Maureen Douglas had at least one surreal moment during this year's Arts Whistler Live! performance series.
It happened when beloved children's performer Fred Penner took the stage in his "after dark" adult show last month. "It was probably one of the rowdiest shows I've ever seen in that theatre," says Douglas, executive director of Arts Whistler. "There were adults singing at the top of their lungs for two hours. The young people—22 to 35—who were raised on his TV show, they were serious fans. Their enthusiasm was off the chart. It was the biggest meet-and-greet after a show. I have never seen so many 30-year-old men show up as their seven-year-old selves."
The series kicked off on Nov. 2 last year with Vancouver band Five Alarm Funk and wrapped up with the storytelling of Brendan McLeod's Brain & Other Stories on March 10. In total, it featured 10 shows (two from Fred Penner who performed shows for adults and children).
Each year, Arts Whistler attempts to strike a balance between shows that are sure to draw a crowd and some that will push boundaries, Douglas says.
"We're always trying to appeal to a pretty wide demographic that exists in Whistler. There's some family programming, some stuff on the indie music front. We have a loyal audience that has been with us a long time that loves International Guitar Night and things like that. This year, we (also) tried to bring forward some things that are timely," she says.
She points to shows like Th'owxiya The Hungry Feast Dish, a children's play based on a First Nations' story, as well as Brain & Other Stories, a monologue that delved into mental health, as two examples of that. "There are some things that are tried-and-true, but you want to take a risk," she adds.
While not all the shows filled tons of seats, Douglas says the people who did show up to the less conventional performances walked away happy. "Some shows are sell outs—or close to sell outs—some are maybe a little more challenging and we fill half the house because we're trying something new," she says. "No matter how many people were in the audience they left ... with big smiles on their faces. We want the experience to be excellent and to build on it."
To that end, the Arts Whistler team is looking at reworking the series in the future. While 2018 will see the same format, in 2019 organizers would like to host shows all year long. "We'll start looking at year-round programming—January to December," Douglas says. "We might do a show or two in the summer ... The idea of Arts Whistler Live! doesn't have to be October to March. It can be any show that fits into that presentation format in the theatre. You'll see us with bookings into the fall of 2018 with Arts Whistler Live! but in 2019 that will be more throughout the year."
Another change on the horizon is the plan to feature more local talent in the venue consistently. While they still plan to bring in some out-of-town acts as they've traditionally done, they'd like local musicians to feature more prominently.
"Two seasons ago we started bringing in local, mostly music, acts to open the Arts Whistler Live! shows. That gives local bands a solid 30-minute set on a proper stage with full gear that they don't always get in the bar with a dedicated-focus audience. They're also in front of an audience that isn't necessarily at the bar," Douglas says. "Our local talent is really amazing."
Recent events have highlighted that, she adds, listing last fall's Hear and Now local music festival and the International Women's Day performance as two examples.
"We will still bring in some shows (as part of the series) to keep that variety of experience for our local audience, but we want to do our part to elevate local acts and bring in others who inspire," she says.