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Celebrities Will Talk With Literally Anyone For a Few Seconds at the Kennedy Center Honors

Even Aretha Franklin was up for a quick chat on Sunday.

Photograph by Margot Schulman.

Did you know that Charlie Rose plays tennis? Or that Ben Folds is beginning to bald, ever-so-slightly, at the crown of his head? Or that Itzhak Perlman will mingle with anyone that wants to say “hello”?

I learned all these things during the 30-minute intermission at the Kennedy Center Honors on Sunday, when I was temporarily unbound to my seat in the last row of the highest tier of the Opera House. During that period, I wandered down to the orchestra to find celebrities open to chatting with strangers. Perlman, the great violinist, sitting alone in his wheelchair, almost seemed to be begging for a conversation. Eavesdropping on people you usually only see through screen was suddenly easy.

The Kennedy Center Honors isn’t exactly the most obvious place for a famous person to get ambushed by a crazed super fan; a 2012 Washington Post story says that most of the event’s tickets are reserved for Kennedy Center donors, the families of performers and honorees, and CBS representatives. The remaining 300 tickets sold to the public are pricey too, often starting at $400 a piece. A level of chill is obviously expected from everyone. Still, it’s surprising how simple it was to take the elevator down to the bottom level and approach anybody.

Michael Reamer, a Kennedy Center donor and Honors veteran, can attest to this. Reamer and his girlfriend sat in the last row of the theatre with me. They only found out the week of the event that they had tickets too. And yet, they got to meet honorees Carole King and Cicely Tyson, as well as Aretha Franklin, Sara Bareilles, and actress Debbie Allen, simply by going up to them and saying hi. No politicians, though. “Senators don’t want to be bothered,” he says. “They’ll acknowledge you but they don’t want to stop and chat unless you’re important.”

Actors famous for David Lynch roles are another story. As I walked towards my seat for the after-show dinner, I spotted Kyle Maclachlan, the only celebrity I mustered up the courage to gush over in person. He calmly said thanks, told me he liked my glasses, and then we parted ways.