- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser has made a name for himself as the head of arts organizations both in the United States and in Great Britain. He knows the value of a dramatic opening.

And he wants to have a major hit with the Prelude Festival, an 18-day smorgasbord of music, theater and dance programs featuring both free and discounted-ticket performances.

Kicking off the festival tomorrow will be the familiar sounds of the National Symphony Orchestra doing a Capitol Concert on the West Lawn.

More than 30 arts groups are also pitching in with the Prelude Festival, including Tokyo's New National Theater, The Washington Opera and the Flying Karamazov Brothers.

The event also marks the birth of the KC Jazz Club, an intimate, nightclub-style venue in the roof-level Education Resource Center headlining local and national jazz acts. The debut doubles as a warning shot across the bow of the Smithsonian's IMAX Jazz Cafe in the atrium of the Natural History Museum. It remains to be seen whether enough interest exists to support two such clubs, although healthy crowds at the latter may indicate the future bodes well for both.

Some jazz "was written to be heard in a less formal environment," Mr. Kaiser says, noting that presenting jazz in an expansive concert hall often causes a separation between performer and crowd, especially when material of a more intimate nature is performed.

Soon after he started his job last year, Mr. Kaiser noticed that, beyond the colorful turning of the leaves, the District lacked an official event marking the start of the fall arts season.

He made a point of meeting with representatives from local performing arts groups to get a feel for the regional scene.

The Prelude Festival grew out of that dialogue, he says.

If all goes according to Mr. Kaiser's always meticulously laid plans, the festival will do more than herald the Kennedy Center's 32nd season. It will serve as an open house for many of the city's various arts programs, as well.

"The Kennedy Center has to care about not just [itself] but the other arts organizations in Washington," he says. "For the arts to be healthy in any region, you need a diverse set of organizations edgier and the more mainstream."

Mr. Kaiser maintains that the "quality and quantity" of the metropolitan area's theatrical productions should be much better known, both locally and nationally." That's why actors from 15 regional theaters will be reading new works at the festival during the next two weeks.

Arena Stage will be contributing a series of discussions on the give-and-take between playwrights and audiences, paying particular attention to fostering new works.

"We'll be educating [audiences] about the process. It doesn't just happen. It's grown with a lot of other people around," says Wendy C. Goldberg, Arena Stage's artistic associate.

With tourism strong around Labor Day, she hopes to glean reactions from audience members from across the country.

"If you have somebody who doesn't have any idea what Arena Stage is, it'll be fascinating to hear them chime in with feedback," she says.

Miss Goldberg believes the festival will be a success for participating artists if it sparks communication within artistic circles. "That continuing dialogue is what is most important," she says.

The festival also includes new play readings from a variety of local companies, including Horizons Theatre, Rep Stage and Theatre J.

Other high-profile events planned for the festival include free readings by the District's poet laureate, Dolores Kendrick, at 6 p.m. Sept. 11 on the Millennium Stage; outdoor dance parties featuring live swing, salsa and ballroom music at 9 p.m. Sept. 6, 7, 13 and 14; and "Sing-a-Long Sound of Music" for the children at 7 p.m. (Sept. 12-15).

The festival also will include the 18th annual Kennedy Center Open House on Sept. 8, with free performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Opera, the Washington Ballet and Signature Theatre.

In addition to theater, the festival also reflects Mr. Kaiser's passion for dance. Three dance premieres will be featured over the next two weeks, which will help right a creative wrong in the District.

"Our modern dance community is rather small and hasn't developed like it has in other cities," he says.

So far, the reaction has been unanimously positive.

"Not one company we asked to participate said no," he says with a laugh. "They're pleased at the visibility and the chance to perform amongst their peers."

NSO is providing a series of free and ticketed performances for the festival, symphony Executive Director Rita Shapiro reports.

Miss Shapiro calls the orchestra's opening day concert, featuring pieces by Ellington, Copland and Gershwin, "a nice, rousing Americana program [with] lots of crowd pleasers."

The festival will subsequently feature programs dedicated exclusively to Beethoven and Brahms.

WHAT: "Prelude Festival"

WHERE: The Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW

WHEN: Tomorrow through Sept. 18

TICKETS: Some events are free, others require tickets.

INFORMATION: Call 202/416-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.

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