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Arts the focus of First Night celebrations

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What: First Night Whistler

Where: Whistler Village, various Locations

When: Wednesday, Dec. 31

Tickets: $15 adults, $5 kids 12 and under

When the First Night revellers countdown to midnight in Whistler Village this Wednesday it will mark a new calendar year, but also the 14 th anniversary of the event.

According to Maureen Douglas of Mo Ideas Management, the company hired by the municipality that has been running First Night in Whistler since its inception, the event is the longest running of its kind in Canada.

It's likely one of the most challenging to run as well since the event must provide an alcohol-free community celebration in the midst of the high concentration of bars, restaurants and clubs that contribute to Whistler's dynamic high season nightlife. While there is a strict no alcohol policy in effect on the village walks, inside streams of booze flow out of bottles and taps in one of the busiest drinking nights of the year.

It's a challenge Douglas and her crew will face backed by the eclectic local arts community.

"It's a celebration of the arts," she says. "The focus is to do what we could toward programming more local artists, especially as Whistler's cultural scene develops."

The scene has developed so that 90 per cent of the arts and musical talent this year is local. Look for The Hairfarmers, Glen Mishaw, Gordo with May or May Not Contain Nutz, 13-year-old Ali Milner, Tuned Women co-founder Tessa McLoughlin and Pemberton goodtime rockers Still Smokin' on the music stages at Village Square and Town Plaza Gazebo.

There's a unique collection of street theatre this year as well. Local comedy actress Michele Bush picks up New Year's Nuptials, last year's hit performance by Skip Swain. As the brassy Reverend Dee Parton, Bush will betroth willing duos with hilarious vows that dissolve at the stroke of midnight. Short Skirt Theatre will be offering hilarious looks into the future at the Psychic Services tent with MY Place's Gillie Easdon playing wisecracking dummy to Behind the Grind owner Chris Quinlan's ventriloquist. That one will have to be seen to be believed.

Douglas is particularly excited about the hands-on arts workshops offered this year. Participants have opportunities to make hats, lanterns, masks, and commemorative ornaments.

"Some people come to first night and they're not really sure what to expect," says Douglas. "They understand the concept of bands and street performers, but then they get inside these tents, and next thing you know there are scads of adults and young adults walking around with goofy party hats on. They get such a charge out of it."

Participation, says Douglas, is key to the event's continued success.

"New Year's can be a bit challenging in terms of keeping people engaged, so if you have these participation stations, they get to make something, they get to contribute to the event. They really respect the event and they want it to work," she says.

"Art can be a really fun way to celebrate together. I think it changes people's perspective a little bit, and that's one of our goals too. Celebration through arts and through community."

First Night Whistler takes place throughout the village from 7 p.m. through midnight. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and under. For information call 604-932-5535.

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