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Kennedy Center is reopening in September. Here's what's changing

We spoke to Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter about the venue's reopening occurring in September and the 50th anniversary season.

WASHINGTON — The Kennedy Center announced this week that a fall reopening will take place in September as part of a special 50th-anniversary celebration at the venue.

Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter spoke to WUSA9 during an exclusive interview Friday and gave us a tour of the site.

The historic halls and theaters continued to sit quiet and empty, much like they have for the past year.

Aside from a small number of limited capacity performances late last year, the crowds are missing. Rutter can still remember the last night of performances in March of 2020 when she knew the Kennedy Center would be closing for at least a few weeks.

"On Wednesday morning, March 11, I said, 'Gang, are we all okay? I’m planning on leaving tomorrow for a few days with my daughter,'" Rutter recalled. "By four o’clock that afternoon, we were going to the meeting with the mayor and she was telling us that we needed to start closing down. We went to the last performance that evening and immediately closed down after.”

Rutter believed the shutdown would at first last around six weeks. It turned to months.

Over 1,500 performances have been canceled due to the pandemic since then while thousands of jobs at the venue have been lost.

In total, the Kennedy Center estimates there has been a loss of $250 million in revenue and donations.

Cuts even spread to the National Symphony Orchestra, where each musician was forced to take a 28% reduction in pay.

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After months of hardship, however, Rutter wanted to start planning for the show to go on for the venue's 50th anniversary.

"We have really gone into a high level of detail to make sure that everybody is really safe," Rutter said. "It takes time and levels of expertise. The good news is we’ve had a year to figure this out.”

Some of the precautions will be the things many have grown accustomed to during the pandemic; from mask-wearing and temperature checks to reminders to stay socially distant. However, some of the changes have even spread to the performers and musicians.

Inside the concert hall, plexiglass dividers remained up on the stage for the National Symphony Orchestra sessions. Anyone who plays a wind instrument is separated by the glass while all the members have increased space between them.

Due to the social distancing, the venue built the stage out further over the first few rows of seats.

For now, the Kennedy Center will follow D.C. guidelines going into effect in May restricting attendance inside entertainment venues to 25% capacity.

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"Everybody is going to have multiple seats between them and multiple rows between them as well," said Rutter while looking over the empty theater on Friday. 

Organizers are hoping for a full reopening by the time September rolls around. Beginning this spring and summer, the Kennedy Center plans to hold a limited number of indoor performances with smaller and socially distant crowds. More details on the events are expected later this month. By September, the "celebratory reactivation" will be in full swing.

On Sept. 10, the National Symphonic Orchestra will hold a remembrance concert to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and honor the lives lost during the pandemic.

The anniversary season will also include many other shows, concerts, programs, and special events, including the unveiling of a statue of President John F. Kennedy on the REACH campus in November. More information for the season can be found here.

Moving forward, Rutter said the reopening of the Kennedy Center marked an important milestone for arts in D.C. and a special opportunity for others to come together.

"The arts are a reflection of who we are. They help us understand how we relate with one another," she said. "There’s a lot of awareness across the community of the need for the arts to come back into life and to be able to get back into our museums and theatres and to be able to share experiences together.”

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