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Entries in Ford's Theater (14)


Lincoln Gets a Laugh - Little Shop of Horrors comes to Ford's Theater

Audrey II scoping our his next meal

Ford's Theater has had it's run of bad luck over the years. The first theater, known as Ford's Athenaeum, burned down in 1862, presumably before falling into the swamp. Not having huge tracks of land, the Ford brothers rebuilt the structure you see today. However, their success was short lived, as we all know, and the Theater never reopened after the assassination of President Lincoln. Purchased by the U.S. Government, the Theater housed the Army's Surgeon General's Office until disaster struck again on June 9, 1893, when a structural collapse killed 22 clerks, and injured another 68. Turned into a warehouse for many years, the Theater finally reopened in 1968 under it's current incarnation as a working theater and National Historic Landmark.

Things have been relatively quiet since then, so why would the Ford's Theater Society invite disaster by bringing a giant, man-eating plant onto the premises? And right during tour season? We're going to lose scads of eighth graders, keeping that beast happy.

But if you're willing to risk it, Ford's Theater is presenting Little Shop of Horrors, the campy musical that I know best from the 1986 movie with Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and Bill Murray. This time around, the highlight for me is watching a giant puppet Audrey II chomp on people. I know, I know, I tend to focus on the macabre, but come on, a giant plant eating people? In a live performance? In roughly the same exact spot where John Wilkes Booth shouted "Sic semper tyrannis" before dashing (well, limping) off the stage? The irony alone is worth the price of admission.

Little Shop of Horrors is a welcome, if unconventional, choice for Ford's Theater, which normally runs more historically based dramas. I have to imagine that great American humorist, Abraham Lincoln, is looking down with approval, pleased not to watch yet another portrayal of himself. After all, the man just wanted to get out of the office and have a laugh on April 13th, 1865. About time he got one.

Little Shop of Horrors kicks off today and runs to May 22, and tickets are available through the Box Office. To find out more check out Little Shop's own blog, with video snippets from the performance. 


Churches for Christmas Worship - Round Two

Last week, DC Like a Local put out a piece about Christmas worship in Washington, covering most of the best known places to visit (National Cathedral, Shirne, etc.) and a reader asked for some more suggestions for visiting Protestants.  Wanting to respond to our readers, we went to work to investigate alternatives. We even put it out to our Facebook group, we incorporated several of those suggestions as well. Washington, DC has a lot of churches, and this is a somewhat arbitrary list of churches that we felt represented a good spread. And, by all means, if you feel your church puts together a great Christmas service, feel free to add a link in the comments.

New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Avenue, NW, 202-393-3700.  If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, this may be where you want to go.  Lincoln, who was never baptized into any Christian church, frequently worshipped here during his presidency because he liked the preaching of the pastor, Phineas Gurley.  Rev. Gurley attended Lincoln at the Petersen House across from Ford’s Theatre during his last hours.  There is a small exhibit of Lincoln items in a room adjacent to the main sanctuary, but it might not be open during the Christmas Eve services.  What you can see is the pew where Lincoln sat.  If you get there early enough, you might get to sit in it because it is not reserved for anyone.  This also was the church of the Rev. Peter Marshall, made famous in the film “A Man Called Peter.” Nearest Metro: Metro Center or McPherson Square

National City Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) , 5 Thomas Circle, NW, (202) 232-0323. This church is the national “cathedral” of the Disciples of Christ and was designed by John Russell Pope, who also designed the Jefferson Memorial and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.  Both President Lyndon Johnson and James Garfield worshipped here and are memorialized in stained glass windows. Nearest Metro: McPherson Square

Luther Place Memorial Church, 1226 Vermont Avenue Northwest , NW (Thomas Circle), (202) 667-1377. A large statue of Martin Luther by E. Reitchel sits on Thomas Circle beside the church. Nearest Metro: McPherson Square

Calvary Baptist Church, 755 8th Street Northwest, (202) 347-8355.   This church was designed by famed 19th century architect Adolf Cluss.  Cluss designed over 80 buildings in Washington, of which only a handful remain, including this one, Eastern Market, and the Arts and Industries Building (a part of the Smithsonian, the museum is adjacent to the Castle and presently being renovated).  His buildings are characterized by red brick construction. Nearest Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown

