Washington’s performing-arts scene has an international reputation. We have not just one but two Shakespeare theaters. Our Arena Stage is renowned for its innovative productions of American masters and new voices. The Kennedy Center reigns over all, staging something for everyone in every genre. Don’t assume that these three theaters present only classic renditions from a performing-arts hit list; no, they are each wildly creative in their choices and their presentations. On the other hand, for truly avant-garde theater, seek out smaller stages, like Woolly Mammoth and Studio theaters.
Seasons for both the Kennedy Center and Arena Stage run year-round; the Shakespeare Theatre's season (and that of other smaller theaters) is nearly year-round, taking a 4- to 6-week break July into August. The Kennedy Center often has performances going on throughout the day, but all theaters hold their major productions at 7:30 or 8pm nightly, with Saturday and Sunday matinee performances at 2pm and occasional midweek matinee performances on the schedule, especially at Arena Stage.
The bad news is that, as popular as theater-going is in the capital, ticket prices have gone through the roof in the past couple of years. A lot of locals subscribe to the big three (Kennedy Center, Shakespeare, Arena), which leaves fewer one-off tickets available. Expect to pay $75 to $100-plus for a ticket—unless you’re able to obtain a discounted ticket directly from the theater or from a discounted ticket service.
Most performing-arts and live-music venues require tickets, which you can purchase online at the venue’s website, in person at the venue’s box office, or through one of the ticket vendors listed below.
The best deals in town might be those posted on the website www.goldstar.com. It costs nothing to subscribe, and you’ll immediately start receiving e-mail notices of hefty discounts on admission prices to performances and venues, including museums, all over the city.
TodayTix sells discounted and full-price last-minute tickets for shows in D.C. and its suburbs. You can browse and purchase tickets online at www.todaytix.com, but certain features, such as the use of ticket lotteries, are only available on the free downloadable app. FYI: Despite its name, the service works for tickets purchased up to a month in advance.
Ticket sellers Live Nation Entertainment (www.livenation.com; tel. 800/745-3000) and www.ticketfly.com (tel. 877/987-6487) operate in the D.C. area, selling full-price tickets for all sorts of performances. Expect to pay taxes plus a service charge, an order-processing fee, and a facility fee (if a particular venue tacks on that charge). Finally, check out www.instantseats.com, which bills itself as the place to go for “online ticketing for the performing arts.” (The site also sells tickets for river cruises on the Potomac, so perhaps the company defines “performing arts” to cover a multitude of entertainment.)
Smaller but no less compelling, these theaters stage productions that are consistently professional and often more contemporary and daring than those you’ll find in the better-known theaters. These more intimate theaters have their own strong followings, which means their performances often sell out.
I also highly recommend productions staged in the Elizabethan-styled Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, on Capitol Hill, 201 E. Capitol St. SE, at 2nd Street (www.folger.edu; tel. 202/544-7077), which celebrates its 87th anniversary in 2019. The theater typically produces three to four plays each season, using the same fine directors (Aaron Posner’s a favorite) and casting the same excellent actors (Holly Twyford is always a treat), that you’ll see at the Shakespeare Theatre and other stages around town. The main differences at the Folger are its design—its three-tiered wooden balconies, oak-carved columns, and half-timbered facade resemble the courtyard of an English Renaissance inn—and its intimacy: The theater holds 270 people. The theater is also the setting for musical performances, lectures, readings, and other events.
Three more specialized theater companies are of note: GALA Hispanic Theatre, at 3333 14th St. NW in Columbia Heights (www.galatheatre.org; tel. 202/234/7174), which presents classic and contemporary plays in Spanish and English, as well as dance, music, and other programs; Theater J (www.edcjcc.org; tel. 202/777-3210), praised by The Washington Post as “the most influential Jewish theater company in the nation” (its 2018–19 performances take place at venues around town while Theater J’s building undergoes renovation, so check the website for locations); and the tiny (130-seat!) Keegan Theatre, at 1742 Church St. NW, also in Dupont Circle (www.keegantheatre.com; tel. 202/265-3767), which often stages plays that embrace Irish writers and themes.
Headliner Concert Venues
Meanwhile, headliners like Harry Styles, U2, and Drake continue to sell out the 20,600-seat Capital One Arena, 601 F St. NW, at 7th Street (www.capitalonearena.com; tel. 202/628-3200). Situated in the center of downtown, the Capital One Arena is a hotspot for music but also is Washington’s premier indoor sports arena.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.