Monday, August 1, 2016

The Millennium Stage

Millennium Stage, waiting for the magic to begin!

[Full Disclosure: I am a current employee of the Kennedy Center. Any opinions expressed in this piece are my own personal views and do not represent that of the Center, its management, or its staff.]

I haven't written about my new job yet. I have been working in the Community Engagement department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Along with various festivals and community outreach, we are the curators and vanguards of Millennium Stage.

What is Millennium Stage? It is probably one of the hardest working stages around the world. Millennium Stage was created in 1997 by then-chairman James A. Johnson to offer the world one free performance a day at 6pm ET, 365 days a year, with each day a different artist. Could it be done? 19 years later, and it is still going strong.

All genres of performing arts are offered, from classical music, to avant garde inprov'd art creation. We have had theater, jazz, hip hop, dance, bboy battles, opera, new works, old works, genre-blending, "How dare you try to label me!" genres, and more. We have had performers aging from elementary school students all the way to 90+ year olds; from local DC-area artists, to international. Up-and-coming and already-there all in one space. It's exciting to say the very least.

Millennium Stage has two physical, home-base stages, but we like to think of "Millennium Stage" more as an idea (The home-base stages are also referred to as Millennium Stage, so it can be confusing). Millennium Stage's mission is to make the performing arts available for everyone, so it's our job to reach our audiences in the best way possible. Sometimes, that means moving the performance into different venues, or even outside. We also broadcast on digital stages. Since 1999, our performances have been live-streamed and archived on the Kennedy Center website (and just recently on YouTube). The stages are our vehicle.

It would be very easy to assume our performances are haphazardly chosen, with no rhyme or reason. To the contrary, most of our events are tied to other programming or festivals, a supplemental in a way. We help celebrate many building-wide and city-wide events and festivals. We also have a few annual traditions that we bring back every year: Merry TubaChristmas!, Let Freedom Ring! MLK Jr. Celebation, Page-to-Stage, and Conservatory Projects performances are a few of those. Then there are our own festivals we bring into the mix. Just this summer, we held American Acoustic with Chris Thile and partnered with Youth Speaks to host Brave New Voices 2016.

The list of examples could go on and on. Over 6,700 performances and counting worth of a list. Yet all of these are how we reach out to the community, and invite our audience to respond. It's been an honor to be part of such a hardworking and caring team.


What is your job specifically?
I run the show five days out of the week. It's a mix of a role, between stage manager, artist liaison, producer, and staff contact. I make sure everything is running smoothly. I also help out on the administration side with advancing upcoming shows.

Has the show ever not happened?
On occasion. The only reason we might cancel a show is if the Kennedy Center as a whole shuts down. This past winter, the building closed due to snowstorms.

If the artist doesn't show/can't make it, that's a different story. If we have time, we plug in another artist. This can be done with up to a few hours before showtime. If it's very last minute, and we don't have enough time to get anyone else, the show still happens. In the past, we have had talent shows from staff and our audience. Luckily, this scenario hasn't happened to me yet.

Why are there two home-base stages for Millennium Stage?
The Millennium Stages are on each end of the Center's Grand Foyer. The Foyer also serves as the lobby for the Center's three biggest performance venues. Millennium Stage's seating blocks access to whichever venue it is next to, either the Concert Hall or the Eisenhower Theater. So, depending on if there is a show in the CH or the ET, the Millennium Stage is able to switch sides without disrupting the other show's audience flow. If there are shows in both the CH and ET, then the Millennium Stage performs next to the venue that has the later starting time, then breaks down the seating as fast as possible after the show.

Let the show begin!

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