First Night returns to Westport
Ringing in the New Year -- and new decade -- with family-oriented music, dance, comedy and good old-fashioned fun is the goal of this year's First Night program.
As in the past, the entertainment roster features a variety of interactive performances specifically geared for young people, inflatables to play in and, of course, elaborate face-painting designs enjoyed by both children and adults.
For the first time, though, First Night shows will take place from 3 to 8:30 p.m., ending with a Grand Finale Fire Works Display over the Saugatuck River around 9 p.m., said Chairman Barbara Pearson Rac.
Featuring a Battle of the Bands competition, Toquet Hall is the only venue to remain open until 11:30 p.m.
"I think it's going to be a really lovely evening and we have a lot of wonderful events planned for First Night this year," said Rac.
She explained that the event's revenue was drastically depleted because half of the expected attendees failed to show up last New Year's Eve as a major blizzard swept through Fairfield County.
"The entertainers were all there but the roads were not plowed in time and Westporters simply couldn't get there," Rac explained.
However, because the fire department would not permit them to move forward with last year's two fireworks displays, which had already been paid for, "this year there will be one really great display at 9 p.m.," she explained.
Buttons are $10, a reduced fare from last year's $15 price tag, and could be purchased at the Westport Public Library, Westport YMCA, Trader Joe's, Oscar's Deli, Ace Hardware in Weston and the Westport Senior Center.
For the past 16 years, Westport has offered the community exciting activities to do in an alcohol-free, casual atmosphere on New Year's Eve.
Rac said that because of the enthusiastic support the committee received, they are able to roll out a wonderful program this year. "We were able to rally together and raise money by cutting our budget," Rac said. "And, because I have received so much help from people, it's been a positive experience. This is truly a great community event because so many people come together to make it happen."
Committee member Bill Meyer agreed. "We are the only town in this area to offer First Night," he said. "So many people want us to keep doing this so we had to find a way to make it happen this year."
The performers, too, urged the town to move forward with this year's First Night, and they agreed to reduce their fees and do whatever is possible to make it happen.
Westport native Suzanne Sherman Propp will be performing for the first time at this year's celebration. A music teacher at Green's Farms School, Propp will also share the stage with some of her third grade students, who will perform a song about Westport that they composed this year.
Propp recently received a Champion of the Arts Award by the Westport Arts Council for her work in promoting music in young people.
"I was completely surprised," Propp admitted. "My students and I were there at the award ceremony to sing our Westport song. I didn't expect to get an award myself."
A member of Staples High School's Class of 1981, Propp was part of the Orphenians select choral group and the school's orchestra. She is proficient in piano, violin and, of course, her beloved guitar. During the school year, she enjoys writing songs about Green Farms Elementary School's class rules, bullying and other topics that children can relate to.
During her two shows at First Night, Propp will perform "a bunch of original" tunes as well as several traditional folk songs, such as "Oh, Susanna."
Although time is scarce between balancing family time with husband Peter and children, Rose and Ben, and a professional career as a Westport educator, Propp was able squeeze in a performance gig at Levitt Pavilion this summer. "The last time I performed there was when I was 12," she said.
Like many of the performers, Propp is pleased that the First Night shows are scheduled early so that she could be part of this special community event and also have the opportunity to celebrate 2010 quietly with her family later on.
As a way to reduce costs -- and also make the event more convenient for families with young children -- all shows and programs will take place at venues in Westport's downtown area. "Everyone could walk to each site," Rac explained.
The Westport Weston Family Y will host several children's activities, such as several large inflatables for bouncing and climbing; face-painting and a music show with Lalie Madriguera. A former Westport resident with children and grandchildren still living in the town, Madriguera regularly performs her interactive program at libraries throughout New York.
"She is excited to be with us this year because she did one of the first First Nights many years ago in Westport," Rac said.
The Magic Genie will do magic tricks, the Balloon Guy will, once again, create intricate balloon animals, and a caricaturist will also be on hand.
Other popular entertainers returning this year are Dennis the Train Man at the Westport Library and Chris Coogan's Good News Gospel Choir and Jazz Band in the Sanctuary at Christ and Holy Trinity Church.
For the first time, square dancing for people of all ages will take place in the church's parish hall.
One of First Night's sponsors, Oscar's Deli on Main Street will stay open for the first time this year and offer a selection of food throughout the afternoon and evening, Rac noted. Magic tricks will be performed there by "junior genies" who are part of the Magic Genie troupe. "It's going to be a very festive and fun atmosphere," Rac added.
The First Night committee welcomes volunteers to help facilitate the evening's programming. "We're also always looking for sponsors," Rac said. "They'll get the visibility from participating in the event."
Meyer said that volunteers are also needed to check buttons at the venues and do a head count.
Withstanding inclement weather, First Night of Westport usually attracts between 3,500 and 5,000 attendees. "Our main demographic is families with young children," she added. "This year kids are especially going to love it because with our earlier hours, so much of what we scheduled is geared towards youngsters."
For more information, visit www.firstnightww.org. Children 2 and under are admitted free to events.