An American Girl in Washington

Kennedy Center WIN!

Posted in Local Arts and Artists by AGinDC on 6 September 2010

Today I was mulling about the house, not doing much with my life after discovering the deliciousness that lives next door (see post below) when I randomly checked the Kennedy Center website to see what the 6pm scoop is for the week.  Surprisingly, they were in the midst of the Page to Stage theatre festival, an annual event where theatre companies from all over the city come to the Ken Cen to do readings and rehearsals of new plays, all open to the public.  As a former theatre major and major arts geek, I was psyched.  I immediately threw on some clothes and headed out.

One of the things that I love about DC is how accessible everything is.  It’s a city built for outsiders and everything from the bright blue signs pointing the way to historic landmarks all over town to the people in red who are paid to stand around and give directions to fanny pack donning tourists is designed to make sure no one is lost and to make everyone feel at home.  It’s also the reason that so many things are free, starting with the Smithsonian of course, and going from there to all of the art, music, and cultural events that are constantly on about town.  The Ken Cen fits right into the spirit of these things, first with their nightly free 6pm Millennium Stage productions (365 days a year, I wonder what they do on Christmas?).  However, they’re also remarkable because they offer a free shuttle from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop to the Center every 15 minutes, all day.  How many theatres can you think of that do that?  I love it, and I love that I was able to make it from my house to the Center in about 30 minutes without riding in a car.  Perfect.

The first play I saw was a reading of Sampson and Miss Delilah (put in by The Essential Theatre), a really interesting play about a time in the future when prostitution is legal in the US and the intriguing and somewhat mysterious relationship between the most famous prostitute in the country and a young man who grew up with her.  I loved that the fact that she was a prostitute was almost incidental.  It provided a setting for the play and a central theme in the plot but was always in the background behind the characters and their relationship.  It was well done and I’m sure will be interesting in full production.  I also love how interactive the audience was.  The Center was packed and each room that I saw was standing room only.  The audiences were made up of people of all ages, races, ethnicities, etc. and everyone was actively involved in the plays.  DC is such a cultured city, there aren’t many places outside of New York where a bunch of every day people will rush to a staged reading and be excited to be there.

After Sampson, I went to the Millennium Stage for a performance of U.G.L.Y. by the Howard University Theatre Department.  They were incredible.  I was stunned.  The play was a musical about popularity and teenage angst in a fictional junior high school but it wasn’t juvenile at all.  The script was clever, humorous and deeply felt and the cast was one of the most talented group of singers I have seen in a long time.  Forget Glee.  These kids could eat those kids for breakfast, lunch, and a small hors d’oeuvre.  The girl who stood out the most was one of the leads, she played Gina and she was stunning.  What was surprising wasn’t just her talent but the maturity of her voice and the old school, jazz-like quality that she brought to the lyrics.  She was amazing and I felt so lucky to have an opportunity to see her perform.  I know we’ll be hearing a lot from her in the future.

After the magnificence of the first performance, I felt I had to stay for Howard’s second performance later that evening.  I was planning to listen to the symphony on the Capitol steps but couldn’t bring myself to leave.  The second play was another musical with mostly a different cast (sadly).  FRAT, a play about a white freshman at Howard who pledges a black fraternity, will probably be really good when it’s done.  The cast was talented but were holding their scripts and had clearly not had many rehearsals.  The writer also had a sheet in the program asking for notes and had only completed Act One, so I can’t really judge the play, but what I saw, I loved.  That’s the great thing about open festivals like this, they allow playwrights to get feedback from real audiences and mold their works into the best possible pieces.  Both plays had more than standing room only audiences, many of whom were young people from Howard.  I can’t imagine how amazing it would have been to have one of my college plays presented in such an august setting as the Kennedy Center.  Kudos to them for giving these young artists a chance to live out a dream that most professionals would kill for.

On the way back to the Metro in the Ken Cen shuttle, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much more I like the arts scene in DC than in New York.  Of course there will never be any comparison to Broadway, but New York is as full of waiters/singers/dancers/fashion designers/writers/artists as LA is full of waitresses/actresses/rock stars/hookers/playboy bunnies.  It’s exhausting being in a city where everyone is starving, living in a crowded space that they’re selling their plasma to pay for, and completely arrogant because they’re convinced that they are going to be the ones who make it.  DC is different.  There seem to be small but growing groups of artists, designers, and performers who are talented and determined and have formed a community because they aren’t the majority.  The city also seems to support them wholeheartedly because a great local artist isn’t run-of-the-mill here, they’re special.  I had this thought when I read the WaPo piece I wrote about (again, see below 🙂 but it occurred to me again here.  In a city where the only thing there’s more of than politicians is lawyers, being young and creative and willing to take risks is fresh and exciting and a welcome change from the black suits and sensible heels.  The arts in DC are different, thrilling, remarkable, and most of all, appreciated.  I love that.

Get out there and support a local artist!



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