Artists audition for chance to perform at Metro stations

By the time the dance crew stood in this drab meeting room, the judges had already endured a struggling artist (struggling in that she couldn’t remember the words to her own poem) and the daughter of two pastors who crooned about ways to please her man.

Now, Troy Miles and his dance crew were introducing themselves in hopes of gaining approval to perform at select Metro station entrances. He handed a Metro staffer a CD of a track that he produced and had one request: “Could you turn the music up, because we’re deaf?”

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Dozens of contestants are competing for the chance to perform at Metro stations this summer, no tips allowed. A 16-year-old folk singer, a kalimba player, and members of a dance troupe explain why they are doing it.

Dozens of contestants are competing for the chance to perform at Metro stations this summer, no tips allowed. A 16-year-old folk singer, a kalimba player, and members of a dance troupe explain why they are doing it.

Before the track started, one member of the crew began to dance.

When the music blared and the dancers joined in, they bopped and swayed in unison and lip-synced to a song they could hardly hear.

“Amazing,” a judge said, enunciating the word in hopes the artists could read lips.

After 30 minutes of watching performances, Metro had booked its first act.

The auditions are called “MetroPerforms!” On Tuesday night, dozens of performing artists crowded into the system’s headquarters in the Chinatown area in an effort to become a permitted performer at one of the nation’s busiest transit lines.

Some performers never even waited for permission. A man known only as “Unknown Pianist” came to the audition wearing a cap and a Zorro mask.

“I’m on probation from Metro for two months,” he told the judges, for playing inside Metro one too many times.

“There are guidelines,” Program Director Michael McBride, one of the four judges, told him. “I’m sure you could adhere to them.”

“Well, yes,” Unknown Pianist said before asking whether a transit officer named Ray was in the building. Ray wasn’t.

“Good, because he wouldn’t be happy to see me.”

There were pipers and poets. Some danced, some sang, some drew. One person did all three.

“Ain’t no stopping us nowwww,” he warbled while penciling in strands of hair in a sketch of Beyonce. He did not receive an immediate invitation.

“Um, thanks for your time,” McBride said.

The program is being revived after being discontinued in 2010, its third year. Metro continued to get phone calls from people wanting to perform, so McBride said it was only fair to give some a fair hearing. Officials hope to begin the program this month.

The chosen ones are offered fame without the fortune. Performers will not receive a stipend or accept tips. Instead, Metro plans to showcase them on the Web and on bus banners, suiting the attendees just fine.

“I just want to” be known, said Johnny Culmer, an office mover and hip-hop artist known as “Johnny Cash.”

It didn’t seem likely that this gig would be Culmer’s first stop on a path to stardom. Judges didn’t cotton to his waxing about destiny, Hennessy and loose women.

“They said something about purging my lyrics next time,” Culmer said after walking out of the performance room. “Whatever.”

Despite the hiccups, Aisha Davis, an event producer and judge, was eager to see the best the region had to offer. “You get to learn there’s all this hidden talent,” she said.

Such as the little tykes who performed a mixture of taekwondo and hip-hop moves. Or the 60-year-old flautist who said she performed with Roberta Flack at a nightclub on Pennsylvania Avenue. Or the group of deaf dancers, who met at Gallaudet University.

When the judges gave them the thumbs up, Miles and the crew gave each other high-fives and hugged. Some of the performers came in search of fame. Miles said his team was looking for an opportunity.

“There’s a bit of a communication barrier, and that’s why we dance,’’ he said. “We are just trying to communicate positive vibes to people.”

If you have an idea for a story that happens at night, e-mail Robert Samuels at samuelsr@washpost.com.

 
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