Kennedy Center announces 2023/24 Performances for Young Audiences

Jacqueline Woodson's residency concludes with national tour of 'Show Way The Musical,' return of 'The Other Side' with HopeBoykinDance, and outdoor Block Party — plus four world-premiere commissions.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announces its 2023/24 Performances for Young Audiences season, filled with diverse, memorable adventures in theater, dance, and music that will entertain and engage audiences of all ages. Subscriptions are now on sale for this season replete with dragons, outlaws, floods, fences, and falling school buses via the Kennedy Center website or by calling (202) 416-8500.

Daisy Denicore, Tanasia Lane, Nateisha Reaves, Riché Williams, and Jordin Green in ‘The Other Side.’ Photo by Jati Lindsay.

“It’s been a journey being Education Artist-in-Residence. I’ve met so many amazing people and saw my work come alive in ways I had not before imagined,” said Woodson. “I’ve also learned so much about the importance of bringing communities together across lines of race and class. The work hasn’t always been easy but nothing we do to move ourselves toward a greater good ever has been.”

Jacqueline Woodson, Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center.

Kennedy Center Vice President of Education, Jordan LaSalle, said, “We are honored to partner with Jacqueline Woodson, whose enlightening and uplifting words and work have inspired creative, cross-genre collaborations. All are invited to join us for this year’s unforgettable engagements that will resonate with audiences of all ages.”

This season also features four world-premiere Kennedy Center commissioned works, including two co-commissions. The first story begins with a school bus falling from the sky in DC-area native, New York Times best-selling author, and Kennedy Center Next 50 leader Jason ReynoldsLook Both Ways. In a co-production with Theater Alliance, Reynolds’ funny and deeply-felt book about what happens after the dismissal bell rings comes to life in a new theatrical adaptation by El Chelito and Raymond O. Caldwell. In the second world premiere commission, audiences can join 12-year-old Kenny Li on an expedition to save the world in The Dragon King’s Daughter, a new musical by Marcus Yi with direction by Chongren Fan and choreography by Billy Bustamante.

For The Girl Who Became Legend, a new musical with script and lyrics by Sarah Saltwick; music and additional lyrics by Helyn Rain Messenger, Amber Quick, and Paul Sanchez; and direction by Liz Fisher, the Kennedy Center has teamed up with ZACH Theatre to co-commission and co-produce this folktale journey to bring rain back to the town of Dustbin. The fourth world premiere commission, Through the Sunken Lands, is a new musical adapted from Tim J. Lord’s radio play, originally written for the Kennedy Center’s WTYA Presents in 2021. With music by Avi Amon and direction by Cara Phipps, Through the Sunken Lands is the uplifting tale of Artemis—born with cerebral palsy and trapped in the town library after a flood—who makes a terrible discovery on her way home and must fight to save the town.

Musical explorations with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) abound throughout the year beginning with the ghoulishly delightful Halloween Spooktacular. Then, the NSO teams up with Teller Productions for Peter and Friends, an immersive show designed with toddlers and families in mind and inspired by Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Families are invited to partake in the Kennedy Center’s season-wide Duke Ellington at 125 celebration with the Music of Duke Ellington NSO Family Concert. Finally, NSO bassist Paul DeNola and NSO violinist Heather LeDoux Green put string instruments center stage in the hilarious String Thing.

The Duke Ellington at 125 family celebration continues when Svetlana & the New York Collective bring their award-winning jazz concert for all ages, Swing Makes You Sing, to Studio K at the REACH. Audiences can also take a voyage to East Asia and beyond through songs, dance, and storytelling with Elena Moon Park and Friends. Then, by popular demand, Grammy-nominated Divinity Roxx’s inspirational and fun live show makes a highly-anticipated return to the Kennedy Center.

Throughout the season, families are invited to explore the artistic process more deeply through education and engagement resources such as creative conversations with the artists following select performances and hands-on activities at the Moonshot Studio on Saturdays and Sundays at the REACH.

Click this image for season brochure.

The 2023/24 Performances for Young Audiences Season

Look Both Ways
World Premiere Co-production with Theater Alliance
October 14–29, 2023 | Family Theater

This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky. But no one saw it happen—they were all too busy. Washington, DC-area native, New York Times best-selling author, and Kennedy Center Next 50 leader Jason Reynolds conjures 10 tales (1 per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings. Ten unique perspectives are brilliantly woven into one funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life. And now Reynolds’ award-winning book (Carnegie Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, National Book Award for Young People’s Literature finalist, and more) becomes an exciting world premiere, in a co-production with Theater Alliance, adapted by El Chelito and Raymond O. Caldwell, and directed by Caldwell.

Most enjoyed by ages 7+.

NSO Family Concert
Halloween Spooktacular
October 22, 2023 | Concert Hall

An October tradition! The Concert Hall transforms into a ghostly sight when ghoulishly attired National Symphony Orchestra musicians perform new and old classics to celebrate Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Praised for his “easygoing and engaging podium presence” (Playbill), Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser leads this festive family concert.

Most enjoyed by ages 5+.  

NSO Music for Young Audiences
Peter and Friends
Co-presentation with Teller Productions.

November 4 & 5, 2023 | Studio K at the REACH

Inspired by Sergei Prokofiev’s  Peter and the Wolf, this immersive family show developed specifically for toddlers will have audience members playing like cats, flying like birds, and engaging with live music all along the way. The wild adventure features storytellers, puppets, and a quintet of woodwind and brass musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra, presented in collaboration with Teller Productions of Atlanta, Georgia.

