The REACH Opening Festival at The Kennedy Center: How Not to Be Overwhelmed

The niftiest tools for navigating the 500+ free events scheduled between September 7 and 22.

The Opening Festival of the new REACH at The Kennedy Center is truly exciting, but it’s a lot. All those buildings, all the goings-on. What’s a newbie to do?

There’s no dearth of info about the place—emails and brochures and websites chockablock with more than 400 attractions over 16 days—but navigating it all can feel daunting. So here are some simple tips.

The 360-degree overview from a laptop of the new REACH at The Kennedy Center. Buttons and thumbnails click into closeups and interiors. The “speaker” icon turns music and narration on and off.
The 360-degree overview from a phone of the new REACH at The Kennedy Center. Buttons and thumbnails click into closeups and interiors. The “speaker” icon turns music and narration on and off. The icon with three dots turns thumbnails on and off.

First of all, think of the REACH literally as a campus. Sure, it’s a performing arts center, a $250-million, interactive and immersive extension of the monumental edifice that bears John F. Kennedy Jr.’s name. But really, it’s more like 4.6 acres of multi-use architecture that you just need to find your way around the way you did your first day as an undergrad.

Start with the 360-degree virtual reality tour. You can click to it here from your laptop or phone. It’s a really cool tool—easy and fun to play around with—and it makes sense of the lay of the land in no time. (From your birds-eye view you can click on buttons or thumbnails and get closeups and interiors. You can listen to the narration or not. You can grab any photo and whirl it all around. And you can picture yourself everywhere.)

Next, check out the schedule. The Opening Festival runs September 7 to 22, 2019, and it’s like a jam-packed course catalogue. The simplest and most practical way to pick and choose is to do it online, from your laptop or phone. Click here and you’ll find all festival events listed by date and time. Click on an event and you’ll get a description of it. If you sign up and log in (using your email and a password), you will be able to create a personal schedule of the events you’re planning to attend or participate in—and your editable personal schedule will appear on both your laptop and your phone.

The Opening Festival schedule as seen on the “REACH Fest” app (get it free at the App Store or Google Play). Scroll through to find events by date and time. Pick the ones you want to go to and create your own “My Sched.”

With the highly recommended “REACH Fest” app (available free at the App Store and Google Play), you can do this seamlessly. Events are color-coded by type, so you can easily find your “major” (theater is periwinkle blue). You can view all the events of a particular type at once, and on a laptop the schedule can have different views (as a list, expanded with descriptions, as a grid, and by venue). It’s kind of a programming work of art in itself.

Ready, set, go—and get your free passes. Here’s the part that gets just a little tricky. You have to get a timed free pass in advance of each event you want to go to; you can’t just walk in. But once you’re on campus, you can meander anywhere, drop in on anything. (A few events require advance free registration; those are indicated in the schedule.) The pass-issuing process is handiest if you have created an account by signing up and logging in, because then when you click on an event, a “Pass Info” button appears that takes you directly where you pick the right entry time. If you haven’t created an account but you do know when you want to go to something, you can select pass times here. But hurry—some time slots are already sold out.

The Opening Festival schedule as seen on a logged-in laptop. Scroll through to find events by date and time. Pick the ones you want to go to and create your personal schedule (which you can access by clicking on your avatar).

To enter the REACH, head to the southeast corner of the Kennedy Center (past the Hall of Nations entrance). You can also enter from the southwest corner of the River Plaza and from the Bridge access across Rock Creek Parkway (see the 360-degree virtual tour).

So here’s the deal. Take a few moments to check out these online tools before you immerse yourself in the amazing reality of the REACH, and you’ll feel psyched for adventure, not dazed and confused.

View from the Potomac of the REACH at The Kennedy Center. Rendering courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

The REACH Opening Festival runs September 7 to 22, 2019, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC. The complete schedule is here. Free timed passes are available at the box office, by calling (202) 467-4600, or online.