SUNDAY, MARCH 1

The Merry Wives of Windsor
Directed by Aaron Posner and starring 2019 Helen Hayes Award winner Regina Aquino and theater veteran Brian Mani, the Bard’s comedy is a story of marriage, jealousy, wealth and lies. The plot follows Falstaff, whose dubious plan to woo Windsor’s wealthy housewives is met with hilarious retaliation when the women devise a plot to teach him a lesson. Come experience the reason this show is often described as William Shakespeare’s more satirical. Tickets $27-$85. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Presents Charlie Chaplin’s Legacy: Classical Music in Film
Perhaps the first king of comedy, the British Charlie Chaplin pioneered silent humor before talkies were en vogue. Beyond his diminutive frame and slapstick antics, Chaplin was a riveting story teller, using every aspect of a film to form an entertaining and often thoughtful narrative. Without quips and monologues, Chaplin couldn’t joke his way through a story, heightening the importance of an impactful score. To celebrate what would be Chaplin’s 130th birthday, the BSO will pay homage to his use of music. Show at 8 p.m. Tickets $35-$90. Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, Maryland; www.strathmore.org

SUNDAY, MARCH 1 – SATURDAY, MARCH 21

Washington National Opera: Samson and Delilah
This sensual grand opera tells the story of Samson, who has everything it takes to free the enslaved Hebrews from the Philistines. But when the bewitching Delilah seduces Samson into revealing the source of his physical power, his faith is tested. With music by Camille Saint-Saëns and libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire, the story is told in French with projected English titles. Directed by Peter Kazaras, the show stars J’Nai Bridges as Delilah and Roberto Aronica as Samson. Tickets are $45-$299. Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11 – SUNDAY, MARCH 29

Inherit the Windbag
Americans are way too into debates. No, not the ones held at schools and universities between teams of intellectuals. I’m talking about the hot take, punditry BS that is so rampant in society and pop culture that the people famous for these pseudo acts of discourse are more parody than their parodies. In 1968 liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley met for a series of televised debates which wet society’s appetite for debate, conflict and arguments. Playwright Alexandra Petri is set to reprise the infamous debate, with satire and guest appearances from past and present. Times vary. Tickets $20-$65. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

SPRING

MONDAY, APRIL 6 – SUNDAY, MAY 3

There’s Always the Hudson
In this Woolly Mammoth production, revenge is a dish best served on time, especially when you have a pact. Sexual abuse survivors Lola and T are running up against the clock, as their deadline for getting revenge on everyone who’s ever “f–ked with them” fast approaches. Unwilling to let the truce between them fall to the wayside, these two escalate their respective plots for retribution by unleashing the pent up anger on a fearless adventure. Tickets are $20 to $64. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22 – SUNDAY, MAY 17

Life Is a Dream
What’s real and what’s not? Is destiny a thing or do we control our own narratives and fate? These questions have been at the forefront of human consciousness since, well, forever, and likely always will be. Stories that tap into these existential questions have stood the test of time, and Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s Life Is a Dream is no exception, making the rounds internationally for almost 400 years. The latest adaptation comes to the DMV by way of Synetic Theatre, as the company is set to offer a gritty look at Prince Segismundo and his father’s tale of destiny, prophecy and free will. Times vary. Tickets go on sale in early 2020. Synetic Theater: 1800 South Bell St. Arlington, VA; www.synetictheater.com

THURSDAY, APRIL 23 – SUNDAY, MAY 3

Filmfest DC 2020
DC’s most ambitious film festival returns in 2020, with 80 films from 45 countries over the course of 11 days. For people who love films and movie theaters, any opportunity to see strange, eclectic submissions from far parts of the world is a joyous occasion, and no festival in the District meets the variety that Filmfest brings on an annual basis. Whether you’re into shorts or features, comedies or dramas, English or French, there’s probably a reel you’ll dig. Times vary. Tickets available in 2020. Filmfest DC: Various locations in Washington, DC; www.filmfest.org

THURSDAY, APRIL 23 – SUNDAY, MAY 7

Always Patsy Cline
Created by Ted Swindley and based on a true story about the legendary country singer’s odd friendship with a fan from Houston named Louise Seger, the musical offers plenty of humor, great music and even a bit of audience participation. More than two dozen Cline favorites are part of the score, including “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Walking After Midnight.” With songs like those, it’s no surprise that this is one of the most produced musicals in the U.S. today. Creative Cauldron: 410 S. Maple Ave. Falls Church, VA; www.creativecauldron.org

