Capital theater scene

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Exploring the theater options in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., has so much more to offer than political punditry. In addition to the countless museums and restaurants for which the city is known, the capital’s theater scene is alive and well.

On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., I had the chance to take in a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (a.k.a., simply, the Kennedy Center), giving me the opportunity to visit this iconic performance hall. I also stopped by a number of other theaters in order to get a sense of what existed around town.

Suffice it to say that no matter what your taste, you’ll find something to enjoy at one of the many theater options in our nation’s capital.

Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts always has been an iconic theater in my mind as I have followed the Kennedy Center Honors, which are presented each December. In 2014, honorees included Sting, Tom Hanks, Al Green, Lily Tomlin, and ballerina, Patricia McBride. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that event. What talent!

Interior of the Arena Stage

There are many other opportunities throughout the year to attend a performance at the Kennedy Center. The facility is the “home field” for the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. It also encompasses a number of smaller theaters, such as the Theater Lab and the Millennium Stage, both of which feature comedies and musical performances.

Atlas Performing Arts Center

Located in the eclectic Near Northeast neighborhood (also called the Atlas District), the Atlas is in a renovated Art Deco movie house. While the area was known as a hotbed for drugs and criminal activity in the 1980s and 1990s, the Atlas Performing Arts Center bought the building in 2001, and, since then, the neighborhood has started to come alive with patrons attending a multitude of music, dance, comedy, and drama performances. The arts center also hosts youth performances by the Metropolitan Youth Arts Theatre.

The facility sits on H Street, and there are a wide variety of restaurants nearby. After a performance, stop by Dangerously Delicious Pies, a pie shop that is open very late.

The Studio Theatre

The Studio Theatre

Literally around the corner from the Helix Hotel (where I stayed during my visit), the Studio Theatre specializes in contemporary performances, with an occasional classic thrown in for good measure.

What’s especially unique about the Studio is that it has four theaters and none of them seats more than 225 people. If you like to experience your theater in a more intimate setting, this one’s for you.

The National Theatre

Located near the White House, the National Theatre has been around for more than 175 years. That means it has some incredible history.

Over the decades, this theater has seen presidential inaugural balls, world premieres of musicals, and even had John Wilkes Booth on its stage for his performance in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Lincoln actually attended that performance!

Today, the National Theatre regularly shows Broadway musicals and plays, children’s events, classic movies, concerts, and dance performances.

Viewfinder Tip: Half-price tickets for performances throughout the Washington, D.C., area can be found on the Culture Capital Tix website.

Arena Stage

Located just south of the National Mall, the Arena Stage is housed in a beautiful modern building. The venue focuses on American theater, with works from around the United States. Though you’ll always find classical performances (such as Fiddler on the Roof) during any season, you’re just as likely to find new works as well.

I arrived at the Arena just before sunset and was wowed by a gorgeous view from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby. This was a show in and of itself.

Warner Theatre

The Warner features a crazy-wide variety of performances. Over the course of a given season, the facility will host everything from comedians to rock bands to Broadway shows. Built in the 1920s, this is a beautiful, classic old performance hall that, for many years, functioned only as a movie theater. This was understandable, given its owner, Harry Warner, is one of the Warner Brothers.

Today you’ll be hard pressed to find a movie, but you might be able to catch REO Speedwagon, Anything Goes, or Lewis Black. That makes it a pretty good venue in my book.

What’s your favorite theater in the United States?

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Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman finished her tenure as an Expedia Viewfinder blogger at the end of 2015. She is the founder and CEO of Wanderlust and Lipstick and WanderTours. With 25+ years of solo travel, she writes for the women's travel market to encourage women to travel and live out their dream journeys.

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