Bright Night Providence Celebrates First Night of the New Year

Bright Night Providence even brighter for second new year's celebrations.

Despite only having three months to prepare last year, the performers took over the Providence-wide celebrations for New Year’s Eve, picking up the banner from First Night Providence and creating Bright Night Providence.

This year, they have been able to prepare all year. There will be 45 acts with a combined total of more than 140 performers in 17 locations. It will be a great night, including fireworks at midnight. And all this for just 10 bucks — only $9 with the donation of a can of food at Whole Food Market. And "Family Fourpacks" are just $35. (For program events and ticket sales locations, go to brightnight.org.)

There will be singers and dancers, storytellers and poetry slammers, puppets and a children’s choir, two improv groups, and plenty more. Guitarist Duke Robillard is the headliner for a "Blues Bash" at the First Universalist Church, and the a cappella sensation Toxic Audio will be packing the Providence Performing Arts Center for three shows. A special burning of WaterFire Providence — which began at First Night Providence — marks its 10th anniversary. Events for youngsters will begin at 1:30 p.m., allowing parents to provide a fun afternoon for the kids and return in the evening for the rest.

"Last year was such an amazing thing, that the whole community got behind it and said, ‘Yes, we want a New Year’s Eve festival to happen,’" noted festival director Adam Gertsacov. "This year we’re having I’d say 90 percent of the artists we had last year. Everybody had a great time."

Gertsacov is a clown, P.T. Barnum impersonator, and flea circus ringmaster himself, but he won’t be performing. He and Tom Sgouros Jr. will be roaming around solving the inevitable problems that crop up, such as broken microphones. Bright Night is organized under the non-profit status that Sgouros’s Pan-Twilight Circus obtained.

"I was happy to report that nothing burned down, nobody was maimed or killed, and we didn’t lose our shirts," Gertsacov joked of last year’s debut, when the festival made a point of not booking acts until they had money in hand. "We were able to pay every artist $100 more than we contracted them — and we paid them two weeks early." That event cost $110,000, and this year’s Bright Night is budgeted at about $120,000. A bonus — which is possible this time as well, depending on ticket sales — isn’t the most unusual financial arrangement going on with Bright Night. "The artists sign a contract saying that if there’s a financial disaster everybody is going to, basically, be screwed equally," Gertsacov said. A 10 percent shortfall would mean 10 percent less for acts big and small.

This unusual way of doing business was born of desperation last year, when the First Night organizers realized that fundraising was not going to meet their ambitious budget and they would have to cancel. It wasn’t until October 1 that representatives of the performers were given the bad news.

Gertsacov recalls the occasion. "Doris Stevens, the retired director, called a group of artists together, basically the stake holders of First Night Providence, and said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be able to go forward — what can we do?’ And we all spoke, and in the process we said, ‘Well, we should get together and see what we could do.’"

Gertsacov ended up as director because he did the initial work of putting together a budget for a smaller program, starting with the $45,000 that First Night had raised — their initial $500,000 plan was for a 200-act celebration. Mayor Cicilline had the city of Providence kick in $25,000 — as it has done again this year — and the new festival was underway.

Gertsacov already had some of the experience he would need, having organized a small Maryland festival of 54 performances over six weeks.

"I had been to a hundred festivals," he said. "And I always sat next to the festival organizers and said, ‘OK, well, where is the publicity, and what about this, and how come you hired those guys?’ So I had thoughts about how to do it."

"But it wasn’t me alone and it is not me alone," he was quick to add. "I’m just the guy doing most of the organizational work." There are, Gertsacov noted, a group of about 10 to 15 performers who work together, communicating mostly by e-mail, to make Bright Night happen.

"We’re carrying on in the tradition of First Night," Gertsacov said. "In 1984 it was started by a group of artists. Then over the years it got bigger and more professional and it became a larger and larger event — it didn’t stay quite as local. Our goal is to remain local."

Toxic Audio is the only import this year — coming up from Manhattan, then taking off for a world tour.

"In New York it was a $50 show," Gertsacov remarked. "For $10, it would be a bargain to see just about any of these performers. You can see six or seven performances, if you hustle around and cut some corners."

For more information on Bright Night sites and performers visit the event's Web site at www.brightnight.org

Bright Night Providence Celebrates First Night of the New Year