What's the Fourth of July without oratory, parades and old-fashioned games? Not much, apparently, because that's what's being offered at nearly two dozen old-timey celebrations around town this year. If these don't keep the kids away from those plywood fireworks shacks, nothing will.
To get in the right frame of mind for the Fourth festivities, visit the Declaration of Independence. You'll find it at the National Archives, flanked by a military honor guard, from 9:30 to 4. There's a changing of guard every 30 minutes in the Exhibition Hall rotunda. And more: a recreation of a Revolutionary War campsite (on the lawn across from the Constitution Avenue entrance, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), clowns and free balloons (along the Avenue, 11 to 1), and, at 12:30, a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Constitution Avenue steps.
Roving performers, craft demonstrations, puppet shows, music and dancing will be the order of the day at the Smithsonian, which winds up its annual celebration on Wednesday. Everything's free, takes place in and around the Museum of History and Technology (14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW), and lasts from noon to 6, except the dancing, which goes on till 8:30. If it rains, some acts are cancelled and others move indoors; check with celebrations headquarters (381-6264).
You could pray for good weather at the inter-faith and patriotic program at the Capitol, from 10:30 to noon at the West Front. Stick around: the National Symphony Orchestra performs on the west lawn at 8, conducted by NSO music director Mistislav Rostropovich. The concert will end in time for the National Park Service fireworks, which are designed for viewing by those attending the Symphony as well as those on the Monument grounds.
Those waiting patiently by the Monument have plenty to keep them occupied. The New York-based Marie Brooks Dance Research Theatre, composed of 28 children, performs there at 4:30, and District Mayor Marion Barry kicks off the evening program at 7, with entertainment by the Alive Singers, McCullough Kings Harmony Band and The U.S. Marine Band. Finally, at 9:15, the fireworks begin - produced this year by New York Pyrotechnics, who were responsible for, among other spectaculars, Arthur Fiedler's Bicentennial show in Boston. Gun cannon blasts open the display, followed by a barrage of 50 white starshells and Revolutionary War scenes.
You don't have to go fireworksless if you and your empty tank are stranded in the 'burbs. Metro trains and buses will run from 8 a.m. to about midnight (free rides after 9 p.m.), with subway service every five minutes from 6:30 to 11 p.m. and every 10 after that. There's free parking at many of the fringe lots (call 637-2437).