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Focus on Female Creators – Including Ava DuVernay, Ellen Reid and Patti Smith – Honors 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage; Other Artists Include Chris Thile and Washington National Opera

Focus on Female Creators – Including Ava DuVernay, Ellen Reid and Patti Smith – Honors 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage; Other Artists Include Chris Thile and Washington National Opera

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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – DIRECT CURRENT, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’s two-week celebration of contemporary culture, returns for a third season. With special emphasis on female creators, on works new to the District of Columbia, and on interdisciplinary creations in which artistic worlds collide, the 2020 spring immersion showcases some of the most provocative, original and pioneering voices in the arts today. DIRECT CURRENT takes place on March 8–21 at the Kennedy Center and beyond.


Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women’s suffrage. To honor this milestone centennial, DIRECT CURRENT 2020 not only shines a light on female artists and their work, but also collaborates with two D.C.-based organizations: Vital Voices Global Partnership and the 2020 One Woman, One Vote Festival. International non-profit Vital Voices provides a support network and platform for women leaders in all disciplines around the world, helping to make their vision for global change a reality through long-term investments to develop their skills, expand their connections, and enhance their visibility. The 2020 One Woman, One Vote Festival marks the centenary with presentations of films, concerts, exhibitions and special events in the city of Washington. Its centerpiece is next March’s One Woman, One Vote Film Festival, which showcases documentary and feature films exploring the issues that impact women today.


DIRECT CURRENT’s wealth of offerings span the artistic spectrum, from the D.C. premieres of two major new operas to an interactive light show, bold new experiments in dance, and the first live-scored screening of a critically important new documentary. Prominent female creators in attendance include Ava DuVernay, Ellen Reid, Jeanine Tesori and Patti Smith, while performers range from Chris Thile to the Washington National Opera. All told, DIRECT CURRENT’s third season offers a snapshot of contemporary culture through a thoughtfully curated collection of work by some of today’s foremost cultural risk-takers.


International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day 2020 falls on March 8, which marks the launch of the third DIRECT CURRENT with Vital Voices’s annual Global Mentoring Walk. This brings together more than 200 women of all ages and walks of life for a day of mentorship and inspiration. Selected young professionals, chosen from among members of the public who sign up at the Vital Voices website, will be paired with female leaders in their fields to walk together in the open, informal spaces of the REACH, the Kennedy Center’s celebrated new expansion. After sharing life and career advice, the walk participants will attend a private panel discussion led by two eminent female role models: Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter and Vital Voices president Alyse Nelson (The REACH, March 8).


Mainstage events

The DIRECT CURRENT mainstage season kicks off with a special screening of 13th (2016), the “incendiary, indelible and indispensable” documentary (Rolling Stone) that scored Emmy, BAFTA and Peabody Award-winning director-writer-producer Ava DuVernay her second Oscar® nomination. Named for the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery but permitted involuntary servitude as punishment for conviction of a crime, 13th is an in-depth investigation of the U.S. prison system and its role in our national history of racial injustice. Presented in collaboration with the One Woman, One Vote 2020 Festival, the film features an original score by Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s resident Artistic Director for Jazz, who takes part in the first live-scored performance of the music to accompany the screening (Concert Hall, March 9). DuVernay, America’s highest grossing black female director to date, will personally be in attendance, and further selections from her distinguished filmography will be screened at the Kennedy Center throughout the festival as part of a citywide retrospective of her work.


Each year, the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards honor creative and fearless women around the world who lead the way in strengthening democracy, increasing economic opportunity, boosting political engagement and protecting human rights. Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the 2020 Global Leadership Awards gather together a host of inspiring women as honorees, award presenters and guests. Each honoree will be introduced by means of a specially produced film that celebrates her leadership journey and bold vision for change in her community (Concert Hall, March 11). Throughout the two weeks of DIRECT CURRENT, there will also be an accompanying exhibition,Vital Voices: 100 Women Using Their Power to Empower. Presented in collaboration with Vital Voices, the exhibition comprises penetrating portraits of female leaders, by award-winning artist and illustrator Gayle Kabaker, widely known for her popular New Yorker covers (Hall of Nations, March 8–21).


