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Live! Series Kicks Off

Free Weekday Shows Begin Today

What do Mongolian folk music, standup comedy and an Amazon River turtle have in common?

They’re all part of an eclectic lineup of performances for this summer’s annual “Live! On Woodrow Wilson Plaza” entertainment series, when the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center provides a sundry mix of local performers to serenade Washingtonians on lunch hour. Beginning today and lasting until Sept. 3, audiences can view the free shows from noon to 1:30 p.m. weekdays.

“It’s really amazing because it’s a stage in the heart of the city that’s really supporting the creative arts in the city,” said Aisha Davis, president of Desho Productions, which was commissioned to select performers for this summer’s 63-day series. “The [Reagan] building has really been wonderful about recognizing its federal role but also recognizing that it plays a role in the city as well.”

Organizers from the General Services Administration and trade center management say Live!, which started in 2000, is part of the trade center’s commitment to revitalizing a once-desolate corner of the Federal Triangle, which for half a century functioned as little more than a parking lot after the Great Depression forced the federal government to abandon new office building construction in the complex.

Michael McGill, press officer for the GSA public buildings service in the national capital region, said the Reagan building symbolizes Congress’ intention to transform the area “in a way that would make the triangle itself more lively and make it serve as a link rather than a barrier between the National Mall and downtown Washington.”

Davis said the building’s commitment to re-energizing the passageway between Washington’s federal and cultural centers influenced organizers to select entertainers from a variety of genres as diverse as jazz harmonica, bluegrass and ancient Chinese opera. “We wanted to make sure that the stage represented a broad range of interests,” she said.

Reptiles Alive, a group of wildlife educators who give presentations with animals, represents one of this summer’s more uncommon acts. Founder Caroline Seitz said the group, whose educators typically perform at schools and day camps, will modify its program to suit older audience members. “Anytime that we do events for primarily adult audiences, they’re completely fascinated,” said Seitz, who noted that the group recently performed at a nightclub. “The adults can just kick back, meet animals and ask questions.”

This summer, Reptiles Alive is scheduled to present its rainforest program, which will feature 5-10 animals including a caiman crocodile and a Madagascar hissing cockroach.

The City Dance Ensemble is another group that plans to adapt its show to Woodrow Wilson Plaza’s lunchtime audience, and it is scheduled to perform on five separate occasions. “We consider a successful experience one where somebody who’s been going to dance for their entire life enjoys it, and someone who’s going for the first time enjoys it,” said Director Paul Gordon Emerson, who added that the modern dance troupe’s show will involve interaction with audience members. “Most of the folks there aren’t going to have been dance maniacs their whole lives.”

Emerson stressed the trade center’s role in supporting local artists. “It’s easy to forget that there’s a lot of really good homegrown talent,” he said. “This is a chance to remind people that it doesn’t have to come out of Manhattan or London or Berlin — you can find out that the nation’s capital has some really good talent.”

In addition to regular acts on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, the series will alternate its Thursday programming between standup comedy featuring local comedians and an amateur talent competition, a la “American Idol.”

“People love talent shows,” Davis said, adding that anyone can enter the “Star Spotlight” competition and compete for a cash prize. “It’s really popular because people get to go and see people they know.” Winners, who will be chosen based on applause from the crowd after each show, will also compete at the end of the summer for an opportunity to perform at the Lincoln Theater.

Davis said she anticipates this summer’s Live! series will be even more successful than last year’s, which received one of the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District’s Momentum Awards, honoring events that act as “a magnet to attract people to experience downtown.”

“We’re really creating new programming that is unique and exciting for the venue,” Davis said. “It’s really for anyone. And that’s one of the things that’s so important for us to communicate.”

For a schedule of performers and more information, visit