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Metrorail Puts Opportunity On the Line For Performers

By Mariana Minaya
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007

Artists of all kinds sang, danced and drummed last week for a chance to perform at the Bethesda and Silver Spring Metro stations beginning in the fall.

There was a teenage saxophonist, an Alpine horn player and a group of fiddlers. One performer whistled the Overture to the Nutcracker Suite. A Montgomery Blair High School a cappella group, InToneNation, auditioned in the hope of winning more exposure for its music. The Wild Zappers, a group of deaf hip-hop dancers, also tried to dazzle the judges.

"They were fabulous; everyone wanted to dance in the streets," judge Carol Beach of the Bethesda Urban Partnership said of the Zappers. They and the other performers attracted a crowd of about 100 onlookers to the Silver Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.

The auditions Friday evening attracted more than 35 entrants, with the performers limited to three minutes each to impress the judges. Those who are selected will be paid $175 for a 2 1/2 -hour show at the entrances to the stations. Performances will be two days a week at each station.

Members of InToneNation are crossing their fingers.

"We're trying to expand our horizons beyond school functions," said Annie Ropeik, a Blair senior. Metro and Washington area arts councils recently agreed to create MetroPerforms!, a one-year pilot program intended to brighten riders' experiences with music and dance.

Beach said the judges were looking for performers who are energetic and "gutsy" because Metro riders can be a rough crowd.

"It's worse than a nightclub," she said. "People aren't just milling, they're walking right by you."

There are about 20 to 25 slots for performers at the Bethesda and Silver Spring stations, said Susie Leong of the county's arts and humanities council.

Hiring artists to perform at the stations is a good idea, said Abraham Habte, 26, of Alexandria, who rides the Metro to his job in Silver Spring. "It's very entertaining, especially when you're waiting," for a train, said Habte, who had stopped to listen to the auditions.

Performances began last month at five Metro stations in the District and auditions are upcoming in Prince George's County and other areas.

Greta Ehrig, a singer, songwriter and poet of alternative-folk-rock music, looks forward to giving "people some respite from their busy lives," if she's chosen, she said.

"The workday can use more beauty and levity," from public art forms, she said. "I know there's been times I've stepped off the Metro and been in a really bad mood and heard the exact song that I needed to hear" from street musicians.

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