SATURDAY, MAY 16 – SUNDAY, JUNE 14

The Blackest Battle
Another entry from DC’s foremost hip-hop theatre director Psalmayene 24, The Blackest Battle takes place in a future after African Americans receive reparations. With conflict between warring hip-hop factions, this musical’s characters struggle to wrestle with their lives while encountering love, violence and the significance of the Fourth of July. Tickets are $40. Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC: www.theateralliance.com

SUMMER

THURSDAY, JUNE 4 – SUNDAY, JUNE 28

Maple and Vine
Were the 1950s really that great? Well, that’s what Katha and Ryu have to figure out in Spooky Action’s Maple and Vine. The play follows the two married millennials on their quest for happiness, which leads them to a community very much stuck in the John Travolta Grease-era of the world, where leather jackets and cigarettes were prevalent. This isn’t an instant turn off for our protagonists, as they receive new identities and attempt to see if the grass is greener on the oth…I mean, back in time. Times and ticket prices TBA. Spooky Action Theater: 1810 16th St. NW, DC; www.spookyaction.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10 – FRIDAY, JULY 3

Hatef*ck
A provocative romantic comedy between two Muslim-Americans who have nothing in common except their race. Layla and Imran are a literature professor and novelist, respectively, and clash over faith, politics and cultural clichés. Written by Rehana Lew Mirza and directed by Nicole A. Watson, the show proves that good sex doesn’t always make good bedfellows. Individual ticket prices TBA. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

FRIDAY, JUNE 19 – TUESDAY, JUNE 23

AFI DOCS Film Festival
The nation’s annual documentary film festival is beloved for showcasing the best in documentary filmmaking from both the U.S. and around the world. District Architecture Center serves as the festival’s central meeting place for guest registration, forum panels and talks, as well as a place for filmmakers and select pass holders to gather. Screenings will take place around landmark venues in DC and the world-class AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD. Advisory board members for the festival include noted filmmakers Ken Burns, Spike Lee and Barbara Kopple. Times and ticket prices TBA. District Architecture Center: 421 7th St. NW, DC; www.afi.com/afidocs

FRIDAY, JULY 24 – SUNDAY, AUGUST 23

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
With a book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, this groundbreaking Tony-winning musical got its start off-Broadway and developed a cult following. The musical tells the tale of Hedwig Schmidt, an East German rock ‘n’ roll goddess who was the victim of a botched sex change operation, leaving her with an “angry inch.” Backed by a hard-rocking band, Hedwig conveys her funny, touching and ultimately inspiring story in dazzling fashion. Times and individual ticket prices TBA. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC;
www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, AUGUST 25 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

To Kill a Mockingbird
When an Academy Award winner adapts Pulitzer Prize-winning material, it’s likely that said adaptation would be a hit, right? Well, like some sort of literary math, Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird delivers about what you’d expect: a dramatic, gut-wrenching story that adds to the legendary characters we remember so well from the novel. Though Sorkin’s spin doesn’t deviate too much from Lee’s original framework, his creative flourishes to dialogue and added character dynamics has made this reimagined classic one of Broadway’s hottest tickets. Tickets are $49-$139. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

Alysia Lee and Ty Defoe // Photo: Tony Powell

The REACH’s Opening Festival

The inside spaces of the Kennedy Center’s The REACH are spacious and cavernous, like an underground college building with rooms ripe for seminars, classes, performances, films and whatever other kind of programming the Center offers, which is to say almost anything. The outside buildings are equally stunning, standing tall not in an intimidation, but a reassurance.

The facility had yet to open when we walked through the grounds in mid-July, but it was easy to close your eyes and imagine a swath of people congregating in one of the spacious fields for a concert or a movie projected directly on the side of their sloping creations. Soon, there won’t be much left to the imagination as the Center is set to unleash every kind of installation you can think of – big name to small name, hip-hop to opera, dance to painting, sculpture to DJs.

“We’ll achieve a vision in people’s minds,” says Robert van Leer, the Kennedy Center’s senior vice president of artistic planning. “And I mean everyone: artists, staff, visitors, civic leaders. When you open a new building, there’s a process that comes up with that vision, but it’s important to start with what it can be.”

From Saturday, September 7 through Sunday, September 22, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival will feature close to 500 free events inviting people to explore the space, participate in workshops, and see headlining acts such as Robert Glasper, Bootsy Collins, The Second City, Thievery Corporation and so much more.

“It’s a great way to illustrate what The REACH can do,” van Leer continues. “It’s a combination of all of those things and a chance to learn with the artists to see what the future opportunities can be.”

