Goal: Get more culture (without going broke)
Washingtonians are spoiled by the number of museums giving us free access to an incredible spectrum of fine art, and free outdoor concerts are a fixture of summer in all quadrants of the city. But when it comes to enjoying other forms of art — opera, theater, the orchestra — would-be patrons can quickly find themselves facing a steep paywall. There are ways around it, however, if you know where to look.
When Timothy O’Leary joined the Washington National Opera as general director, coming from the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, “one of the things that struck me right away was the age diversity in our audiences,” he says. “The vibe of the audience had more youthful energy.”
Part of that is due to BravO, a program for opera lovers between the ages of 18 and 40. Founded in 2003 as Generation O and renamed in 2014, BravO combines affordable ticket prices with pre-show happy hours, backstage tours and a gala known as the BravO Bash. “The socializing is a key selling point for BravO,” O’Leary says. “It’s about giving the opportunity to come together and experience the art form, and also the chance to come together.”
Discounted tickets are also a draw: The upcoming “Songbird” has tickets ranging from $30 to $75 on March 11, 15 and 20. And BravO’s calendar includes an evening of art and opera at the Kreeger Museum, with performances from the opera’s Cafritz Young Artists program, on Feb. 8. Participants must register to receive discounts when purchasing through the Kennedy Center’s website.
Interested in theater? Many companies and theaters offer discounts for younger patrons, as well as members of the public. Keep in mind that you’ll need to show ID verifying your age or profession when picking up tickets.
Arena Stage offers a “Pay Your Age” program for patrons under 30, with tickets available “about two months before the show’s first performance,” according to the theater. Not good at planning? Try Hottix, in which a limited number of half-price tickets go on sale 90 minutes before the curtain, limited to two per person. Arena offers 20 percent discounts to a variety of groups, including first responders, educators and military personnel, as well as discounted tickets to residents of Southwest Washington.
Woolly Mammoth is proud of its commitment to discounted tickets, boasting that it offers “some Pay-What-You-Will tickets to every single performance.” This includes every ticket for the first two performances of each show, then a limited number for all subsequent events, which can be purchased online, with a limit of two per person. Other discounts include tickets starting at $25 for anyone 30 and younger, and 10 “stampede seats” sold for $25 at the box office beginning two hours before showtime.
The Shakespeare Theatre’s 35-and-under program sells $35 tickets to audience members age 35 and younger. Keep an eye out for Young Prose Nights, which include a reception with complimentary drinks in the lobby after the performance. (The next one is “The Lehman Trilogy” on March 1.) Older patrons can take advantage of rush tickets, with unsold tickets going for $35 at the box office two hours before showtime. Other discounts include 10 percent off for seniors, military and first responders, and designated “neighborhood nights” for people who live and work in the areas around the Shakespeare Theatre’s offices and other locations.
A plethora of discount codes are available at Studio Theatre, including 20 percent off for anyone age 40 or younger, military families and first responders; $20 tickets for full-time students; and $35 tickets for teachers and school employees. Anyone can take advantage of rush tickets, in which unsold tickets are offered for $30 at the box office beginning 30 minutes before the show.
Those looking for something more casual than a night at the theater should take note of the National Symphony Orchestra’s NSO in Your Neighborhood program, which brings members of the world-renowned orchestra to unexpected places around the city for concerts, master classes and other events. Last year focused on D.C.’s Ward 5, so free performances were held at locations as diverse as the National Basilica, Dunbar High School, the La Cosecha food hall and President Lincoln’s Cottage. This year’s program, scheduled for March 18-24, will focus on the Southwest Waterfront, Buzzard Point, Bellevue and Navy Yard.