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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 02:55 am

The 25th annual First Night

On New Year’s Eve come downtown for a bargain celebration of the arts

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Springfield Ballet Company

On Dec. 31, 1987, Springfield became the first city in Illinois to host a First Night event celebrating the new year through the arts. Penny Wollan-Kriel, executive director of the Springfield Area Arts Council, jokes that the organizers could have won a “First Night on a Shoestring” award that year because of how much they accomplished with so little money. And even though their budget has grown over the years, Wollan-Kriel says they still strive to offer a “real bargain” for New Year’s revelers.

This year will be Springfield’s 25th First Night celebration. The event spans 10 different venues, some with multiple stages, and features more than 40 artists and performers.

The festivities start at 1 p.m. with hands-on activities for children, followed by a magic show, juggling, puppets, Irish dancers and more.

Meanwhile, Wollan-Kriel says a crowd favorite returns this year. Ice-carver Darren Best starts sculpting three 100-pound blocks of ice with a chainsaw at 3:30 p.m. outside the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Wollan-Kriel says last year’s early time slot for fireworks was well-received, so this year’s display will also be early. The popular fireworks show starts off the main body of performances at 6:15 p.m. at Fourth and Capitol streets.

After the fireworks, a variety of performers take the many stages, displaying ballet, swing music, hip-hop, jazz, magic and more. Wollan-Kriel says 15 of this year’s performers are new, and 15 others are alumni from the first 10 years of First Night.

The performances end at 10:45 p.m. this year, which Wollan-Kriel says better fits the schedules of families who attend the celebration.

If purchased in advance, admission buttons are $12 for adults and $5 for youth ages 5-18. A family pack, which covers two adults and two youth, is $25 in advance. On the night of the event, the cost is $15 for adults, but still $5 for youth. Admission buttons can be purchased at any County Market, Schnucks, Robbie’s restaurant, Recycled Records, the Hoogland Center or online at www.SpringfieldArtsCo.org.

“It’s very exciting,” Wollan-Kriel says. “I think in celebration of the 25th First Night, we’ve done quite well. … There are just so many choices.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

See the full First Night schedule

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