The Reach Opening Festival
The Kennedy Center, September 7 – 22
The Kennedy Center celebrates the launch of its new addition, the Reach, with a 16-day party featuring enough events to fill the calendar of a smaller arts organization for an entire year. Highlights among the nearly 400 happenings include a hip-hop “block party” curated by Q-Tip, outdoor film screenings, residencies by Grammy winners Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding, and a “John Coltrane–inspired” virtual-reality lounge for jazz and meditation. Free.
A Children’s-Theater Institution Turns 40
Imagination Stage, September 7
Imagination Stage is one of the most renowned children’s theaters in the country. As it kicks off its 40th season this month, founder Bonnie Fogel reflects on its past, present, and future.
Past: Launched in an elementary school and later run out of a White Flint storefront, Imagination is now a full-scale arts hub in a 42,000-square-foot space in downtown Bethesda. Looking back, Fogel says she’s most proud of the theater’s enduring commitment to diversity: “Long before it became a watchword, we prioritized inclusivity. We are open and inclusive to every kind of child, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, economic status, where they come from.”
Present: In addition to celebrating its 40th-anniversary season by revisiting some of its favorite shows—the Washington-focused folktale Zomo the Rabbit, an award-winning production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—Fogel says the theater continues to ramp up its social-justice arm with theater and drama therapy for incarcerated youth and refugees: “Arts education is not just for kids who can afford to come take classes.”
Future: Imagination will eventually expand to a second location, in the District. “Children from DC come here, but the ride is long and the little ones fall asleep. We’re looking for a permanent second home so we can open our doors wider and reach many more children.”
DC State Fair
Gateway DC, September 8
This annual event offers traditional fair fare—pie and produce competitions—along with offerings unique to this region, such as best District-oriented tattoo. With the help of DC State Fair board member Melisa Augusto, we walk you through what could be the quintessential local contest: a mumbo-sauce showdown. Free.
How are the entries judged?
A panel of sauce bosses score the candidates on texture, aroma, appearance, flavor, and overall appeal. To avoid diluting or contaminating the mumbo’s taste, judges sample by the spoonful, no wings allowed. “It’s solidly just the sauce,” Augusto says.
How many mumbo prizes are awarded?
Contestants earn ribbons for “most true to the original” and “best overall.” The former requires “judges who can really speak to the history of mumbo,” Augusto says, including employees of Capital City Mambo Sauce. (“Mambo” is an alternate spelling.)
Does the anti-mumbo message Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted last year give the competition newfound urgency?
Unclear, but there are no hard feelings: Augusto is inviting the mayor to join the 2019 judging panel: “She can find out what the buzz with mumbo sauce might really be.”
“The Eye of the Sun: Nineteenth-Century Photographs”
National Gallery of Art, September 8–December 1
The 180th anniversary of the birth of photography may not seem like a major milestone, but it doesn’t take much to get us excited about images from early masters such as Roger Fenton and Julia Margaret Cameron (left). This look at the medium’s first 50 years includes around 140 photos, from Mary Dillwyn’s “The Picnic Party” to Fenton’s lush still life “Fruit and Flowers,” a departure from his usual desolate wartime landscapes. Free.
“Happy Accidents: An Exhibit of Bob Ross Paintings”
Franklin Park Arts Center, September 10–October 15
Ross’s long-running painting-instruction program ended when he died in 1995, but new generations of relaxation seekers have discovered his nap-inducing (in a good way!) PBS show via online streaming. Happy little trees will abound at this exhibit in Purcellville of 24 of Ross’s signature soothing nature scenes—one of the largest-ever showings of his work. Free.
Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic by Ben Westhoff
Politics and Prose, September 10
Why are so many people dying at raves? That question started a years-long quest by investigative journalist Ben Westhoff and subsequently begat this account, by turns fascinating and frightening, about the netherworld of synthetic drugs. Longtime music writer Westhoff, no stranger to the EDM scene, follows the trail all the way to China, where he worms his way into two drug operations. Free.
Warner Theatre, September 10
Saturday Night Live is on summer break, but there are still plenty of ways to get your Leslie Jones fix. There’s Twitter (her Women’s World Cup commentary was epic), YouTube (check out the SNL sketch in which she likens the all-male lineup of Alabama senators behind the proposed abortion ban to “the casting call for a Lipitor commercial”), and her deeply personal standup, which in the past has covered everything from her internet trolls to her dating woes. $37 to $160.
What the Constitution Means to Me
Kennedy Center, September 11-22
One of Broadway’s most surprising recent hits was Heidi Schreck’s Tony-nominated one-woman show about her long relationship with the country’s defining document. Now Schreck is bringing Constitution to the capital. Making it even more of an event: These will be her final performances in the role, at least for now—different actors will take over for the national tour while Schreck returns to her day job as a writer for Billions and other TV shows. $49 to $169.
