Friday, June 17, 2005


KenCen sked & ticket prices

A little belatedly, I looked at The Kennedy Center's new 2005-2006 schedule. I think it looks terrific, not that anyone I know can afford to subscribe: The RSC is going to do The Canterbury Tales; then there are broadway musicals Wicked and Little Women (The Musical), and then The Subject Was Roses, and Mame.

I can't remember being this excited about a Kennedy Center season for quite a while.

WHen Michael Kaiser took over as KC president a few years ago, he was interviewed either on C-SPAN or NPR, and I was fascinated to hear him wonder out loud about the purpose the Kennedy Center should serve: should it bring B'way musicals like "Rent"? Should it have its own resident company to develop new strong American, or international, plays? Should it serve the city of Washington (fat chance) or be a national or international performing arts center, importing many shows from abroad? Every arts center must ask these questions, but the Kennedy Center has particular prestige, and money, and it honors a president whose White House is credited with opening Washington up as a cultural center in many ways.

Then the questions came. "Do you know how expensive it is to park at the Kennedy Center?" "Do you know how hard it is to WALK to the Kennedy Center?" "Have you ever eaten at the Kennedy Center?" "Have you ever tried to find your theater with someone from out of town on crutches?" etc. Very Washington questions. We can handle the big questions. It's the little things that cripple us.

Kaiser was gracious and informed. He DID know how expensive and inaccessible the Kennedy Center was, and the renovations, he hoped, would address that. He also knew how hard it was to find the various theaters, which are not distinctively marked. That too, may change. The improvements look dramatic and the Kennedy Center, like all of Washington, is visibly more impressive and more liveable than ever before, thanks to a few urban architecture principles that actually examined the needs of people rather than the appearance of buildings.

But of course the Kennedy Center was deliberately built to be as inaccessible to most people in Washington as possible, at a time when Washington was a much more segregated and violent city. (No WAY would they have allowed a Metro station near there--the wrong kinds of people might show up. Now they have to run that little shuttle bus back and forth from the Foggy Bottom metro. I hope it's REALLY inconvenient for the KenCen to maintain that bus. Serves 'em right.) Times have changed, and the Kennedy Center is changing, too, thank goodness--food has improved, though parking and tickets are still exorbitant. They have the Terrace Theater, with its 25 dollar tickets, but seats to the marquee shows are still 65 bucks or higher.

I can't help thinking that the ticket prices are kept so high at the Kennedy Center to keep out the riff-raff. That is not entirely fair of me--they have expenses to cover, and they charge what the market will bear. But given the history of the Kennedy Center, it would be nice to see more public gestures made towards the DC community. Can't they charge $1,000 a seat for the boxes and a few rows in the orchestra, and let the rest of us in for 15 bucks or so? They have a tradition to live down, and a name to live up to. Kaiser could be open about the finances--tell me why tickets to Wicked are $150, please. (Thank God for Joel Markowitz of the Ushers, who snags good group seats at slightly more affordable prices).

Sherri, aka Stratford Babe, posted her, more critical, thoughts about the season, at
I replied on her blog. Basically she feels the Kennedy Center should present more Shakespeare, or at least the visiting Royal Shakespeare Company should. I think we are (finally) well-stocked for Shakespeare in this town, and we even boast strong Shakespeare productions, so I'm eager to see something else from the Kennedy Center. Say, affordable tickets?

The Ken Cen's parking fee is ridiculous--hopefully the free (I think) parking at Strathmore and its proximity to Metro will induce Ken Cen to drop the price. Tickets for shows are high, but not much higher than the National or the Warner who show some of the same commercial theater fare. At least, Ken Cen has the Millenium Stage to deflect criticism that it's elitist.
Thanks so much for reminding me about the Millennium Stage, Steve. These free and frequent offerings, which I think were instituted for the Millennium and which were retained due to their popularity, are a welcome cultural attraction. It was not right of me to forget them.

I still think that the Kennedy Center has a special stature that imposes certain obligations. I remember when the J. Paul Getty Art Museum opened in Los Angeles and everyone oohed and aahhed over the architecture. But it was EXTREMELY difficult to get to, and there was no accommodation for ordinary folks. Then there was a scandal over how little the museum gave to charity, or how little it discounted its tickets. I don't remember the details of the scandal, called Getty Gate, since it erupted in 1987, I think. (Now when you visit, it has a lot of material in Spanish and you can see that they've made an effort to do some outreach to L.A.). But it makes it easier for people like Senator Grassley this week to scold the Getty for how much it pays its director, Barry Munitz. See "Senator Rebukes Getty," at,1,3763139.story

Anyway, I would never want that kind of scandal to hit the Kennedy Center, or to hit Michael Kaiser.
To be fair, it was NOT the KenCen that worked to keep the Metro away - it was the snooty residents of the Watergate Complex...
That's true, Anonymous. Still, it takes a village. I still think it's bad karma coming home to roost that a project that would have finally integrated the Kennedy Center into the fabric of downtown Washington has been put on hold by a bunch of predominantly white men in Congress who probably don't want the Kennedy Center integrated in any sense of the word. And some of them live or socialize at the Watergate!
I must be in a bad mood. At least no one has suggested renaming the Kennedy Center for Ronald Reagan. Yet.
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