DIRECT CURRENT is thrilled to present the D.C. premiere of p r i s m, the surreal and haunting first opera by composer Ellen Reid, which explores the trauma of sexual abuse and the elasticity of memory that can follow in its wake. Set to a libretto by Roxie Perkins and developed by Beth Morrison Projects, the work has been recognized with both the Music Critics Association of North America’s “Best New Opera Award” and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Music. As at its LA Opera and PROTOTYPE Festival premieres last year, the Kennedy Center’s production is by “gifted young American director” James Darrah (Chicago Tribune) with musical direction by Grammy®-nominated conductor Julian Wachner, choreography by No One Art House co-founder Chris Emile, and performances from sopranos Anna Schubert and Rebecca Jo Loeb, who reprise the starring roles they created and  “perfectly carried off” (Boston Globe) in Los Angeles and New York, with support from the Grammy®-nominated Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the contemporary music specialists of Trinity Church Wall Street’s NOVUS NY orchestra. Both Reid and Perkins will be in attendance to take part in a post-performance panel discussion on the opening night (Terrace Theater, March 13 & 14).


Formerly known as A Prairie Home Companion, American Public Media’s Live from Here currently reaches 2.6 million listeners on nearly 600 public radio stations from its new Manhattan home. Now D.C. audiences can attend a live broadcast of the nationally syndicated, weekly variety show on tour at DIRECT CURRENT, where MacArthur fellow and four-time Grammy®-winning mandolinist Chris Thile, a member of both Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers, hosts an all-female lineup of guest artists (Concert Hall, March 14).


Next, the Washington National Opera (WNO) presents the D.C. premiere of Blue, a new chamber opera from Tony Award®-winning composer Jeanine Tesori and NAACP Theatre Award-winning librettist-director Tazewell Thompson. Drawing inspiration from contemporary events and the writings of James Baldwin, Claude Brown and Ta-Nehisi Coates, their new work uses gospel-influenced music and vivid flashbacks to capture the grief of a family and community ravaged by loss at the hands of the police. As at its recent Glimmerglass Festival premiere, the opera – a WNO co-production – stars the “superb” trio (New York Times) of Kenneth Kellogg, Briana Hunter and Aaron Crouch under the baton of John DeMain, in an exploration of race, violence and reconciliation that the New York Times called “powerful – as well as sadly timely,” and the Financial Times, in a five-star review, proclaimed “an exceptionally strong new opera” (Eisenhower Theater, March 15, 18 & 20).


For its penultimate mainstage event, DIRECT CURRENT presents a music and dance double-bill crowned by the East Coast premiere of 1 0 0 1 (2019), performed live by its creators: choreographer and Company Wayne McGregor member Fukiko Takase, “a diabolo of a dancer” (Evening Standard, UK) best-known for her viral video collaboration with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and composer Dustin O’Halloran, whose original scores for Marie Antoinette, Lion, and Transparent have been recognized with Oscar® and Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy Award. Produced, as at its premiere in Minneapolis, by Kate Nordstrum, a “curatorial powerhouse with international pull” (Minnesota Public Radio), 1 0 0 1 explores ideas of technology, humanity and mind-body dualism in an existential, electronics-forward performance. It shares the program with Variations, an in-depth look at the “theme and variations” structure by Dance Metro DC Award-winning choreographer Erica Rebollar, founder of the RebollarDance collective, to original music by Golden Reel Award-winner Charlie Campagna (Terrace Theater, March 19).