Middle East Institute, September 14- November 23
This month, the Middle East Institute launches a new art gallery devoted to contemporary works from a part of the world that hasn’t had a full-time DC exhibit space devoted to it. The first show, “Arabicity|Ourouba” (free; mei.edu), features 18 artists who explore ideas such as identity and displacement. Here are a few standout pieces. Free.
1. “Ourouba” by Fathi Hassan (2011)
Hassan, whose parents are Egyptian and Nubian, produces work referencing his heritage through the use of intentionally illegible Arabic calligraphy.
2. “Al-Mulatham” by Ayman Baalbaki (2012)
Baalbaki was born in 1975, the same year civil war broke out in his native Lebanon.The sensations of that conflict, which lasted more than 15 years, inform his highly textural paintings.
3. Hassan Hajjaj, Saida in Blue (2000)
4. “World Under Pressure” by Batoul S’Himi (2012)
Moroccan-born S’Himi transforms domestic objects into sculptural ones that evoke the experiences of women in regions facing unrest.
Megan Thee Stallion
Jiffy Lube Live, September 17
The inaugural Hot Girl Summer is, sadly, coming to an end. But the reign of Megan Thee Stallion—who coined the seasonal phrase and encouraged us to live our most authentic, unbothered lives over the last few months—will outlast daylight saving time. The gifted Houston rapper first turned heads with the 2017 video for “Stalli Freestyle,” in which she skillfully rhymed and twerked through her hometown’s suburbs. When she opens for Meek Mill and Future, expect heady lyricism, unapologetic sex-positivity, and even more cockiness than from the headliners. $35 to $110.
“Judy Chicago—The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction”
National Museum of Women in the Arts, September 19–January 20
Feminist artist Judy Chicago is best known for her groundbreaking 1979 work “The Dinner Party,” an enormous triangular banquet table with unique place settings for an array of important women. Nearly 40 years later, this exhibition—which consists of about 40 works of painted porcelain and glass—looks at what happens when the party is over. $10.
DC Shorts International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition
Landmark’s E Street Cinema and Miracle Theatre, September 19–28
Exhausted from those overlong blockbusters you sat through all summer? Check out a few of these 160 blissfully short movies, from sci-fi dreamscapes to indie animations, by filmmakers from 38 countries. The finale is a “best of the fest” that features a selection of highlights—and still manages to be shorter than the average bladder-challenging popcorn movie. $15.
Capital One Arena, September 20
Tubas don’t get nearly enough respect. Sure, they’re comically large and blustery-sounding, but in the right hands they’re much more than class clowns of the horn section. With this 16-piece group from Mazatlán, Mexico, the instrument receives the pride of place it deserves. Superstars of the Mexican-music genre banda, Banda MS fill stadiums with their corridos (songs about historic figures) and ballads, all under the leadership of Ser-gio Lizárraga, who is both group leader and—you guessed it—tuba player. $59 to $375.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Lincoln Theatre, September 21
Atwood has said that her new novel, The Testaments, which picks up 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, was inspired in part by current events. Come to this appearance by the author armed with burning questions about Offred and the totalitarian regime of our nightmares, but don’t expect Atwood to explain details from the critically acclaimed Hulu series, which has officially gone off-book. $45 to $60.
Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day
Various locations, September 21
Yeah, yeah: DC has a lot of free museums. But there are plenty that normally charge admission—and many are participating in this national day of temporarily waived entry fees. It’s a good chance to view modern art at the Kreeger Museum or explore the Protest Garden installation at the Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center—and, ideally, enjoy those visits enough to return as a paying patron. Free.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Lincoln Theatre, September 26–27
Before he began writing Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates was piecing together this novel about Hiram Walker, a young enslaved man with a magical gift. Coates’s fiction debut, which he’ll discuss at this event, details the sacrifices Walker makes as he fights for freedom—and the book could further cement Coates as his generation’s finest writer on the racial struggle in America. $45.
Union Stage, September 27–28
Want to sample Europe’s emerging dance-music acts without trekking to some too-cool Berlin dance club that has extremely late hours and a hard-to-crack door policy? Check out sets from German tech-house DJ Perel (right) and Lisbon producer Nídia, among others. It’s a rare opportunity to experience some intense beats close to home—at a reasonable hour. Free.
Starring Annette Bening as Senator Dianne Feinstein and Adam Driver as a staffer tasked with compiling a report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation tactics, this political thriller—directed by Scott Z. Burns and based on real events—is earning early comparisons to Spotlight and other smart procedurals.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the incorrect number of Bob Ross paintings on display at the Franklin Park Arts Center. It has since been updated.
This article appears in the September 2019 issue of Washingtonian.