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The Kennedy Center Plans a Cautious Return to Live Events

Opera audiences will watch performances from the stage, for instance.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins
Coronavirus 2020

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The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced a plan Thursday to present some live performances before the end of 2020. Once the District of Columbia reaches Phase 3 of its reopening plan, the center says, it will host performances by artists such as Renée Fleming and Vanessa Williams in the Opera House, but with a coronavirus-inspired twist: The performers will be on a stage extension built into the usual seating areas, and concertgoers will watch from physically distanced seats on the stage. Audience capacity will be limited to 200, and spectators will enter via the center’s loading dock doors on the front of the building.

The National Symphony Orchestra plans to resume live performances in December, again depending on whether the District enters phase 3. NSO music director Gianandrea Noseda will conduct two of the performances, which will be “surprise programs,” the center says, and pops conductor Steven Reineke will lead the third. In person attendance will again be limited, but the performances will be live-streamed.

The Kennedy Center also anticipates a series of free “Sunset Concerts” at the Reach once DC enters a later phase of reopening, which will be held in the River Pavilion with its glass walls opened so people can watch from outdoors. It also plans yoga on the Reach’s green roof in September and October.

Numerous events are also planned outside the arts center and virtually, including a “Pop-Up Opera Truck”  that will visit all eight of DC’s wards to perform short programs, and the Facebook-sponsored “Arts Across America” campaign.

The Kennedy Center also announced tentative plans for a limited 2021 season, including the long-delayed premiere of Blue, an opera about police brutality that the arts center commissioned long before the national reckoning on race and policing, a 50th anniversary run of Jesus Christ Superstar, and a collaboration between education artist-in-residence Mo Willems and Ephrat Asherie Dance. That season will depend on DC entering Phase 4 of reopening.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.