Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, known locally in the Washington, D.C. area as simply Wolf Trap, is a performing arts center located on 130 acres (53 ha) of national park land in Fairfax County, Virginia near the town of Vienna. Through a partnership and collaboration of the National Park Service and the non-profit Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, the Park offers both natural and cultural resources.
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts began as a donation from Catherine Filene Shouse. Encroaching roads and suburbs led Mrs. Shouse to preserve this former farm as a park. In 1966 Congress accepted Mrs. Shouse's gift and authorized Wolf Trap Farm Park (its original name) as the first national park for the performing arts. On August 21, 2002, the park's name was changed to its present one, thus reflecting its mission while keeping the historical significance of this area.
Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts
The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts is a nonprofit organization founded by Catherine Filene Shouse concurrent with the donation of her Wolf Trap Farm to the National Park Service. The Park is operated as a public/private partnership between the Park Service and the Foundation. The former staffs and operates the park grounds, and the latter produces and presents the performance and education programs.
The Foundation presents performances in the Filene Center from May through September and at The Barns at Wolf Trap year-round. The latter venue being adjacent to but outside the park proper. In addition, the Foundation operates the Wolf Trap Opera Company, a resident company for young opera singers.
The Foundation’s education programs, also located adjacent to but outside the park proper, include the national Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, a nationally recognized college internship program, and the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods. This last performance venue is located in the park proper.
Performing arts venues
Performance at Filene Center
Presently, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts organizes and runs several distinct venues and facilities as part of the whole park. These include:
The Filene Center, named in honor of Mrs. Shouse's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln Filene, is the major indoor/outdoor performance venue with seating for 7,000 both under cover and on the lawn in a more casual style. Performances are given nightly from May to early September and cover a wide range of musical styles from country music to opera.
Entrance of The Barns at Wolf Trap before a performance.
In the summer of 1971, sixty young musical performers were chosen for training in music, dance and acting, to culminate in a production in the newly conceived Filene Center. The inaugural season opening was delayed one month due to a fire that destroyed most of the recently constructed center. When the Filene Center was finally completed, the theatre, constructed of Oregonredcedar, was a ten-story-high facility equipped with a computerized lighting system and sophisticated sound equipment.
The second Filene Center, constructed between 1982 and 1984, is made of douglas-fir with a yellow pine ceiling. It includes a smoke/fire detection and suppression system, as well as fire retardant wood, which all cost about a total of $1.7 million. The new amphitheater was also built with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment. The Filene Center contains a seating capacity of 7,000, including lawn seating, which can fit several hundred more patrons than the original Filene Center could. Also compared to the original, the second Filene Center contains improved access to handicapped people as well as more backstage space for performers and crews.
Today, the seating capacity of the Filene Center is about 7,000, including about 3,800 in-house seats and 3,200 lawn seats. The dimensions of the main stage are 116' wide × 64' deep × 102' high.
With 70 performances from late June through early August, Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods presents family-friendly shows at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Amidst 117 rolling wooded acres and nestled in a shady grove, the stage is set for lively adventures in music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, and theater. All performances are recommended for children between Kindergarten and 6th grade.
In 2011, Theatre-in-the-Woods was featured in "Best Summer Ever if You've Got Little Ones" by The Washingtonian. The 2012 season of Theatre-in-the-Woods will feature 34 performances from "local, national, international, and Grammy-nominated artists who represent folk, kindie-rock, storytelling, theatre, world-clad puppetry, and dance".
Meadow Pavilion, c. 2012
From the park's inception in 1971 until 2010, the Meadow Pavilion, a covered outdoor stage adjacent to Children's Theatre in the Woods, hosted events for the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap (known as International Children's Day from 1971 to 1974). The Meadow Pavilion hasn't been used since 2010, although it still stands, and remains available for rental through the Wolf Trap Foundation.
On March 6, 1980, a welder's torch ignited a fire at the Meadow Pavilion, causing around $10,000 in damage.
Origins of Wolf Trap Farm
Wolf Trap Farm, 1930
Early records of Fairfax County tell that wolves would run wild in the area, and bounties were granted for trapping them. In August 1739, J.M. Warner placed "Wolf Trap Creek," a branch of the Difficult Run tributary stream, in his survey, evidence that the name has been used for over 270 years. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the land at Wolf Trap had been frequently exchanged between wealthy families in the Fairfax area, including Bryan Fairfax, the 8th Lord Fairfax of Cameron and longtime friend of George Washington. In 1930, Catherine Filene Shouse acquired approximately 53 acres (21 ha) of land in the region and chose to preserve the name. By 1956, her holdings encompassed 168 acres (68 ha).