DIRECT CURRENT’s mainstage season draws to a close with an evening of music and poetry from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame punk icon and National Book Award-winning poet Patti Smith; her daughter, the composer, instrumentalist and activist Jesse Paris Smith; and Canadian cellist and composer Rebecca Foon, a co-founder of the Juno Award-winning Esmerine ensemble. To complete the evening, the three women will lead the audience in the D.C. premiere of Little Sunrise, an interactive lightshow by trailblazing Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson. This features the solar-powered LED lamps Eliasson designed for off-grid areas, as seen at Coachella and London’s Tate Modern (Concert Hall, March 21).


Free multi-genre performances on the Millennium Stage and other KC spaces

To amplify the wealth of mainstage offerings, each evening during DIRECT CURRENT there will also be free live multi-genre performances on the Millennium Stage and other Kennedy Center venues, where the voices of female creators will once again predominate. Highlights include jazz sets from trumpeter Jaimie Branch, a mainstay of the Chicago jazz scene who is now, as Jazz Times put it, “one of the most thrilling new voices of the New York avant-garde” (Studio K, March 11) and Chilean singer-guitarist Camila Meza, “a luminous fixture on the scene in New York” (NPR), who joins her eight-piece Nectar Orchestra to perform music from their Sony Masterworks label debut, Ámbar (Studio K, March 14). Sarah Sherman, aka Sarah Squirm – “a true alternative comic [who] has quickly made her mark on Chicago’s scene” (Chicago Tribune) – shares her signature mix of feminism, self-loathing and performance art (Millennium Stage, March 21), and the REACH hosts the D.C. premiere of Forte (2019), a new documentary written and directed by American filmmaker David Donnelly. Following the unconventional journeys of three female classical artists – Tatiana Berman, a former Russian-born prodigy who brings music into underserved U.S. schools; Lucía Caruso, an Argentinean-born film composer; and Eldbjørg Hemsing, a young Norwegian violinist on the brink of stardom – Donnelly’s film challenges outdated notions of classical success and spotlights the strength that all three women share (Justice Forum, March 12). A wealth of additional free events will be announced early next year.


Beyond the concert hall

As in previous years, DIRECT CURRENT takes Kennedy Center artists and programming out into the world beyond the traditional concert hall, reaching new audiences through collaborations with alternative D.C. performance spaces. This season, at the U Street Music Hall, a nonprofit that supports music education programs for local youth, Mija – “EDM’s next superstar” (Nylon) – heads an all-female DJ lineup at the festival’s Dance Party (March 13).


About the Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is America’s living memorial to President Kennedy. Under the guidance of Chairman David M. Rubenstein, and President Deborah F. Rutter, the nine theaters and stages of the nation’s busiest performing arts facility attract more than three million visitors to more than 2,000 performances each year, while Center-related touring productions, television, and radio broadcasts reach 40 million more around the world.


The Center produces and presents performances of music, dance, comedy, and theater; supports artists in the creation of new work; and serves the nation as a leader in arts education. With its artistic affiliates, the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera, the Center has produced more than 300 theatrical productions, and dozens of new ballets, operas, and musical works, in addition to hosting numerous international cultural festivals. The Center’s Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Kennedy Center Honors is broadcast annually on CBS and annual The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is broadcast on PBS.


The education programs of the Kennedy Center, including those of its affiliate VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, have become models for communities across the country and have unlocked the door to learning for millions of young people. Education at the Kennedy Center produces and presents age appropriate performances and educational events, and fosters innovative programming, curriculum, and professional development for students, teachers, and families.


The Center and its affiliates stage more than 400 free performances by artists from throughout the world each year on the Center’s main stages, and every day of the year at 6pm on its Millennium Stages, which are also streamed live online. The Center also offers reduced and complimentary tickets to young people, active members of the military, and the underserved through its MyTix program and offers a Specially Priced Tickets program for students, seniors, persons with disabilities, and others with fixed low incomes.


To learn more about the Kennedy Center, visit


For high-resolution photos, click here.


The Kennedy Center presents DIRECT CURRENT

Third season: March 8–21, 2020


All events take place at the Kennedy Center unless otherwise noted.

