Culture + Style

On the Artsy Side? Ease on Down Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts

Head to the Kimmel Center on Philadelphia’s Avenue of Arts for orchestra performances, theater and ballet. (Photo: Casey Rodger)

Culture vultures rejoice. Philly is home to a thriving arts scene. The part of Broad Street in Center City known as the Avenue of the Arts is is jam-packed with cultural delights — ballet, orchestras and theater. See what’s on the Playbill at these Philadelphia arts institutions.

philadanco performs at the kimmel center
Philadanco performing at the Kimmel Center. (Photo: Creative Outfit)

The Kimmel Center

The Kimmel center’s barrel-shaped glass roof, soaring more than 150 feet high with 155,000 panes, is a sight to behold and gives a hint of the state-of-the-art venue space inside. Beneath, you’ll find three distinct performance spaces: the 2,500-seat Verizon Hall concert space, the 650-seat Perelman Theater and the 2,688-square-foot Innovation Studio Theater. Eight performing-arts companies reside in the space, among them the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philly Pops. Check out the calendar of events before your trip to snag tickets to a performance by one of the resident companies or visiting performers. Feeling both artsy and thrifty? The Kimmel Center offers Community Rush Tickets — a select number of $10, day-of-show tickets are released each day; all you have to do is get yourself down to the box office at the specified time. The Kimmel Center also offers lots of free events and performances. And if don’t have time to catch a performance, but want to check out the cool space, the Center offers tours during the week, along with arts and architecture tours on Saturdays — all free.

Merriam Theater

The world-renowned Pennsylvania Ballet calls the Merriam Theater home. Originally focused on a Balanchine-based repertoire, the company now also offers contemporary productions, as well, suiting the passions of classic and contemporary ballet-lovers alike. This beautiful, 89-year-old theater has been completely upgraded for a phenomenal sensory experience. If you love ballet, catching a performance at the Merriam is a must.

The Academy of Music

The Academy of Music is just plain beautiful. The ornate red and gold theater, a historic landmark and fabulous example of baroque style, was completed in 1857 and was home to the Philadelphia Orchestra. It also holds the distinction of being America’s oldest operating opera house that is still used for its original purpose. It’s built in a horseshoe shape, allowing much better sightlines than most traditional opera houses. Look up: Mirroring the opulence below is a 16-foot-wide, 5,000-pound crystal chandelier (originally gas) that used to take 12 people to raise and lower by hand. You can tour the Academy on select days, including the Grand Lobby, the Stage Door Canteen and the Ballroom, and of course, you’ll get to check out that amazing chandelier in the Auditorium.

walnut street theatre on philadelphia avenue of the arts
Walnut Street Theatre (Photo: Mark Garvin)

The Walnut Street Theatre

Just a half-mile east of the Avenue of the Arts, on Walnut Street, you’ll find the Walnut Street Theatre. It’s worth the stroll to check out a backstage tour. Opened in 1809, the theater is the oldest in America. And if that weren’t distinction enough, it’s also the most subscribed to theater in the U.S. The theater’s first performers were actually horses, but by 1812 the space had been converted to a real theater (the kind people perform in), with its center ring replaced by a proper stage.

What followed was more than a century of performances by America’s most famous actors, including the Barrymores, Will Rogers and the Marx Brothers. This fascinating tour will cover all sorts of history as well as a look at how productions today are put together. Among other trivia, you’ll learn how the curtain call originated and just whose skull is used during “Hamlet” performances.