Donation of Wolf Trap to Congress, 1966–1970
In 1966, after several meetings with Secretary of the InteriorStewart Udall, Mrs. Shouse donated 60 acres (24 ha) of Wolf Trap land, in addition to 38 acres (15 ha) from the American Symphony Orchestra League, to the U.S. Government, a donation Congress subsequently accepted that year. In a letter to Congress that year, Udall argued that Wolf Trap would "augment the park and recreation opportunities in the National Capital region and involve the expenditure of only a minimum of Federal funds." On May 28, 1966, Virginia Senator A. Willis Robertson introduced a bill to Congress to create and fund Wolf Trap, which passed with relative ease. Mrs. Shouse also offered over $2 million to construct the Filene Center for performances.
Mrs. Shouse with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson at Filene Center groundbreaking ceremony, May 1968
Around the same time, the Kennedy Center and Merriweather Post Pavilion, two other nearby concert venues, were also being constructed, so there were some questions in Congress about overloading the area with too many arts and music venues. Rep. George H. Fallon of Maryland, for example, opposed the Wolf Trap bill on the basis that it would "only have the effect of dividing a small market" and would be in "direct conflict" with the Kennedy Center and Merriweather Post Pavilion. Nevertheless, Wolf Trap became and remains the first and only U.S. National Park dedicated to the performance arts. With this collaboration, Mrs. Shouse became the first person to establish a partnership with the U.S. in bringing performing arts to the nation.
Ground was broken for the construction of the Filene Center in 1968, and the next year, Wolf Trap held its first concert. A ceremony was held for the topping out of the Filene Center in May 1970, attended by then-First Lady Pat Nixon.
The first dozen seasons saw many performances and events of historical significance. In 1971, produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the National Folk Festival was the first event at Wolf Trap to use the park grounds (versus Filene Center itself) for performances, and it set a precedent for other events at Wolf Trap to do the same. That same year, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. President to attend a Wolf Trap performance, viewing the Wolf Trap Company's performance of the "Musical Theater Cavacade" on August 12. In 1976, the Scottish Military Tattoo, a Bicentennial gift from Britain, performed at the Filene Center for capacity audiences including Britain'sPrince Philip. Two years later, in 1978, the People's Republic of China's performing arts ensemble entertained Wolf Trap's audience with acrobatic troupes and dancers in one of the first cultural exchanges between China and the United States. From 1971 until the early 1980s, the National Folk Festival was held annually at Wolf Trap.
In May 1971, plans were developed to construct a series of composers' cottages across the park, where performing artists could stay for a temporary period and peacefully work on their respective works. Although five cottages were planned, only one was ever built. The two-bedroom house was donated by Edward R. Carr Jr., a metropolitan area realtor, and built by Fairfax County high school students; it was finished and dedicated in December 1973. During the next five years, the composers' cottage hosted several noteworthy composers, including Lester Trimble, Irwin Bazelon and Elie Siegmeister.
In 1979, however, a fire destroyed the composers' cottage, and it was never rebuilt.
1982 Filene Center Fire
Filene Center after the fire, 1982
As Wolf Trap was preparing for its 12th season, tragedy struck once again. On April 4, 1982, a fire of undetermined origin, intensified by high gusting winds, destroyed the Filene Center.
During the rebuilding of the Filene Center between 1982 and 1984, Wolf Trap received $29 million in contributions and pledges from over 16,000 donors in 47 states and five foreign countries, including a $9 million grant from Congress and support from then-President Ronald Reagan and former Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. WETA-TV also sponsored a star-studded, three-hour national telethon that raised more than $390,000 for the reconstruction of the Filene Center.
Almost immediately, the Wolf Trap Foundation, the park's non-profit partner, announced that a 1982 season would still take place in the Meadow Center, a huge tent erected in the nearby meadow. The prefabricated structure, purchased with private and government funds, was disassembled from its previous site in the United Arab Emirates and transported to Wolf Trap by the government of Saudi Arabia. Volunteers provided much of the labor to erect the structure.
