Over the course of 16 days next month, the Kennedy Center will celebrate the opening of the Reach, its new $250 million expansion, with hundreds of free public events, including a hip-hop block party headlined by De La Soul, an outdoor “Opera in the Outfield”-style screening of the Washington National Opera’s “Show Boat” and a National Dance Day celebration hosted by choreographer Debbie Allen and featuring New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck.
Full days of topical programming cover theater (featuring Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding!) and comedy (with Patton Oswalt and Judah Friedlander), as well as classical music and DJ culture. Beyond the boldface names, there are hands-on family activities, outdoor screenings of “Black Panther” and “The Muppet Movie” and interactive classes with experts teaching line dances, beatboxing and the art of listening to music.
The festival begins Sept. 7. Entering the Reach, a complex that includes 10 interior spaces and a large outdoor plaza, requires free timed entry tickets, which will be distributed through the Kennedy Center’s website beginning at 10 a.m. today. Three time slots will be available each day: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1:30 to 5 p.m., and 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Each person can request up to six tickets per day in any combination of time slots — say, two tickets for each of the morning, afternoon and evening sessions, or two for the afternoon and four for the evening. (Anyone who has tickets for consecutive time slots can stick around instead of leaving and reentering after the first time slot ends.) However, organizers are very clear that timed passes “do not guarantee entry to any specific event,” and outside of a small number of programs that require preregistration, there’s no way to guarantee that the public will definitely be able to see a specific performer.
The reason is a numbers game: The Reach’s overall capacity is 5,000, which is the maximum amount of tickets for any time slot, but that number is spread across 130,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. On opening night, the Chuck Brown Band and Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins headline the outdoor plaza, which holds up to 2,000 people, while the indoor Studio K, where hip-hop artists Speech and Arrested Development will perform, has a capacity of 350, and the Justice Forum auditorium, where Charles Burnett’s “Selma, Lord, Selma” is being screened, has 144 seats.
If there’s something you really want to do or see, planning and patience are required. A Sept. 7 flexing class with street dancer and choreographer Drew Dollaz is capped at 20 participants, first-come, first-in, but flexers can begin lining up outside Studio F as soon as they’re admitted to the Reach, at either 10 a.m. or 1:30 p.m.
Some special events, such as a Sept. 11 songwriting master class with Alan Menken, the composer behind “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Beauty and the Beast,” will require additional preregistration, though the Kennedy Center says only eight classes and workshops require this extra step.
The inability to reserve tickets for individual events seems to be the Kennedy Center’s way of encouraging visitors to explore the Reach in a flexible, multidisciplinary fashion: Rather than just come for one band or performer, they’d like people to pop into and out of rehearsal spaces, seek out works of art by Sam Gilliam and Roy Lichtenstein, take an outdoor dance class, and then grab something to eat and drink from a lineup of local chefs “curated” by Erik Bruner-Yang of Maketto and Brothers and Sisters and restaurateur Eric Hilton.
A searchable and sortable schedule of events is available on the Kennedy Center’s Reach website.
The Reach Opening Festival, Sept. 7-22 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW.