- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

There were no promises of Sanjayalike stardom, but the opportunity to perform before hundreds of thousands of Metrorail riders each day was motivation enough for about 40 musically inclined people.

Metro held auditions last evening for its one-year MetroPerforms pilot program that will give local musicians and singers a chance to showcase their talent outside Metrorail stations.

The auditions at Metro headquarters downtown began with a powerful soprano performance of Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” by Luciana Cecille of Northwest.

“Opera can be fun, it can be young, it can be hip,” she said.

Miss Cecille, whose slim frame betrays her large, classically trained voice, said she wants people to perform for Metro riders to expose them to a genre of music that they probably aren’t listening to.

“I enjoy it, so why can’t everyday people and not just those who can afford to pay $75 for a seat [in an opera house]?” she said.

From Miss Cecille’s opening, however, auditions got a little rocky with a couple of technical difficulties keeping some artists from performing, but then came Melissa Princess Best — aka “Princess of Controversy.”

Reciting poetry, singing and rapping all in one performance, Miss Best, 28, of Southeast, said she would bring versatility and energy to MetroPerforms.

“What I do brings an older generation and a young generation together,” Miss Best said. “It’s something to give people a jump at their lunchtime or at the start of their day.”

Developed by Metro’s Art in Transit Program, which displays artwork in and around Metro stations, and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, MetroPerforms was developed to support the arts and entertain Metro’s riders, Metro spokeswoman Cathy Assato said.

“We think this is a great way for us to support the arts,” Miss Assato said. “It brings a little vibe on the scene.”

Michael Woods, human resources manager for Busboys and Poets, a Northwest restaurant and lounge known for its active arts scene, said he thinks the program will show the city’s diversity.

“I think we have hit every genre and experience level that could walk through this door,” Mr. Woods said after sitting as a judge for yesterday’s auditions.

MetroPerforms program coordinator Michael McBride said the level of talent at the audition was what he expected.

“I think we can safely say we have a good crop of performers,” Mr. McBride said. “When you do public programming you get a very broad range.”

The acts covered a wide a range of genres some not usually associated with city life.

Junior League, a bluegrass quintet of Southern state natives now living in the District, tried out, hoping to add another local venue to their resume.

The group, which has played at the Black Cat in Northwest and at Eastern Market in Southeast, said they think Metro riders will be pleasantly surprised with their music.

“We like being involved in D.C. and making it our home,” said Lissy Rosemont, 25.

“I love when people are playing music at the Metro, so I’m really glad they’re doing this,” band mate Mark Thomas, 34, said.

Though most Metrorail riders probably have been serenaded a time or two by street performers, current Metro policy prohibits them from performing or panhandling in the system or within 15 feet of a station entrance.

MetroPerforms may give some of those performers a legal alternative.

Miss Assato said the D.C. arts commission would pay a $200 stipend per performance to selected artists. She said arts councils from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties would negotiate their own stipends. Artists will not be allowed to sell merchandise or ask for money while performing.

Artists selected from the auditions yesterday and tomorrow will perform at Metro stations in the District beginning in early June. Chosen artists will be notified within the next two weeks and performances will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

Miss Assato said the stations where the performances will be held have not been selected, but about five would be in the District based on space around the station and station traffic.

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