The first performance at the newly repaired Filene Center, titled the "Filene Center Dedication," occurred on June 20, 1984. Attendees included opera star and frequent Wolf Trap performer Beverly Sills, then-Virginia Governor Charles Robb as well as Mrs. Shouse herself.
Wolf Trap today
Wolf Trap hosts an average of 95 to 97 shows during its performance season, which runs from late May to early September. However, due to fewer artists touring in 2009, Wolf Trap only held 86 performances and reported a revenue decrease of about ten percent.
After touring for 16 years in North America, Riverdance had its final US performance on July 17, 2012 at Wolf Trap.
Catherine Filene Shouse and I. Lee Potter, Head of Wolf Trap Foundation, view plans for Filene Center, c. 1970
An Act of Congress
Public Law 89-671
89th Congress, S. 3423
October 15, 1966
To provide for the establishment of the Wolf Trap Farm Park in Fairfax County, Virginia, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that for the purpose of establishing in the National Capital area a park for the performing arts and related educational programs, and for recreation use in connection therewith, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to establish, develop, improve, operate, and maintain the Wolf Trap Farm Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. The park shall encompass the portions of the property formerly known as Wolf Trap Farm and Symphony in Fairfax County, Virginia, to be donated for park purposes to the United States, and such additional lands or interests therein as the Secretary may acquire for purposes of the park by donation or purchase with donated or appropriated funds, the aggregate of which shall not exceed one hundred and forty-five acres.
Sec. 2. The Secretary of the Interior shall administer the park in accordance with the provisions of section 1 of this Act and the Act of August 25, 1916 (39 Stat. 535; 16 U.S.C. 1–4), as amended and supplemented.
Sec. 3. There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may appropriation be necessary, but not in excess of $600,000, per annum to carry out the purposes of this Act.
B.B. King – July 2, 1975, with The Bobby Bland Band, July 3, 1989, June 20, 1991, September 8, 1992, September 8–9, 1994, with Little Feat and Dr. John, August 22, 1995, September 6, 1996, June 11, 1997, September 10, 1998, June 19, 2006, August 10, 2008, August 30, 2009, July 18, 2010 and August 11, 2013, with Peter Frampton and Roger McGuinn
Arlo Guthrie – July 26, 1987, with Pete Seeger, August 14, 1988, with Pete Seeger, June 25, 1989, with Pete Seeger, August 31, 1991, with Pete Seeger, August 12, 2007, with Richie Havens and August 6, 2011
Ray Charles – August 4, 1987, August 8, 1988, June 20, 1989, September 9, 1990, August 19, 1991, August 18, 1992, August 15, 1993, August 8, 1995, August 11, 1998 and August 8, 1999
John Lee Hooker – June 2, 1988, June 22, 1990, June 12, 1992 and June 23, 1993
John Denver – July 27, 1988, September 16–17, 1989, September 15, 1990, September 21–22, 1991, July 26–27, 1994, June 15, 1995 and July 30, 1997
The Moody Blues – July 31 and August 3, 1988, with The John Kilzer Band, July 6–7 and 14, 1993, June 1, 2004, July 2, 2005 and August 5, 2007
The Beach Boys – August 21, 1988 (2 shows), July 8, 2001, July 7, 2002, July 30, 2003, August 22, 2004, August 28, 2005 (2 shows), August 19, 2007 (2 shows), August 17, 2008, August 23, 2009, July 25, 2010 and August 21, 2011
The Jazz & Blues Festival – June 3, 1989, June 23, 1995, June 27, 1999, June 13, 2004 and June 19, 2005
John Prine – August 16, 1991, with Maura O'Connell, June 10, 1995, August 26, 2000, with Richard Thompson, May 31, 2002, with Delbert McClinton, August 27, 2004, with Kris Kristofferson, June 5, 2009, with Steve Earle, August 26, 2011, with Richard Thompson and August 15, 2012, with Emmylou Harris
