A Tour To The REACH, The Kennedy Center’s New Performance Space : NPR

NPR’s Michel Martin interviews Marc Bamuthi Joseph of the Kennedy Center about the opening of the REACH rehearsal and performance space.


Finally today, if you have ever visited Washington, DC, you may have seen a show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It’s a big space – huge ceilings, elegant rooms. And it just got a little bigger – or maybe smaller and more down to earth with a new space called The REACH. It’s a mix of indoor and outdoor performance spaces designed to give audiences a behind-the-scenes look at artistic creation. To showcase it, the Kennedy Center hosted a free 16-day festival that’s happening right now. Yesterday we went to visit Marc Bamuthi Joseph, a writer and artist who is also vice president and artistic director of social impact at the Kennedy Center, and he showed us around.

MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH: Right now, right now, Esperanza Spalding is working with a group of artists who are preparing a commission from the Kennedy Center for a new opera that she is working on with Wayne Shorter. But as I turn around, I look at two class spaces. And one of those spaces is occupied by a number of DJs. Today’s genre of programming is electronic music, so there will be deejays in this place all the time.

wow. Can we come on board?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Okay. And what I would like is for a volunteer to come and create a pattern out of these sounds that – these eight sounds.


BAMUTHI JOSEPH: And this moment is really, like, quintessential REACH. All around me are people of different ages, different sizes, different desires all having a good time. And I think that’s really what we want this space to be, it’s kind of something for everyone.

MARTIN: I also sat down with Marc Bamuthi Joseph to ask him what he thinks The REACH offers that other more traditional art spaces don’t.

BAMUTHI JOSEPH: I think, in part, what space does to us as an institution and hopefully to the district and the nation is to rewire how we spread culture. Culture does not belong to us. And I think the traditional model for many institutions is that the curator says or the programmer says and the audience watches. What this space kind of forces us to think about is the structure of cultural creation, to develop a kind of culture of invitation where we don’t think about audiences, we think about people.

MARTIN: One of the things this place does is it’s very different from the original Kennedy Center building, which is very monumental in design.


MARTIN: It’s a memorial. It’s formal, basically.


MARTIN: Space is very different. There are much smaller spaces. They feel more informal. They’re very – they’re flexible. You can make them do different things.


MARTIN: But it also kind of invites the audience to watch the artists as they create. And as an artist yourself, doesn’t that scare you a bit?

BAMUTHI JOSEPH: Not at all because, you know, artists – especially performers – that’s what we do. We allow people into our space and into our processes to testify. If you’re just playing in a space and no one is watching, well, that’s a repeat. So why not invite people into the rehearsal process and be performative in terms of the process?

MARTIN: Because of the freedom to make mistakes. Does it still exist?

BAMUTHI JOSEPH: Well, I think, you know, you noted the historic building. You noted the stone building, which evokes opulence, grandeur and majesty. And it’s closer, I think, more intimate and on a human scale. And what he invites the general public to do is to engage art at eye level with the creative process.

MARTIN: And so I think just to break it down, I think what I’m hearing you say is that you want to bring people here who normally don’t see this place as their own. You want to invite them to experience all that a place like this has to offer.

BAMUTHI JOSEPH: I think that’s a nice way to put it. And I would also say it’s a nice metaphor, actually, for the country as a whole. I think there are many of us – my parents are from Haiti. I am a first generation American. I think so many of us haven’t necessarily had access to the American promise or the franchise. We see the country as something we love, and it’s also outside of us. And we think of our cultural citadels the same way, that art is something that I love, but this building prohibits me from entering it.

REACH is not that. REACH is open. I also say that the building itself is like a bird whose wingspan is as big as the distance between Esperanza’s soprano and the vibrato of her bass, isn’t it? It’s open like that. And we, as an institution, are following the lead of the building by creating a different paradigm for openness.

MARTIN: Before you let go, there are people who won’t feel included like that. There are people who are used to experiencing certain types of art in a certain way. They see classical works as being a certain way. Do you have a message for those people who say, wait a minute, I’m a traditional patron of the arts, I, you know, this is how it should be?


MARTIN: Do you want them to come? Do you want them to stay away? Do you want them to say that’s your building over there and that’s somebody else’s? How do you want to engage with these people?

BAMUTHI JOSEPH: I think that’s an excellent question. I don’t want to separate or segment. So do I want the traditional arts patron to experience The REACH with the non-traditional arts patron? Absolutely because that’s really how culture is made. When we literally step out of our pre-designed boxes, cross the aisle or cross our seats or cross the disciplines and create something together, that’s what this set of buildings invites us to do, to do something together.

MARTIN: This is Marc Bamuthi Joseph, vice president and artistic director of social impact at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts here in Washington, DC. We are talking about The REACH. It’s a new rehearsal and performance space – spaces – at the Kennedy Center.

MARTIN: Marc Bamuthi Joseph, thank you very much for talking to us.

BAMUTHI JOSEPH: It has been an honor. Thanks very much.

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