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Entertainment To Swipe Your Farecard By
Under Proposal, Musicians, Mimes, Dancers Would Get Paid for Gigs Outside Metro Stations

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Washington's buttoned-down subway riders might soon be able to get a little groove on during their commutes if a proposal for entertainment gets the go-ahead from Metro's board of directors.

Not to worry; American Idol it's not. Metro is not looking to foist any screechers on Washington's tender ears.

Under a proposal to be presented to the board Dec. 14, Metro would ask local arts councils in the six jurisdictions where it operates to vet performers they deem appropriate. The lucky winners, selected through auditions, would be paid by the arts councils, not Metro.

Performances would be outdoors and only at designated station entrances from April to October. Performances would take place primarily during lunchtime and at the end of the day, not during the morning rush when "people are very focused on getting to work," said Michael McBride, Metro's manager in charge of the Art in Transit program.

However limited, adding entertainers would be a big deal for Metro. The nation's second-busiest subway system is one of the few that prohibit music and other types of entertainment inside stations.

When the idea first came up in June, some board members balked. They worried that performers would get in the way of riders and that panhandling would lead to more theft. And they worried that there wasn't a suitable process to weed out what board member T. Dana Kauffman, who represents Virginia, called "mud-bucket" entertainment.

The revamped proposal was going to be presented to a board committee Thursday, but the meeting was postponed because of the funeral for Leslie A. Cherry, a track inspector killed last week by a Yellow Line train. Another track worker, Matthew Brooks, who was also struck, remains in critical condition at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

"We've addressed all their concerns," said McBride, adding that the Metro Performs! program would include music, theater, literary arts, mime, magic and dance.

"We would be capturing all genres of music, from classical to cutting-edge world music," he said. The dance would be limited. "Obviously, we can't roll out Marley," he said, referring to a kind of dance flooring.

There would also be holiday specials and other theme-based performances, such as a Duke Ellington day -- the composer was born in Washington, McBride said.

Subway buskers such as Pedro Machado-Luces, 49, of Northwest Washington can't wait for the tryouts to begin. Machado-Lucas plays guitar regularly near several downtown stations, often with his partner, Jay Wasserman. The exposure from busking has earned the two regular gigs at bookstores and coffee shops around town.

Last week, Machado-Lucas was strumming "The Girl From Ipanema" outside the Farragut North station. He typically plays Brazilian music, reggae, jazz and soul. But he was gearing up for the season by practicing a holiday classic, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas."

"It's a tough one because he's got this deep voice," Machado-Lucas said of Bing Crosby, crooner of the best-known version. "I have a higher voice."

Metro has 86 stations, but performances are likely to be limited to about 25 spots, depending on how many Metro approves and how much the arts councils are willing to spend. McBride said the arts organizations have agreed to pay the going rate of $120 to $130 for 2 1/2 hours. Panhandling would not be permitted.

The most sought-after spots are stations that see the most passengers. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, for example, is interested in putting acts at Metro Center, Gallery Place, L'Enfant Plaza and Dupont Circle, McBride said.

The proposal fell on some receptive ears.

"It sounds kind of fun as long as it doesn't disrupt your daily getting on and off the trains during the rush hour," said Jorge Armenta, 28, a financial consultant who rides the Red Line from Grosvenor to Farragut North.

John Butterfield, 52, who works in publishing and commutes on the Orange Line from Court House to McPherson Square, welcomed anything "that brings a smile rather than dead silence and boring people walking." But he doesn't want musicians who win an official "seal of approval" to "squeeze out current musicians."

"I worry that we end up with elevator music," he said. "That rubs my libertarian bent the wrong way."

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