Artists Ty Defoe and Alysia Lee are perfect examples of the diverse range of creative talent participating in the festivities. Both will travel from different East Coast cities – Baltimore and NYC, respectively – to support The REACH and take part in the public’s first invitation to the campus.

“I like the word festival,” Defoe says. “I like the word joy and I like the word connection. I feel like among those words, it reminds me that we’re at a time right now where the arts are a place of healing, celebration and activation. The arts not only change people’s minds, but people’s hearts. I feel like we’re in a time where that is very necessary right now.”

Defoe is an interdisciplinary artist from New York slated to participate in two events: a panel titled “The New Contemporary in Native American Art” and an interactive participatory hoop dance. The latter is only allotted 15 minutes, but despite this expedited runtime, the movement has several different layers all geared toward a unique experience.

“I’ve been working on this since I was 7 years old,” Defoe says. “It gets at a lot of intersections that I like to operate in, which is contemporary indigenous culture, community, spectacle, and utilizing spaces [both] indoors and outdoors. Also, [knowing] this festival will have all these amazing people of culture coming together in that circle, there was no other thing in my mind that came up besides this.”

The dance starts off with a story about finding a way through fighting and warring as a community, but it’s not all spoken. For some, the narrative is better understood through a series of physical steps, hence the hoop dance.

“I’ll weave myself in and out of these hoops to make different shapes – things you’d see in nature like trees, plants, flowers and animals – to pay honor to the equity of all living things,” Defoe continues. “The interactive part breaks down the multigenerational part because as adults, we are sometimes living in our heads and not able to feel. No matter who you are – shape, size, color – you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with your friend or relative.”

While Defoe’s interactive performance welcomes all people in attendance to gather around and dance, Lee’s workshop about protest songs will focus on inspiring middle school children to express themselves in tune. As a Kennedy Center 2019-2020 Citizen Arts Fellow and multifaceted vocalist, Lee is an obvious choice to lead an educational workshop for the opening festival.

“I really want to have something where kids walk away with something they created,” Lee says. “I want collaboration and sharing, and something where there will be high incentive and high reward to move quickly together.”

Lee came up with the activity upon learning that a majority of 60s protest songs were parodies of oldies from the 40s and 50s. The format took form when she thought of using modern pop music to help kids write their own pieces.

“What do we care about and how can we use music as a way to voice our opinions? The accessibility of these protest songs is super cool because you can get kids to take their favorite hits and use them for social change.”

Lee feels confident that the children participating will be up for protesting, whether it be concerns about global warming or requests for more snack machines.

“Kids nowadays are so in tune because of social media,” she says. “They’re so in touch with the world in a way that I wasn’t. Kids really feel very strongly and passionately about things that are beyond them. They feel more connected to the global society.”

The REACH is also slated to feature a number of DC-based artists as part of the festival’s lineup. GIRLAAA Collective Founder Dominique Wells has coordinated a full slate of curation on opening day with a panel of female DJs – including Mane Squeeze, Ayes Cold and Niara Sterling – followed by a performance.

“We want to discuss women in the music industry and how they’re doing more than just following contemporary trends – they’re breaking barriers,” Wells says. “I feel like what they’re doing is important and monumental and necessary.”

The DC native sees The REACH as an opportunity for the Kennedy Center to better serve the underprivileged in the community by introducing them to art by way of free workshops and performances, much like the programming for the festival.

“It’s about what’s happening beyond their main space,” Wells says. “I think The REACH is going to offer a lot of people who otherwise might not come there an opportunity to experience something inclusive and diverse. They have a great team of people who are working really hard, and they’re listening to people.”

From local to national, big to small, contemporary to classical, the Kennedy Center’s The REACH Opening Festival is a multi-dimensional playground for patrons of the arts from any background. Van Leer says there are no plans to make this an annual tentpole event, so you will definitely want to revel in it while you can.

“You see all the cross-pollination that’s occurring,” Lee says of the festival programming. “It’s really inspiring and makes me think about the through-line of creativity and how things can speak. I love that the festival is a place for that. It’s hard to even fathom missing one day of it.”

To peruse the comprehensive list of events at The REACH’s Opening Festival, visit https://cms.kennedy-center.org/festivals/reach. For announcements about upcoming programming at The REACH, go to www.reach.kennedy-center.org.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph// Photo: Tony Powell)

The Vision of The REACH

“Listen man, Q-Tip is one of my heroes.”

