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The art of Whistler's local festival vibe

The Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival takes place at the Point on Alta Lake Aug. 29 and 30



As an arts event organizer in Whistler, Stephen Vogler is in a unique position compared with his peers in other small communities.

This is because as well as being a town of 10,000, Whistler expands daily into a resort-city, with tens of thousands of visitors swelling the population.

The Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival springs from the traditions of a small town — it's a great late-summer lakeside arts celebration with music, drama, food and drink.

Both locals and visitors are welcome, of course, but there isn't an iconic sponsor or large-scale budget in sight. It's a little local magic and very much like the Whistler of yesterday.

This is the third year Vogler has put on the festival at the Point Artist-Run Centre at Alta Lake; this year it takes place on Friday, Aug. 29 and Saturday, Aug. 30.

"We're a town with big corporate festivals and events and they are great, but this (festival) has got a different ring to it. It's more organically coming out of this place and the creative people who live here," Vogler says.

"I know from the feedback we've gotten from the last couple of years that it speaks to people. They come and say, 'that's incredible,' and they can't quite put their fingers on what was special about it compared to other events (in Whistler). I love that."

Had he run this sort of festival before?

"I haven't done it in other (places I've lived), though I have been to festivals in a lot of places around the world. It's probably why I wanted to do something that was really steeped in the local culture like this, because those are the kinds of festivals that always grab me," says Vogler.

"There is something authentic when they come from the local culture. These festivals pull together a community, all the disparate layers. I'd always wanted to do something like that."

For the first time, the festival is showing new plays by local playwrights on both nights, says Vogler.

Decaf For a Dying Man by Karen McLeod takes place on the festival's famous floating stage in Alta Lake on Friday evening, while Mirrored Lives by Angie Nolan takes place on the same stage Saturday.

Nolan says Mirrored Lives came from a suggestion from friends who came to her with an idea that she turned into a one-act play.

In the past she has directed or acted in plays for the festival.

"I have a great crew and they are so creative," Nolan says.

"The big festivals and arts and cultural tourism are amazing, what the (Whistler) arts council has done in this town is great. But we need to stick to our roots as well, while growing... it's so quintessentially 'us' and we also get tourists at it. They always leave with the feeling that they have rubbed elbows with the true locals. I think that is what the Point represents and the Flag Stop Theatre (Festival)."

There will be music a-plenty, too.

Friday night's program has New Orleans Ale Stars, a swing jazz outfit that includes members from Whistler and Vancouver.

Saturday afternoon is filled with free activities, including singer-songwriter Christine Sherrington and boogie-woogie pianist Doc Fingers. Saturday afternoon will also have "some surprises" with actors and musicians playing unexpected roles through the day, Vogler added.

Hip-hop harmonica artist C.R. Avery performs on Saturday night.

"I am pleased that all these things have fallen together," says Vogler. "Like with all these festivals that are run by volunteer non-profits, they're really grassroots. There is a lot of fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants faith that goes into it, but it adds a lot of energy, too."

This year, Gibbons Life and the Gibbons Hospitality Group event promoters have become more involved with Flag Stop, donating $1,000 to the festival. Vogler says other businesses have supported them with smaller amounts or in-kind support, including Nesters Market and the Whistler Brewing Company.

Gibbons Life owner Joey Gibbons says he has known Vogler since childhood.

"The point in supporting this type of event for me is things that really make Whistler Whistler... When you look at the things that we support, it's art, athletics, photography, showdowns, those types of events. The whole Whistler package," Gibbons says.

"It keeps us interesting and maintains the soul of Whistler.

"Ironman and Wanderlust and Tough Mudder, all these people aren't bringing these events and festivals here because it's somewhere that is close to their hearts. They're here because we are one of the best places in the world at putting on events and festivals. The reason why is because of these little things that we've been doing as a community for so long... these true 'for us, by us' events are really true to Whistler and I hope the community continues to support them."

Tickets are $35 for both Friday and Saturday nights without dinner, $50 with dinner. Each night, tickets are $20 without dinner and $30 with dinner. They are available at Armchair Books in Whistler Village or online at