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100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do: Theater & Performing Arts

Meridian Hill Park Drum Circle

Say “Bravo!” to these free cultural experiences in the District.

Washington, DC is a cultural hub with a thriving performing arts scene and live music. We want to expose some of the District’s creative side, without requiring you to pay Broadway prices. Make good on these free (or affordable) ways to enjoy the arts in DC.

1 Free performances every day at the Kennedy Center
Free performances every day at the Kennedy Center Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Take in a free performance at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage every evening at 6 p.m. Acts include everything from performances by the National Symphony Orchestra to poetry slams. The Kennedy Center also offers deep discounts to patrons ages 18-30 and members of the armed services through its MyTix program.

2 Step into the drum circle at Meridian Hill Park
Step into the drum circle at Meridian Hill Park Mr.TinDC via Flickr

Feel the beat of a local tradition: Head to Meridian Hill Park near U Street on Sunday afternoons (weather-permitting) to witness the famous drum circle, a fixture in the park for more than 40 years. People from a range of backgrounds flock to this gathering to hear thudding drum beats and dancing. You’re free to join in, too!

3 Check out free live music at the National Gallery of Art every week
Check out free live music at the National Gallery of Art every week National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art concerts feature acapella singers, pianists, opera music, chamber orchestras and more. Most shows are held in the West Building’s West Garden Court (6th Street and Constitution Avenue NW entrance). Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

4 Saturday Morning at the National
Saturday Morning at the National National Theatre

The National Theatre's free performance series Saturday Morning at the National is designed for the whole family to enjoy. The lineup changes weekly, showcasing puppetry, magic, music and ballet. Seating is limited, but you can reserve tickets starting one week prior to the performance date (system closes at 10 a.m. on the Friday before). Tickets are also distributed on a first-come, first-served basis 30 minutes before the curtain goes up.

5 Score big discounts online
Score big discounts online Maxwell MacKenzie

Get half-price day-of-show or advance tickets for theater seats at the Kennedy Center, Folger Theatre and Ford's Theatre.

6 Visit Arena Stage
Visit Arena Stage Arena Stage

At Arena Stage, half-price HotTix tickets go on sale at the box office 30 minutes before curtain. Students get 35 percent off by phone (202-488-3300) or in person, and patrons under 30 can take part in the Pay-Your-Age program, with tickets available online, by phone or in person on a first-come, first-served basis.

7 Enjoy Shakespeare Theatre Company's Free for All
Enjoy Shakespeare Theatre Company's Free for All John Phelan

Get a taste of the Bard with Shakespeare Theatre Company's Free for All production of The Tempest, Aug. 16-28. For a great value at the Harman Center year-round, patrons 35 and under can get discounted tickets to see the Shakespeare Theatre Company's productions in a variety of ways. $25 single performance tickets are available all season long, and a purchase of season tickets gets you all six plays for only $22 per ticket. During Young Prose Nights, $25 gets you a ticket to a live performance, a pre- or post-performance party invitation and a drink. Check their website for more information.

8 Free Jazz
Free Jazz Mr.TinDC via Flickr

Groove to free live jazz at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's "Take Five!" performance series. Performances take place on the third Thursday of each month, and the museum's Kogod Courtyard Café stays open so guests can enjoy beer, wine and light snacks during the performance.

9 Tuesday Discounts
Tuesday Discounts Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre puts on first-class plays in nearby Arlington, Va., and also serves up a wealth of discount options. Full-time students can enjoy $25 tickets for every performance, while $22 Tuesdays mean you can get $22 tickets to the first two Tuesday public performances of every show’s run (enter code TUES22 when ordering online). Signature Theatre also offers Family 4-packs for $150 (party must include two children between 6 and 17).

10 Experience The Washington Ballet
Experience The Washington Ballet Theo Kossenas/The Washington Ballet

Round up a group to see an athletic and unforgettable performance from The Washington Ballet. Groups of 10 or more can save up to 50 percent on productions at the Kennedy Center, Warner Theatre and THEARC.

Those are some of the city’s best deals on arts and culture. Want more free fun? Check out the full list of 100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do in Washington, DC.