Most enjoyed by infants to age 5.  

The Dragon King’s Daughter
World Premiere Kennedy Center Commission
November 18–December 17, 2023 | Family Theater

Twelve-year-old Kenny Li is being bullied at school. When he finds a magical tablet, he is transported to the Jade Kingdom where he meets Xing, the Dragon King’s daughter. Together, they go on a quest to save the world, finding courage and friendship along the way. Chinese dragon mythology, martial arts, and stunning voices combine in this world premiere musical following an unlikely young duo on a daring adventure. Marcus Yi’s heroic story and inspiring songs come alive onstage, with direction by Chongren Fan and choreography by Billy Bustamante.

Most enjoyed by ages 5+.  

The Other Side
Co-commission with HopeBoykinDance
January 12–14, 2024 | Family Theater

Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African-American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. But the two girls strike up a friendship, and get around the grown-ups’ rules by sitting on top of the fence together. Education Artist-in-Residence Jacqueline Woodson’s simple yet powerful book The Other Side comes to life in an evening-length dance piece from choreographer and Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor for Dance Education Hope Boykin.

Most enjoyed by ages 5+. 

Elena Moon Park and Friends
Jan. 20, 2024 | Family Theater

Elena Moon Park and Friends performs folk and children’s music from East and Southeast Asia, reimagined to celebrate various musical traditions, languages, styles, and stories. The tunes include northern Japanese sea shanties, Tibetan jump rope rhymes, joyous Korean harvest sing-alongs, Taiwanese train songs, energetic original songs, and much more. The artists encourage audiences of all ages to dance and sing along in many different languages—and join in this shared performance.

Most enjoyed by ages 7+.  

The Girl Who Became Legend
World Premiere Co-commission and Co-production with ZACH Theatre
February 2–11, 2024 | Family Theater

The town of Dustbin is known for two things: rules and dust, the kind you get when it doesn’t rain for years and years. But one day a young girl named Raina spies a cloud in the sky. No one believes her, so she sets out on a great adventure to bring the cloud back home. Along the way, she meets outlaws, folk heroes—and a thunderstorm. Come along with Raina in this modern-day feminist folktale with music! A ZACH Theatre production, this captivating journey takes the stage, with script and lyrics by Sarah Saltwick, music and additional lyrics by Helyn Rain Messenger, Amber Quick, and Paul Sanchez, and direction by Liz Fisher.

Most enjoyed by ages 7+.  

Through the Sunken Lands
World Premiere Kennedy Center Commission
March 2–17, 2024 | Family Theater

Six months ago, a massive flood wiped away most of Arcady. Born with cerebral palsy, unable to contact her family, and trapped in the library, Artemis has built the place into her sanctuary. Trying to find a way back to Aunt Maggie’s house, Artemis soon learns of a new danger—a committee determined to claim the town for themselves. Follow Artemis, Aunt Maggie, and a talking heron in the fight to save their dying town. First commissioned and released by the Kennedy Center as a radio play as part of WTYA Presents… in 2021, Tim J. Lord’s play transforms into a new musical, with music by Avi Amon and direction by Cara Phipps. This heartening world premiere amplifies the voice of a commonly overlooked community and teaches us how we can make the world a little better for everyone.

Most enjoyed by ages 7+.  

NSO Family Concert
Music of Duke Ellington
March 17, 2024 | Concert Hall

Conducted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, the National Symphony Orchestra performs this swinging session as part of the Kennedy Center’s season-wide Duke Ellington at 125 celebration.

Most enjoyed by ages 5+.  

String Thing
Featuring NSO violinist Heather LeDoux Green and NSO bassist Paul DeNola
April 6 & 7, 2024 | Family Theater

This daring double act of classical fun is BACK. Bassist Paul DeNola and violinist Heather LeDoux Green introduce young audiences to some of the greatest music ever written. You’ll never hear a word out of them during the concert, but with instruments in hand and a trunk full of gags, this “silent” comedic tag-team presents a hilarious program of music and mayhem.

Most enjoyed by ages 3+.  

Swing Makes You Sing!
April 13, 2024 | Studio K at the REACH

On a mission to uplift, connect, and spread the joy of jazz, Swing Makes You Sing! is an award-winning jazz concert for kids ages 2 to 102 by Svetlana & the New York Collective. The critically-acclaimed ensemble explores key elements of jazz in an engaging, historically grounded way, featuring virtuoso musical performance, exciting storytelling, and energizing movement. As part of the Kennedy Center’s season-wide Duke Ellington at 125 celebration, the performance will feature multiple Ellington compositions and share fun facts from his life story. Representing jazz as a Black American art form that grew beyond its community to embrace the values of diversity and inclusion, the ensemble includes a talented lineup of musicians reflecting its audiences’ diversity and inspiring the next generation of jazz listeners!

Most enjoyed by ages 7+. 

Divinity Roxx
May 3–5, 2024 | Family Theater 

Celebrate self-love and positivity in Divinity Roxx’s fun and empowering live show. The upbeat and sunny music is filled with powerful messages that encourage young people to become the best versions of themselves. A Grammy-nominated musician, recording artist, and composer who has toured with Beyoncé, Roxx is praised for her ability to inspire others with her infectious grooves and memorable lyrics.

Most enjoyed by ages 5+.


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