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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Richard W. Kidwell

A DC theatre constant on his long career.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Richard W. Kidwell

Today's subject Richard W. Kidwell has been living his theatre life in DC theatre professionally since1966. He has been the Theatre Manager at the Opera House at Kennedy Center since it's very first performance back in 1971 which makes him one of if not the longest running employees working in the DC theatre scene.

A Theatre Manager's (House Manager) job is one that requires the person to have great customer relation skills. Let's face it, some theatre patrons are very "special" in their own way.

For anyone that has attended a performance in the Opera House, you most likely have seen Richard standing in the lobby with his leather binder ready to help you anyway he can. You have to wonder if his footprints are imprinted into the carpeting because you can always find him in the exact same spot.

As you will read, during his long tenure Richard has encountered everyone from Broadway legends to dignitaries and political powerhouses.

Thankfully for us Richard shows no signs of stopping. When it is safe to gather again and you have your ticket for a performance in the Opera House at Kennedy Center, look for a kindly older gentleman with a leather binder and a big smile in the lobby. That would be the camera shy (hence why there are no photos of him in this feature) but always ready to make your theatrical experience a great one Richard W. Kidwell. He is a man who has and will continue to live his theatre life to the absolute fullest. BRAVA!!

Had you been working in theatre before coming to the Kennedy Center?

I ushered at the National Theatre while in high school. I worked at Arena Stage during my senior year of college. I was Assistant Manager of the National Theatre for five years directly before starting at the (unfinished) Kennedy Center on June 14, 1971.

Where did you receive your education and what was your major?

I graduated from George Washington University (with junior year and one post-grad year at the University of Madrid) with a major in Spanish Literature.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Richard W. Kidwell
The title page from the opening night playbill for the very first performance in Kennedy Center's Opera House.
Photo courtesy of the venue.

What are some of your fondest memories about The Kennedy Center's opening night?

The opening night (September 8, 1971) was memorably exciting: a glamorous gala audience, a Leonard Bernstein world premiere with a huge cast and from a managerial standpoint, EVERYTHING worked smoothly. But the real excitement and satisfaction for me -and many others who grew up in Washington with the far-from-adequate Constitution Hall and Lisner Auditorium- were the superb acoustics, perfect sightlines and grand public spaces.

We all know that customer service is a big part of a house manager's job. Over the years I'm sure you've dealt with some very "special" patrons. What are some of your most memorable and most bizarre patron stories?

Not a direct answer but certainly a memorable patron(s) story was the unforgettable audience response (cheers, screams, whistles) when, days after his Inauguration, President Obama and his family entered the presidential box for a performance from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Richard W. Kidwell
The title page from the Kennedy Center pre-Broadway engagement of Gypsy starring Angela Lansbury.

You are very good friends with the legendary actress Angela Lansbury. How did the two of you meet?

In 1974 Angela Lansbury came to the Opera House with Gypsy. She and her husband, Peter Shaw, became friendly with my wife and me during that run and continued when Gypsy came back to Shady Grove and Wolf Trap. We grew even closer when Sweeney Todd played the Opera House in 1980.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Richard W. Kidwell
George Grizzard and Maureen Stapleton in the 1972 Kennedy Center pre-Broadway tryout of The Country Girl.
Photo by Fletcher Drake.

What would say have been some of your favorite Kennedy Center performances over your long and distinguished career? (Please pick a few from theatre, Opera, Dance etc.)

That's a hard one. For theatre I'd have to say the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration, The Country Girl (both in the Eisenhower) and the first performance of the pre-Broadway 42nd Street (Gower Champion's choreography was mind-blowing). For opera: The Bolshoi Opera's "first time in America" with six huge productions; the Vienna State Opera (wow!) and a Met Opera production of Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti. For ballet: a performance of Giselle with Natalia Makarova and Ivan Nagy that literally took my breath away.

Pre-pandemic, The Kennedy Center's Opera House had a very full schedule which didn't allow you to have very many nights off. Now that life is like one big night off, what are you doing to stay busy?

My wife and I are great readers and book collectors so I've found time to read many books that for lack of time have sat on the shelves for years. Also cooking one's own meals is a treat.

Special Thanks to Kennedy Center's Director of Public Relations Brendan Padgett for his assistance in coordinating this interview and to Kennedy Center's Archivist Hannah Middlebrook for tracking down some of the vintage photos included within this feature.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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