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Something bold, something new

Whistler Arts Council and MY Place teaming up again for 2004-05 Performance Series

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Sure Celine Dion packs ’em in at her specially constructed Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas night after night after night, and always leaves ’em wanting more. That’s the business of entertainment.

But it’s not the business of the arts. That’s a stickier affair. Good arts programming involves taking risks. It’s more about the lesser-known innovator than the common denominator.

For an arts-focused Performance Series it’s about accepting losses on riskier fare by balancing it with safer bets.

It’s a tightrope act, a daunting task. Here in Whistler it takes the strength of two organizations to pull it off: Maurice Young Millennium Place and the Whistler Arts Council, who teamed up for the first time last year and are continuing their relationship through 2004-05.

"Our mandate is to bring a diversity of performers," explained Arts Council Director Doti Niedermayer. "Part of the Performance Series is to present something to our local audiences that other people aren’t focused on. The bars are programming the rock bands and the populist music and other people are doing other things, whereas we’re looking at what is not coming to this community, and that’s what we’re focused on."

The upcoming series launches on Oct. 21 with the acclaimed British comic vocal quartet Cantabile and continues through June 2005. Beloved children’s entertainer Norman Foote returns on Nov. 26 and solo theatre performer Charles Ross is upping the ante on his One Man Star Wars Trilogy by taking on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy for a two-show run in March, 2005.

Other than that, the 2004-05 Series lineup is entirely new.

Along with Cantabile, the series presents Punjabi musician Kiran Ahluwalia, the Montreal Jazz Ensemble, classical violinist Jasper Wood, the Alcan String Quartet, juggler/physical comedians the Gizmo Guys, the improvisational Duffle Bag Theatre troupe and comedy performer Daniel Packard. The series will also add shows as it progresses.

"Our artistic vision really affects our programming," Niedermayer said. "It’s not who’s available, it’s more like who do we want? What do we want to bring here and why do we want to do it? It’s more of a contemplative, thought out process now."

But even the most idealistic arts programmer must confront the conundrum of dollars and sense. The populist advantage is compensated for somewhat with arts funding. Niedermayer noted the series was fortunate to retain the support of last year’s community sponsors of individual shows and Whiski Jack Resorts – an organization recognized with the first annual Business and the Arts Award for providing visiting performers and arts groups with accommodation. American Express was recently added as a title sponsor and funding has been secured from both Ottawa and the province.

But the series can’t afford to coast on handouts if it wants to break even. Getting the community in the theatre seats is the challenge facing Gillie Easdon, a former MY Place communications employee who now holds the more specific position of Performance Series Co-ordinator.

The success of the majority of Whistler events, she has determined, is due to word of mouth. MY Place is responding with initiatives such as the P.S. Good Show program – a reward system for ticket sale referrals based on a name registry.

Ticket prices are also traditionally an issue, so the teen discount program will remain and adult ticket prices have been capped at $20.

Organizers are also hoping the increasing community profile for MY Place through grassroots events such as August’s Burning Man-themed photo exhibit and the upcoming Heavy Hitting Films B-Grade Horrorfest will translate into interest in the Performance Series.

Thrust into its role as Whistler’s cultural hub, the community is starting to really catch on to MY Place and take ownership of the venue. Familiarity will help establish trust and with that trust, organizers anticipate, will come an increasingly successful Performance Series.

For more information on upcoming 2004-05 Performance Series events call MY Place at 604-935-8410.

Howe Sound Arts Association launches Performance Series tonight

Whistler’s neighbours to the south in Squamish launch their 11 th annual Performance Series tonight with the sophisticated sounds of The Borealis String Quartet.

The Vancouver Chamber Ensemble will present selected works from their classical and 20 th century repertoire at Squamish’s Eagle Eye Theatre. The second half of the program will feature Dvorak’s piano quintet with guest pianist Robert Silverman, who will return for a solo performance for the series in February.

Tickets for the Borealis String Quartet performance tonight are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students and children. The performance begins at 8 p.m.

Howe Sound’s 2004-05 series has been pared down considerably from last year and conflicts with the Whistler Arts Council/MY Place series only once – for Charles Ross’s one man theatre presentation of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy in March.

For more information go to www.howesoundarts.org.

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