For the past 30 years, the Kennedy Center has created and presented acclaimed productions for young people and their families, establishing itself as a leader in performing arts education. Now the Center has a performance space devoted exclusively to the presentation of works intended for that audience.
In December 2005, the Kennedy Center celebrates the grand opening of the Family Theater, a 320-seat, state-of-the-art performance space.
"The construction of this important new facility once again reflects the Center's commitment to young people and their families and involving them in the performing arts," says Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser. "This new and high-tech venue will allow thousands of families to enjoy the wonders of theater, dance, and music in a comfortable, elegant, and welcoming environment."
Boasting excellent views from all seat locations, the Family Theater has been designed to be accessible for all, both in the public areas and backstage. For instance, if a director is in a wheelchair or a volunteer from the audience is on crutches, there is direct access to the stage from the seating area without having to go up a steep ramp or ride in an elevator. Completely accessible dressing rooms below stage level have also been constructed.
Technology is in evidence throughout the space, from a computerized rigging system to fiber optics and a digital sound system. The sophisticated rigging system allows for the changing out of sets and lighting quickly and efficiently, with the click of a few buttons. Fiber optic cables have been installed for video streaming via the Web, allowing interactivity and the expansion of the theater beyond its four walls.
The Family Theater is part of a $125 million initiative over the next five years to create new education programs and expand existing ones that currently reach more than 11 million people in all 50 states.
"To inspire a child to dream, you must first engage their imagination," says Catherine B. Reynolds, whose foundation is the presenting sponsor of the Family Theater's opening season. "And there is nothing more likely to excite a child's sense of wonder than a personal encounter with the magic of the performing arts at the Kennedy Center's new Family Theater. It is a way for children and families to develop and share a lifelong love of the arts, and the Foundation is proud to support its gala inaugural season."
The Center continues this season to produce new works in addition to presenting the best in children's theater from across the country and around the world. The Family Theater will host the world premieres of four Kennedy Center-commissioned works, including Alice from the book by Whoopi Goldberg (December 9); Walking the Winds: Arabian Tales, a groundbreaking collaboration between the Kennedy Center and the Performing Arts Center of Amman, Jordan (April 2006); Citizen 13559: The Journal of Ben Uchida, a co-commission with Scholastic Entertainment (March 2006); and Brave No World: Identity. Community. Stand-Up Comedy., a production that targets high school students (January 2006).
The Family Theater provides the Center with a space that can accommodate high-quality productions and allows the Center to continue exploring new partnerships and fulfilling its mission to annually develop three to four new productions, which will then tour nationally and, perhaps in the future, internationally.
To enhance the performance experience, this season the Kennedy Center Education Department is making its Cuesheet study guides available at all performances in the new theater. These materials give students and parents insight into the creative process and the back story of the work. The Center is also continuing to develop content for the Web that supplements the stage productions.
The National Symphony Orchestra's Education program has added something new for this season as well. Teddy Bear Concerts let youngsters ages 3 and up get their first exposure to live classical music in the company of their favorite stuffed animal. November 13-21, the Orchestra is holding a weeklong Education Celebration, designed to showcase its full range of educational activities, including concerts in the Concert Hall and Theater Lab and on the Millennium Stage, as well as in select DC Public Schools.
For more information about the Kennedy Center's Education Department and its offerings, please visit kennedycenter.org/education, artsedge.kennedycenter.org, and kennedycenter.org/nso/nsoed.
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor of Kennedy Center News.