A Year's Work Is Compressed Into Each First Night

Annapolis Organizers Begin Planning Jan. 1

December 01, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Months of telephone calls, mailings, meetings, negotiations come down to this: a completed wall-size schedule of performances that will fill seven hours and many city blocks on New Year's Eve. At the headquarters of First Night Annapolis Inc., the work will soon be done and soon enough will begin all over again.

Last month, the people who organize First Night secured commitments from scores of performers, filled in the boxes on the big wall chart and prepared to begin printing the schedule for distribution downtown.

First Night Annapolis begins its second year at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 31with two children's programs and continues until midnight on the Annapolis waterfront, where 1992 will be welcomed with fireworks, pealing bells and a bagpipe rendition of "Auld Lange Syne." For thousands of people, it's a night of merriment; for the organizers, it's a logistical feat. But, says co-director Lana Nelson, "if the public doesn'tknow about that, we've done a good job."

Consider this year's event: about 130 performances at 30 sites around downtown Annapolis. In any moment during the night, several shows are going on at once. The 37 acts comprise about 170 performers, many of them moving from stageto stage for different shows.

The job of organizing First Night 1991 began soon after First Night 1990, said Nelson and co-director Elizabeth Welch.

Days after some 10,000 people moved through downtown Annapolis on a cold night last year, Welch and Nelson were talking with city officials and the volunteers who managed each performance site, asking how the night went and how they might make it better nexttime. There will be more performances and more sites this year, so the women hope fewer people will be shut out of shows. Also, several Market Space food merchants who were closed last New Year's Eve have agreed to stay open to serve carry-out snack items: coffee, hot chocolate, baked goods.

After conferring with their volunteers, the women spent much of the next few months raising money, contacting past sponsors and trying to find new ones. Welch and Nelson declined to say what it costs to produce First Night, but they said about 60 percent of the budget comes from sponsors, the balance from sales of buttons that serve as tickets to events.

In summer, the two women began the job of casting the show. Notices were sent to arts organizations and to individual artists in July asking musicians, storytellers, magicians, dancers and actors to present proposals for First Night performances. The responses of some 600 performers -- resumes, review clippings, video and audio tapes -- were screened first by Nelson, then by a panel of arts organization members.

"Once I get recommendations from the screeners," said Nelson, "it comes back to me. I have to start creating the program. I have to start matching the performers to the program sites."

This is not like booking a series of acts into several theaters. Most First Night performers bring their acts to places not designed for them -- historic homes, churches, courtrooms, even store windows. This year, three Main Street storefronts will be transformed into stages. And the State House, instead of ringing with rancorous budget debate, will echo with the crescendos of opera and the yells of kung fu experts.

All the performers are paid, but Welchand Nelson acknowledge they are not paid as much as they might be ifthey were working in a club or concert hall on New Year's Eve.

Many of the performers "do it for the exposure" to a new, large audience, said Welch. And First Night, by emphasizing entertainment without alcohol, attracts a varied crowd, the women said, of families, older people and teen-agers.

First Night buttons -- $8 each until Dec. 15, $10 thereafter -- went on sale at county banks, stores, theaters and the Marriott Hotel in Annapolis Nov. 14. It seemed early, but by then, Welch and Nelson had already been working on First Night 1991 for 11 months.

"We think of New Year's Eve beginning on January first," Nelson said.

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