Season will include four commissioned preems

WASHINGTON — The future of American theater has become child’s play at the Kennedy Center.

A prime space where the American Film Institute once showcased classic pics has been turned into the center’s 324-seat Family Theater, an auditorium to be devoted entirely to live perfs aimed at children. It debuts this month after a $9 million makeover, part of the center’s $125 million commitment to performing arts education during the next five years.

The first completely new theater to be built within the center in 25 years, it is an inviting space for auds and performers alike, with cherry wood-paneled walls, comfortable seats and ample stage spaces. It incorporates the latest in high-tech equipment, including computerized rigging and dimming systems, a Yamaha mixing console and an infrared listening system. The multi-use facility will accommodate Internet broadcasting, interactive programming, TV and audio recording and video projection.

Kennedy Center prez Michael Kaiser says it “will expand the center’s ability to produce and present excellent works for young people.” He pledged to present the best in children’s theater from around the world.

To demonstrate that mission, the theater opened Dec. 9 with the premiere of “Alice,” a Kennedy Center-commissioned adaptation by playwright Kim Hines of Whoopi Goldberg’s first children’s book.

The season will include three other commissioned preems: “Brave No World,” a combination of standup comedy and drama by Laurie Brooks; “Citizen 13559: The Journal of Ben Uchida,” adapted by Naomi Iizuka from the book by Barry Denenberg; and “Walking the Winds: Arabian Tales,” co-produced with the Performing Arts Center of Amman, Jordan.

Debut of the new facility following 11 months of construction helps celebrate the 30th anniversary season of the Imagination Celebration series.

Architect for the Family Theater is Richter Cornbrooks Gribble of Baltimore. New York’s Sachs Morgan Studio designed the theater and lights, while the acoustical consultant was Jaffee Holden Acoustics, Norwalk, Conn.

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