Foundry United Methodist Church, 1500 16th Street, NW, 202.332.4010. President Rutherford Hayes attended Foundry nearly every Sunday during his term. President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill attended a special service at Foundry on December 25, 1941. Bill Clinton and his family attended regularly. Foundry is well known for its music programs as well. Nearest Metro: Dupont Circle

Metropolitan AME Church, 1518 M Street, NW, (202) 331-1426.  This church is the National Cathedral of African Methodism.  Metropolitan is the oldest AME church in Washington, DC, and the church sits on the oldest, continuously black-owned parcel of land in the city. A Christmas Eve service is listed on the website for 7:30pm. Nearest Metro: McPherson Square/Farragut North

Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th St., NW, (16th & S Sts., NW), (202) 387-3411.  This church is part of the Unitarian movement.  Its Christmas Eve service is at 7:00pm and the website says that they will be doing the Lessons and Carols.  Christmas Day communion is at noon. Nearest Metro: Dupont Circle

St. Mark's Episcopal (3rd and A SE) and Christ Church Episcopal (620 G ST SE). We've already mentioned some Episcopal options in our last post, but if you looking for some more community oriented options, we recommend these two church on Capitol Hill. St. Mark's filled in as Washington's cathedral until the National Cathedral and Christ Church has worshiped in its current location since 1807. Despite both of their storied histories, they are very much tied in with the local neighborhoods, and hence a great way to worship as, well, a local. Nearest Metro: Capitol South (St. Mark's) and Eastern Market (Christ Church).

It's a bit further afield, but a reader suggested Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington. They feature a live nativity with a real baby Jesus and farm animals, with time before and after for petting the animals. Nearest Metro: Ballston (but it's a good mile from here, you may want to consider a taxi if you are not driving).

Even for the churches that have the times listed here, we recommend checking their websites shortly before Christmas to see if they have updated them for the holiday or give them a call.  If we’ve missed your denomination, feel free to e-mail us at or check this tool out at the Washington Post.

Merry Christmas to all wherever you worship (or don't)!


Ford's Theater Museum to Re-open - Get your tickets now?

Next Wednesday, July 15th, Washington, DC, will welcome back one of our great cultural treasures, the Museum underneath Ford's Theater. Let me say right off the bat that the Theater has created a top notch museum. I was concerned that the Ford's Theater Society and the National Park Service would jump on board the trend for touch screens and interactive games; trying to out wii the wii generation. I was pleasantly surprised that they went for depth over breadth, building content rich displays that don't dumb down their subject matter. While I'll miss the old one, and question why they had to mess with perfection, the really have created an excellent overview of the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

I'm particularly excited that they choose to explore some of the complexity and the growth of Lincoln while President. So often, I get visitors that will tell me that "Lincoln didn't want to free the slaves" or "he wanted to ship them to Africa". While true, these views are snapshots in his life and fail to capture the ability of President Lincoln, perhaps more than any other President, to not let past views hinder him from new judgments. This museum does an excellent job of showing how Lincoln's views shifted and what a tremendous capacity for learning and growth he had. He's not a static character, so I guess it's fair that a museum dedicated to him doesn't have to be either.

The assassination is still discussed, if not necessarily with the depth it had before. The pistol Booth killed Lincoln with is still there naturally, if relegated to the sidelines. The assassination portion of the exhibit is, obviously, at the end and by necessity occupies a smaller portion of the floor space that it did in the previous museum. Most of the artifacts are still there, and they still cover the assassination and its aftermath fully, if not as detailed as in the past. I'll miss that portion of the museum, but they've done well with crafting a new exhibit, so there's no point in being churlish.

Theoretically, the new plan for visiting Ford's Theater consists of four parts. First you visit the museum, to get a sense of how Lincoln worked and lived in his time in Washington. Then you move to the Theater, where you watch either a presentation by a Park Service ranger or a one act play dealing with the assassination. Moving on to the "third act", as the theater folks like to say, you cross the street to the Peterson House, where you witness the site where the President died the next morning. Finally, you will end up next door in the planned Center for Education and Leadership, where they plan to more fully explore Lincoln's legacy. The idea is that the four parts form a coherent and chronologically appropriate path that fully discus Lincoln's Presidency, assassination, and their continuing legacy.

