They've organized the city, they've organized the acts, and this year they're trying to organize you.
The folks at First Night Annapolis have gotten it all together a little better with an expanded and more organized New Year's Eve gala prepared for those who brave the cold and the crowds to celebrate the holiday with the arts.
This year's event will offer about 250 performers in 47 venues throughout the city's historic district, and many -- 33 percent -- are local. The Ballet Theater of Annapolis and the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra are joining the celebration for the first time.
Adding more local performers is one of several changes since First Night Annapolis Inc. was restructured in the spring. The board of directors fired founders Lana Nelson and Elizabeth Welch and appointed Virginia management consultant Janice Gary as executive director.
Nelson and Welch declined an offer of roles as consultants with reduced responsibilities and pay.
Because the festival has drawn more than 20,000 visitors a year over the past few years, organizers are focusing on patrons, helping them plan, making First Night more convenient and including them in the program.
"We looked at what we can do to improve the event," said Karla English, a spokeswoman. "We really wanted to address the problem of people being turned away from really popular performances."
Thus the improved program and second-chance tickets. To help revelers plan their journeys, this year's program provides a city map divided into color-coded zones, a corresponding color-coded performance guide, and a program planner in which patrons can pencil in the time and location of choice performances and nearby alternatives.
Visitors turned away from the most popular events this year don't have to walk away disappointed. If they grab a second-chance ticket on their way out, they get first preference at a subsequent performance. But even second-chancers must arrive 15 minutes early to secure a spot.
Coordinators will be armed with categorized listings of performances. If visitors have been turned away from one folk artist's performance and just want a dose of guitar tunes, coordinators will be able to point them to another folk music venue nearby.
Organizers list these as second-chance attractions: jazz singer Jeanie Bryson, daughter of jazz artist Dizzy Gillespie; folk singer Tom Paxton; the laser light, juggling, and comedy act Lazer Vaudeville; Magic Michael; Norman George's "Poe Alone"; and the dances troupe Footworks. Expect crowds and make alternative plans, officials warn.
Killing time between performances is easier with a few amenities added. Those who can't take the cold can go into two warming stations -- heated shops with hot drinks that will stay open through the night.
Restaurants and caterers are providing an expanded menu. New items include walking Starbucks vendors, traditional black-eyed peas and rice, and funnel cake.
Finally, at some venues, patrons will be allowed to participate in the events.
"We're trying to make the festival more hands-on," English said. "We don't feel the arts are something that people should be passive observers with."
In between shows, some may try their hands at painting a huge color-by-number replica of Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night." Artists from Anne Arundel Community College will supervise.
Revelers can add to their New Year's Resolutions by sitting in PTC Wish Chairs -- thronelike usable art that represents popular topics such as travel, health, and money
And visitors can test their musical genius. Children can pluck violin strings and blow a woodwind at the Instrument Petting Zoo, and adults are invited to take the stage and join the alternative rock bands performing at the WHFS Local Showcase.
A First Night button buys admission to all New Year's Eve performances. Buttons are $10 through Dec. 19 at area Giant food stores, Annapolis Zany Brainy, Annapolis Marriott, Bay Trading Co. in Annapolis Mall, Starbucks Coffee at the Harbour Center, and First Night Annapolis offices on Cathedral Street. After Dec. 19, buttons are $14.
Pub Date: 12/03/98