In D.C., It's Hip to Be Cultured

The capital's classical institutions up the cool factor with cast member mixers and craft beer get-togethers.

Remember when the Google Art Selfie went viral and everyone was posting what masterpiece they resembled? (Mine was Gauguin’s “Two Breton Girls by the Sea.”) By reaching out in creative ways to younger audiences, Washington’s classical arts organizations hope to generate that same kind of meme-worthy excitement around D.C.’s culture scene.

For example, the Kennedy Center has introduced new events focusing on comedy, hip-hop and contemporary music. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company offers pre-show ice cream socials while the Shakespeare Theatre Company pairs happy hour drinks at its Forum bar with performances by local musicians, dancers and puppeteers.

Even opera is mixing it up with millennials. Washington National Opera’s young professionals group, BravO, plans a variety of events to introduce people under 40 
to the original sopranos. A recent talk explored the relevance of the #MeToo movement to Puccini’s “Tosca.” At a party onboard a Potomac cruise boat or a casual get-together at a Watergate bar, BravO members enjoy the chance to mingle with young opera artists. BravO event at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

“The artists might sing an aria actually in your face, as opposed to your sitting in a dark auditorium and they’re wearing layers of makeup and wigs,” said Coetzee Pretorius, former president of the BravO council. “People who had been afraid of opera, who said it’s too stuffy, see it can be fun, it can be contemporary.” 

One of Washington’s oldest young professional groups is the Washington Ballet’s Jeté Society, which holds popular “beerballet&bubbly” events with behind-the-scenes access to a ballet production rehearsal, followed by drinks and mingling. 

Classical art forms are also breaking 
out of its classical spaces. NSO in Your Neighborhood, for example, brings 
free National Symphony Orchestra chamber performances to churches and nightclubs.

“We are trying to meet this audience where they are,” said Courtney Burke, the Kennedy Center’s director of marketing analytics and audience insights. 

Even—or especially—if they’re in the virtual world.

“By investing more in digital marketing and our web and social media presence, we are able to reach new audiences through a diverse array of channels,” Burke said. 

Arts organizations also know it’s not just the programming and venue to which they need 
to appeal, but the price. Most performing arts organizations, from the Shakespeare-focused Folger Theatre to historic Ford’s Theatre, offer discounted tickets for patrons under 30, in addition to pay-what-you-can nights and last-minute, day-of tickets. 

The Folger Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Travelers to Washington can join D.C.’s young adult audiences this month at special events such as the Folger Theatre’s “Brews and Banter” evening of craft beers and meet-the-cast opportunities at various performances; National Symphony Orchestra’s “Declassified: Ben Folds Presents” series; or Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Happenings Happy Hour event on select Thursdays, including Nov. 29, before that night’s showing of “An Inspector Calls.” 

But with so many top-notch arts offerings throughout the capital, you don’t really need a special event. Whether
 hula, step or Logic is your thing, there’s bound to be something to tempt you to a Washington, D.C., performance hall—no matter what your age.

Amy Alipio
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