Midterm season hit in full force last week, so after spending a weekend working on a 10 page paper and studying I desperately needed to get off campus and into the real world. So I asked myself: what could I do on a Tuesday evening, for free, and in walking distance from the Front Gates?
A Millenium Stage performance at the Kennedy Center. Happening every day, 7 days a week, 364 days a year at 6 pm. Completely free of charge.
I walked down Prospect, crossed over to M, then headed down the hill towards the Waterfront. People of all shapes and sizes were enjoying the evening, including families feeding ducks, tourists getting ready for a leisurely river cruise on the Potomac, and the entirety of the GU jogging population. I passed that one Scandinavian embassy and the dysfunctional sundial, the boathouse of GW students, and the Watergate hotel. Commuter traffic clogged the roadways but the bikers slid past with their fancy helmet-cams and spandex. By the Potomac I felt calm for the first time in days.
It only takes about 30 minutes to get to the Kennedy Center, by foot, from the front gates, so after a 7:25 departure I got their just in time. I walked up the white steps and into the Hall of States, the first entrance to the Center. I followed the red carpet beneath the state flags and found the little Millenium stage, with about two dozen rows of seats set up for the performance.
The Millenium Stage hosts a variety of different artists, from jazz bands to rappers to dancers to comedians, so any time you go you’re bound to find something different. The evening’s performance was an operetta called Qadar, written by Tony Small, about a boy from Oman, appropriately named Omani, who works for the Tanzanian Ambassador. The performance was commissioned by the National Museum of African Art, aimed at an audience of children.
Although it’s supposed to be an hour and 45 minute long operetta, the performers only had time for a few scenes, so the story was fragmented. They tried to pull in musical influences from Africa and the Middle East, dressed in traditional costumes and sang about the culture. In one song, an American girl and Omani criticize each other for their use of pronouns: the american always says “me, myself and I,” while Omani always says “us, ourselves and we,” making subtle commentary on the opposing cultures of individualism and collectivism.
The music itself was rather boring, but some of the soloists, in particular the tenor and the alto, had pleasing voices. Omani the younger was played by an adorable 10 year old boy, who had quite a voice and confidently played his part. They brought in local dancers, including members from a traditional african dance troupe and a classical ballet troupe. It all had a community feel, making our (relatively) big city of DC feel smaller and more personal.
All was over in 45 minutes, and having little reason to stick around I walked out onto the terrace and looked up the river at our darling campus, feeling blissfully detached. The Kennedy Center is a spectacular building, really, and I stood in awe for a while underneath the white walls and golden columns. I was struck by a quote from JFK himself, that’s engraved on the side of the building: “This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”
I mulled over this as I sang a song and wandered back to campus. Adding a little bit of free culture to your life does wonders for your mental stability. Try it out!
Photo: Katherine Landau