I’m going to venture an educated guess that the first image that comes to mind when someone mentions the Kennedy Center isn’t a Haitian-American playwright and spoken-word poet choking back tears as he describes what 90s hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest means to him. And yet, here we are.

I’m sitting next to Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the Kennedy Center’s vice president and artistic director of social impact, in a state-of-the-art, subterranean studio space having a deeply personal conversation about how hip-hop shaped his formative years and how he now gets to work alongside one of his idols for one of the world’s most renowned arts organizations. It is at this exact moment that the driving force behind the Center’s highly anticipated expansion of its campus – The REACH – clicks into place for me.

The three sloping structures opening to the public this month were built upon the pillars of inclusivity, accessibility and interactivity as spaces to facilitate shared artistic experiences for the community. And while the Center’s leadership has invested years of strategic planning and creative thinking behind how to make the spaces as innovative as possible, they ultimately exist as a platform for artists and the community to connect on their own terms.

“We’re inaugurating a way of being in public space,” Joseph says. “People make place. While there’s been an incredible investment in the built capital of these three interconnected pavilions, there has to continue to be investment in the social capital and the social possibility that is made through the creative enterprise.”

Though the Center’s chairman of the board of trustees, David Rubenstein, had a vision for launching The REACH in 2017 to celebrate John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday, Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter says she believes the space is opening now because it is the right time to unveil it and share it with the world.

“It’s a time in our society where people crave authentic experiences they can share with others,” she says. “There is a thirst for a sense of community and inclusivity, and The REACH gives us a place for those kinds of experiences.”

Rutter likens The REACH to her own analog version of the Internet.

“I don’t believe that the only way to learn about art is through YouTube or a Google search – no matter how extensive – but rather by experiencing it firsthand. There is no question that the desire to have a shared performance experience is really high, and whatever we can do to promote that is really important.”

The spaces have garnered most of their buzz thus far surrounding The REACH’s opening festival from September 7-22 with nearly 500 events, but Rutter assures that the project will only gain forward momentum with nonstop programming from day one. The REACH will operate as both an education center and public incubator, while offering rehearsal and studio spaces where artists can practice, create, collaborate and perform.

Rutter notes she’s quite proud of the artistic programming behind projects like Studio K’s (the other two studios are Studio J and Studio F, a clever acronym for the space’s namesake) transformation into a cross-genre club and destination for locals to hang out and hear jazz or pop music or spoken word. She also credits the education team for planning curriculum for “maker space” Moonshot Studio (named for “Kennedy’s call for America to think big and travel to the moon”) that’s universally relevant and ties back to programming taking place in the Center’s main hall.

The artistic and education teams behind The REACH are integral to driving its mission forward through immersive programming, and Joseph in particular is invaluable to both sides of the house as he’s uniquely equipped to ride the fine line between artist and administrator.

“To have an artist on staff is so reassuring,” Rutter says. “It’s really helpful because it helps our administrators think about their work through that lens as well. Each of our administrators works with artists in a variety of different ways but to have one as a peer, [and as] somebody who is so enormously articulate to provide the connective tissue between ideas and programming, is invaluable.”

The Center’s president gives a great example in Dear Evan Hansen.While the marketing team is interested in sharing the date and time of the next performance with the public, Joseph is focusing his attention on how the Center can communicate that this work debates and explores difficult emotional ideas of what’s happening with young people today. Both are critical pieces of information, but with very different messaging.

“That piece for me is why it’s so important for the Kennedy Center to do this work around mission, which is to hold a mirror up to our society, to talk about the good, bad and ugly in our everyday lives, and to use art to have greater understanding of who we are,” Rutter continues. “And Marc is the kind of guy who has the capacity to do that on a huge range of topics. He [joins] a team who is so proud and excited to have somebody who can help them take great work to the next level.”

Joseph remains humble during our conversation, saying he doesn’t see a delineation between the two roles – they blur together in everything he does.

“I make culture,” he says. “Some of us, we make dances. Some of us, we make plays. Some of us, we make spreadsheets. But I work with others to make culture. I don’t segment or even bifurcate this notion of administrator and artist. Artists are entrepreneurs and administrators. There isn’t so much of a fixed economy for us.”

He notes that he’s a first-generation American who comes from struggle, and “that never leaves.” In many ways, it’s shaped his professional and creative ideology.

“In terms of my artistic practice and in terms of my administrative practice, there’s a commitment to a kind of equity – a kind of inspired, inclusive and expansive community – that I have to adhere to. What makes sense for me is culture: an inspired, collaborative, expansive, inclusive, loving culture. Anything I can do to make that happen, whether it’s making poems or making programs, I’m gonna do.”