Wonderful, except that this is just going to heighten the logistical nightmare that a visit to Ford's Theater has been this spring. Since the Theater and the Peterson House have opened, this policy has created a feast or famine line at the Peterson House. Since you now need tickets to enter the House, as you will the Museum, the House goes from having no line, to one that stretches around the block, all in the space of sixty seconds. I particularly enjoy the portion of my day where tour guides are frantically trying to gather up their groups as they spill out of the theater to chivvy them in line, bowling over befuddled tourists and 3 for $10 sunglass salesmen, desperate to avoid a ten minute appointment from becoming an hour. Good times.

By requiring a ticket, I fear the new museum is going to be faced with the same issue, albeit in reverse. For the first half of every hour, tumbleweeds will blow by in the museum as everyone else is in the theater. Then the museum will start to fill to capacity, rising to a crescendo about forty five minutes after the hour, when everyone will "just pop down to the museum, to see what they have" before the presentation starts. Finally, as the theater opens, the cycle will repeat itself as the museum empties.

So what if you wish to skip the ranger talk, and just visit the Museum? Well, that would be my advice. And it's possible, but you will still need a ticket just to visit the Museum, as you do now for the Peterson House. If you've planned ahead and purchased them online, you will be all set. Or if you come in the off season when it's not to full, you're OK. But if you happen to be strolling by, want to duck into the Museum, and the Theater is full, you will be out of luck as all the tickets will be given away for that performance. So you will be in the interesting position of needing a ticket to a show you don't want to see which prevents you from visiting a Museum you do wish to see, which is virtually empty at that time. Fun, isn't it. Ford's tends to disagree with me, and maybe that won't be the case, but so far that scenario has played out repeatedly this spring with the Peterson House and the Theater.

By laying out the Museum, Theater, Peterson House, and, eventually, the Education Center in such a way; and especially by insisting on a ticket policy for each of the sites, Ford's Theater necessarily crowds a first rate museum and makes it more difficult for the casual visitor.


What is "On Time"?

A good dozen of us in the DC area have been watching the latest pseudo-controversy about White House access regarding the cancellation of a tour is elementary school kids attempting to visit the White House, supposedly for a photo op with the Steelers. On the surface, it appears as the story of a callous government bureaucracy not bending a bit to help out with kindergartners.

But, once you dig through the shoddy reporting of the local news, it turns out the kids were over an hour late to the appointment. To the White House. I'm not sure what they thought was going to happen, but let me assure you, on the near impossible chance you get White House tickets, they will be unbending on rescheduling. I'm no fan of the White House's visitor policy, but on this one, I'll cut them some slack.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Not to prolong a ridiculous non-story, but to explore what an appointment time "means" when you have one. So let me run down the list of likely ticket venues and my experiences with being late. Obviously, I should lead in with the usual caveats that this is simply my experience, your's may be different, and I don't speak for any of these organizations. That aside, let's assume you have 12:30 pm tickets to all of these places:

Bureau of Engraving and Printing: I don't know why they even have tickets for this one anymore. Personally, I think their schtick has gotten stale, but if you have tickets, be on time. They're pretty good working with you if you are five to ten minutes late, but no guarantees.

Capitol Visitors Center: 12:30 is the time you line up to enter the movie theater, inside the Visitor's Center. This means you have already passed through security, which you should allow 20 minutes for, although it's routinely less (and occasionally more). Also, you will want to give yourself a few minutes to orient yourself to the new Visitors Center. So, I would plan on being in line to enter the CVC thirty minutes prior to your ticket time and use the spare time, if any, to take a break in the cafeteria and/or explore its excellent museum. The good news; although I don't recommend it, the folks at the Visitor's Center have proven to be very helpful with me in the last few months with late/delayed visitors. It's worth asking them if you miss your ticket time.

Ford's Theater: The ticket time is when the presentation starts. You want to be in line 10 minutes or so before it. You might be able to squeeze in a minute or two after, but don't plan on it. Fortunatly, you can still use the ticket to visit the Peterson House across the street, even if you miss the ranger presentation. Once the museum opens, I'll be posting on ticketing procedures for that.