For tickets and full schedule, visit


Sun, March 8 AM (time TBA)


Vital Voices: International Women’s Day Global Mentoring Walk

Panel discussion for walk participants with Alyse Nelson and Deborah Rutter


Mon, March 9 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Mon, March 9 at 8pm

Concert Hall

Ava DuVernay: 13th with live music from Jason Moran and friends


Tues, March 8–Sat, March 21

Hall of Nations

Vital Voices/Gayle Kabaker exhibition: Vital Voices: 100 Women Using Their Power to Empower


Tues, March 10 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Wed, March 11 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Wed, March 11 at 8pm

Concert Hall

Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards


Wed, March 11 at 7:30pm

Studio K

Jaimie Branch


Thurs, March 12 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Thurs, March 12 at 7:30pm

Justice Forum

David Donnelly: Forte


Fri, March 13 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Fri, March 13 at 7:30pm

Sat, March 14 at 2pm

Terrace Theater

Ellen Reid / Roxie Perkins: p r i s m


Sat, March 13 at 7pm

U Street Music Hall

Dance Party featuring Mija and other female DJs


Sat, March 14 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Sat, March 14 at 7pm

Concert Hall

Chris Thile: Live from Here (live national broadcast)

Guest artists TBA


Sat, March 14 at 7:30pm

Studio K

Camile Meza + Nectar Orchestra


Sun, March 15 at 2pm

Wed, March 18 at 7:30pm

Fri, March 20, at 7:30pm

Eisenhower Theater

Jeanine Tesori / Tazewell Thompson: Blue

Washington National Opera


Sun, March 15 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Mon, March 16 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Tues, March 17 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Wed, March 18 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Thurs, March 19 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Thurs, March 19 at 7:30pm

Terrace Theater

Fukiko Takase + Dustin O’Halloran: 1001

Erica Rebollar: Variations


Fri, March 20 at 6pm

Millennium Stage



Sat, March 21 at 6pm

Millennium Stage

Sarah Sherman


Sat, March 21 at 8pm

Concert Hall

Patti Smith, Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon with Olafur Eliasson


About Vital Voices Global Partnership

Vital Voices is an international non-profit organization that empowers and champions women leaders around the world. Vital Voices believes that women are the key to unlocking global shared progress. The organization searches the world for women leaders with daring vision for change, then partners with them to make that vision a reality. For more than 20 years, Vital Voices has amplified and invested in more than 18,000 women leaders from 182 countries and territories. Vital Voices works with women who are changing the world by advancing economies, safeguarding human rights, ending gender-based violence, increasing political engagement and leading their communities. The organization provides these women with capacity building, skills training, grants, mentoring, visibility, guidance and access to a network of their peers to accelerate that change on a global scale. Vital Voices is a venture catalyst. Its work has ignited a global movement of change-makers who exhibit bold ideas, develop real solutions to problems affecting their communities, and use their power to empower each other and thousands more. Visit to learn more.


About the 2020 One Woman, One Vote Festival

The 2020 One Woman, One Vote Festival is a collaboration with national organizations and cultural institutions to present films, concerts, exhibitions and public events leading into the commemoration of the centennial year of the 19th amendment passing, and the OWOV Film Festival in March 2020. The film festival event showcases documentary and dramatic films that embrace both history and contemporary issues that make a difference for all women today. Visit to learn more.


About U Street Music Hall

The U Street Music Foundation is a nonprofit organization supporting music education programs and events for Ward 1 and Washington D.C. area youth. Through grants to nonprofits and education programs, hands-on events and strategic partnerships, the U Street Music Foundation seeks to forge stronger bonds between the rich musical culture in Washington D.C. and the communities in which it exists. Visit to learn more.


Press contacts:

Glenn Petry, 21C Media Group: (212) 625-2038;

Eileen Andrews, Kennedy Center: (202) 416-8448;