At Ford's Theatre, straight-back chairs with thin cushions can make for a long evening no matter where you sit. At small concert venues like the Phillips Collection and Freer Gallery of Art and theaters like Studio, Signature, and Woolly Mammoth, every seat is well padded and close to the stage, and acoustics are generally good.
At the Kennedy Center, distance from the stage can make a difference. Its Eisenhower Theater and Opera House both have "dead spots" under the mezzanine and in the back of the upper tier. Free earphones are available in the lobby.
At the Music Center at Strathmore, patrons prefer the promenade level for its bird's-eye view and the orchestra tier, which is slightly higher than the orchestra level.
At George Mason University's Center for the Arts, ideal seats for dance and symphonic music are in the center of the second row of the grand tier. Theater, chamber music, and jazz combos are best enjoyed in the orchestra.
At the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the 650-seat Kay Theatre measures only 90 feet from the front of the stage to the back of the auditorium–no chance of feeling remote there. In the 1,100-seat Dekelboum Concert Hall, boxes and balcony seats are desirable. The orchestra section is the best choice in the 300-seat Gildenhorn Recital Hall.
"House seats" are often best. They're the ones an institution holds back for friends of the director, actors, musicians, benefactors, and others. They're usually well placed, sometimes on the aisle. At the Kennedy Center, if those tickets aren't spoken for 48 hours before some performances, they're released to the box office. The Shakespeare Theatre doesn't call them house seats, but it holds back 10 to 12 tickets per performance. If not used by that day, a few go on sale.
Washingtonian staffers contributing to this section were Cristina Abello, Susan Baer, Susan Davidson, Ken DeCell, Rebecca Dreilinger, Kim Isaac Eisler, Mary Clare Fleury, Kimberly Forrest, Brooke Lea Foster, Garrett M. Graff, Cynthia Hacinli, Thomas Head, Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Chad Lorenz, Leslie Milk, Aparna Nancherla, William O'Sullivan, Cindy Rich, and Chris Wilson. Also contributing were Cathy Alter, Ann Cochran, and Matthew Graham.