Joseph speaks of a culture of invitation being born through The REACH, where he and his colleagues continue to shine light on culture makers of all stripes. He’s aiming to achieve this in the short-term through the Culture Caucus, a group of 35 artist organizations and individuals handpicked by the Center’s leadership because of their contributions to DC’s broad cultural landscape. He describes them as “community-facing artists-in-residence at work and at play” within The REACH’s walls.

Within the next six months, Joseph and his peers will initiate an impact band of programming to include discussion groups where instead of trying to get people to engage culture on the Center’s terms, they’ll be trying to resource artists whose work amplifies what’s happening in the local community.

“I think that the level of access to culture is different than the level of access to the Kennedy Center and I think that the Kennedy Center – and quite frankly, most arts institutions – have to see themselves as organic citizens within the body politic in a different kind of way,” he says. “It’s a reorientation of the institutional psychology. This is not something that’s just going to happen, but certainly something I’m committed to is recognizing the broad ecosystem of culture makers where they are, resourcing programs where they happen and thinking about the same thing on a national scale.”

He breaks it down for me in simpler terms. Joseph isn’t who you go to for discounted tickets to productions at the Kennedy Center. He’s who you tap when you want to amplify the artistic work being done around the city.

“Resource that and attach commitments of documentation or education or pedagogical support like this. We [as an organization] are a node, but we recognize that there are many, many spokes and many, many stars in this constellation.”

Thinking in broader terms across the nation, Joseph says the next iteration of engagement for arts organizations should be thinking about empowerment, the creative imagination and inspiration as a democratic ideal.

“I’ve been brought in [to The REACH] to infuse the institutional psychology and institutional DNA with a different way of thinking about what is sublime in the arts.”

The sense of openness at the Center lends itself to Joseph’s vision for the future, and Rutter has much to do with it. In the past five years, she’s placed giving DC a seat at the table among more traditional arts & culture hubs like New York and L.A. at the top of her list. Rutter has watched the city experience tangible changes on this front, and although she won’t give herself the credit she most certainly deserves, she along with the leaders of other influential arts institutions has helped break the stereotype of DC as a straight-laced government town. Together, DC’s arts leadership is offering a wave of cultural experiences that are both approachable and accessible to our city’s diverse community.

“I really believe that the DNA of the city has changed in a lot of different ways and that which was already of interest to the people of the city has now been able to be fully embraced,” she says. “If we can demonstrate that really exciting, interesting stuff is happening in Washington, DC and that we are bringing the country together through the arts, then we can change how people think about the importance of arts in our day-to-day life. That’s why it’s really important that as the national cultural center, we invite everybody to be here – from our elected officials to the people who can’t afford to buy tickets to the people who are avid arts lovers.”

While Rutter and Joseph agree that change is gradual, they’re both committed to the baby steps we as a city need to take. In the short-term, they’re both looking forward to this month’s opening festival and the reverberations of the its creative energy. Joseph says the hip-hop block party with headliners De La Soul on September 14 will be “off the chain” but he’s equally amped up about former Wailer (of Bob Marley and The Wailers) Junior Marvin’s DC Lovers Rock on September 22.

“I’m excited about that because love is a thing. Love is not a four-letter word. I want to center love in what it is that we do and how it is that we identify and so doing a reggae-driven ode to love at the close of summer on the river – the romantic in me just loves that.”

Rutter, on the other hand, chooses not to pinpoint just one or two events. Instead, she says she’s most excited about the juxtaposition of different kinds of activities happening simultaneously – a jazz opera going on at the same time as a dance program or taking in a Lichtenstein sculpture and then wandering over to the river pavilion and playing on the brand-new Sing for Hope Piano.

At the end of the day, her goal both for the festival and The REACH as a whole is to invite all of the other cultural organizations in our community and from around the world to share and experience the art being created and explored at the Center’s many spaces. She’s especially looking forward to seeing artists collaborate in-studio and appreciate each other’s work through The REACH’s open spaces.

“I really believe that art and artists hold a mirror up to who we are as a society and if we [act as a] facilitator, we can see into the process and understand why and how that story is being told. That’s the magic that we can do through places like this. We can’t force those new relationships, but we’re excited about creating a space where that can happen.”

Learn more about everything Deborah Rutter, Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the rest of their creative, committed colleagues have in store at The REACH by visiting www.reach.kennedy-center.org.

The REACH at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.reach.kennedy-center.org