Holocaust Memorial Museum: Great news here! Ticket times are good for any time after their stated time. So, you could use the 12:30 ticket at 4 pm with no problem. Also, the ticket is only for the Permanent Exhibit. If you arrive early, take the time to check out Danial's Story (if you have kids) on the first floor, or the temporary exhibits in the basement. I strongly recommend one of the current ones, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.

National Archives: Officially, you have to be on time, but I've had luck with just handing the security guard the appointment sheet and bluffing your way in. Not that I recommend it, but it can be done.

Tours: If you have a tour scheduled at a museum, Library of Congress, Cathedral, bike/segway etc. you're going to want to be on time. The tour will start on time and they may or may not allow you to catch up.

Washington Monument: You have about a thirty minute window to use this ticket. If you're ticket is 12:30, I'd be there right about then, but if you are a few minutes late, you'd just get in the 12:30 line and no one would be the wiser. You might be pushing it if you arrived at 12:59 and they were already taking the 1:00's in. Throw yourself on the mercy of the Park Ranger, and you might get lucky.

White House: Yeah, right. Don't be late.

I hope this highly subjective look helps. Not that I ever advocate being late, but.....


Dear God! It's 5 pm, the kids are restless, and I'm out of ideas!

I thought I had a pretty good idea of fun things to do in DC at night, but upon reflection, I'm afraid most of them aren't terribly kid friendly. Having small kids, it's pretty easy (put them to bed), but what to do with older kids who just won't go down at 7:30? As it would be irresponsible for me to suggest NyQuil, let's see what we can do for the reader who recently asked:

"What are the best night time activities for 10-12 year olds? I am planning on doing the DC by Foot and night tour of monuments. Any info on places open past 5:30 would be a big help."

Well, you're off to a good start with DC by Foot. These guys put on a good show, and have a lot of fun doing it. I think it's a great way to get to know the memorials on a personal level. The tour is free, but make sure you tip the guides. And to stay on topic, kids love them and they have a 6 pm tour most nights.

Some other options:

1. Museums: As a guide, I'm often faced with filling time between museums closing and a 8 pm dinner. Traditionally, that has been one of the reasons the Archive's busiest time seems to be after 5. Fortunately, other museums have steadily started to stay open until 7, which is a trend that I heartily support. The National Portrait Gallery and the Holocaust Memorial Museum (seasonally) have had extended hours for some time now and perhaps the most exciting thing that's happened to me in some time is this year several of the Smithsonians will be open until 7:30 (Air and Space, Natural History, and American History). Moving on from the sadness that is my life, many of the for-profit museums naturally will take your money into the evening. The new Crime and Punishment Museum is a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the Spy Museum, at least the first thirty times I saw it. Be sure to check ahead with your specific date in mind. Some of these hours are seasonal.

2. Theater: Washington, DC has a great selection of theaters to choose from, with a kid-friendly performance showing at least one of them generally at any given time. The Kennedy Center's Shear Madness has been playing for over twenty years and is a staple of my eighth grade tours. But I prefer the downtown theaters both for their ambiance as well as their Metro friendly locations. The National, the Warner, the Shakespeare, and Ford's all have been known to put on shows accessible to kids. I particularly recommend this as the best way to experience Ford's Theater, just like President Lincoln did. Well, almost. Heck, you've got to get a ticket anyway nowadays to get in, you might as well see a performance while you're there. If you're in town before May 24th, The Civil War is a musical tribute to the war that I would enjoy taking a twelve year old to. Not everyone is sucked into a love of history the way I was, and this performance is quite moving. It might even beat an i-pod for an hour or so. It's recommended for kids twelve and up, as it has some historical images of slavery and the war, so keep that in mind for kids a little younger.

3. Movies: Sure, you can do this at home, but sometimes it's nice to take a break from trudging through museums with something familiar. Gallery Place in Chinatown and the AMC Loews in Georgetown are both good multiplexes with plenty of dining and touring options in the near vicinity. But if you'd still like to take in some history, the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park is a historic, single screen movie theater that has hosted, among others, the world premier of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sadly, it has wilted those laurels by repeating the trick for some crappy Kevin Costner flicks. But it's still a great theater and my go to place for a movie that benefits from the big screen.

If anyone else has some ideas for things kids might enjoy in the evening, please leave them in the comments. I imagine this will become even more important to me in years to come, so let's all put our thinking caps on.