The Robert Cray Band – August 23, 1991, with Nils Lofgren, August 21, 1992, August 21, 1999, with Jonny Lang, June 22, 2001, with The Susan Tedeschi Band, July 31, 2002, with JJ Cale, July 17, 2007, with James Hunter and August 10, 2010, with George Thorogood & The Destroyers
The Temptations – July 6–7, 1995, with The Four Tops, July 20–21, 1999, with The Four Tops, July 18, 2000, July 24, 2001, July 23–24, 2002, July 15, 2005, with The Four Tops, June 16, 2006, with The Four Tops, July 28, 2007, with The Four Tops, June 26, 2008, with The Four Tops, August 15, 2009, with The Four Tops, August 21, 2010, with The Four Tops, August 25, 2011, with The Four Tops, August 2, 2012, with The Four Tops and June 27, 2013, with The Four Tops
Natalie Cole – July 23, 1995, August 9, 1999, July 25, 2007 and June 24, 2010
Lyle Lovett – July 26, 1995, August 5, 1999, with Keb' Mo', August 25, 2000, August 8, 2001, July 29, 2003, July 6, 2004, July 27, 2005, August 22, 2006, June 20, 2007, July 2, 2008, August 17, 2010, with Ryan Bingham, August 30, 2011, August 14, 2012, August 29, 2013 and August 22, 2014
Clint Black – July 27, 1995, July 8, 2000, with Patty Loveless, July 19, 2002 and August 26, 2004, with Sugarland
Donna Summer – July 28, 1995, July 5, 2005, July 5, 2008 and August 29, 2010
Tony Bennett – August 16, 1995, August 1, 1999, with Diana Krall, August 22, 2000, with Diana Krall, August 19, 2001, August 18, 2002, August 16, 2004, June 18, 2005, June 4, 2007, July 2, 2009 and August 27, 2010
Peter, Paul & Mary – August 25–26, 1995, August 6–7, 1999, August 11, 2000, August 10, 2001, August 8, 2002, with George Benson, August 8, 2003, August 13–14, 2004, August 12, 2006 and August 22, 2009
The Gipsy Kings – September 5, 1995, September 7–8, 1999, September 4, 2000, May 30, 2001, August 19, 2002, July 27–28, 2004, May 31–June 1, 2005, July 9, 2006, August 10, 2007, August 7–8, 2008, June 12–13, 2009, July 2–3, 2010, August 19–20, 2011, August 7–8, 2012, August 8, 2013 and September 4, 2014, with The Ole' Noys
Julio Iglesias – September 10, 1995, August 23, 2003, with Tom Wilkinson, September 8, 2005, with Tom Wilkinson and July 13, 2010
Huey Lewis and the News – July 20, 1997, July 30, 1999, with Box Set, August 5, 2001, August 11, 2002, August 17, 2003, with Eddie from Ohio, August 12, 2004, with Paul Thorn, August 21, 2005, with Paul Thorn, May 31, 2007, with The Grandsons, June 18, 2009, with Paul Thorn, July 13, 2011, with Paul Thorn, August 13, 2013 and July 20, 2014, with Marc Broussard
Hall & Oates – August 22, 1997, September 9, 2005, with Todd Rundgren, August 2, 2009 and June 19, 2014
Aretha Franklin – June 22, 1999, with William Troxler, June 2, 2000, July 8, 2002, June 5, 2003, with Vance Gilbert, July 5, 2007, July 29, 2010 and June 21, 2011, with Vance Gilbert
Elvis Costello – June 23, 1999, with Steve Nieve, June 16, 2002, with The Imposters and Joe Henry, July 7, 2003, with The Imposters and New Earth Mud, July 31, 2005, with The Imposters, Emmylou Harris and Larry Campbell, June 15, 2006, with The Imposters, June 11, 2009, with The Sugarcanes and June 15, 2011, with The Imposters
Eddie from Ohio – July 27, 2001, with Fighting Gravity, July 20, 2002, August 28, 2004, with Natalie MacMaster, August 17, 2006, with Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, August 22, 2008, with The Great Big Sea, July 24, 2010, with Dar Williams and September 9, 2011, with Martin Sexton
Chicago – July 28, 2001, June 11, 2002, July 6, 2005, July 11, 2006, June 12, 2007, July 9, 2008, August 16, 2011 and August 19, 2013
Hootie & the Blowfish – July 22, 2003, with Big Head Todd and the Monsters, June 3, 2004, with Cowboy Mouth, July 25, 2005, with Ingram Hill, August 10, 2006, with Fighting Gravity, July 8 and September 5, 2007, with Patrick Davis and July 13, 2008, with The Drew Davis Band