First Night State College to feature new entertainment and returning favorites

Laura Herts will bring her clown comedy to First Night with several performances at the State College Municipal Building.
Laura Herts will bring her clown comedy to First Night with several performances at the State College Municipal Building. Photos provided

First Night State College will once again provide central Pennsylvania with an alcohol-free community celebration featuring visual and performing arts.

A production of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, 2017 First Night State College also includes ice sculptures, the 5K Resolution Run, the Grand Procession, resolution exhibits, children’s arts and crafts workshops, performer workshops, carriage rides and ice skating.

The event is sponsored in part by the State College borough with grant support from the Centre County commissioners and Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. Rick Bryant has been the executive director since 2005 and on the staff since 1999.

“As the director, I work with our ice sculptors, book the talent and direct the overall effort so that the event is a success,” he said. “The festival has a paid staff of three. At First Night, we rely on about 75 volunteers to make the event a success.”

The annual event also includes new features such as free Saturday morning cartoons at The State Theatre.

“Something that’s new for us, but I’m not sure that the public will notice, is that our First Bells Resolution Sculpture has been rebuilt from the ground up by Alex Spangler, of Bellefonte,” Bryant said. “It was his Eagle Scout project. He’s added a bell to it and given the whole thing a new lease on life.”

First Night includes returning performers such as Rick Hirsch, Archie Blue, Jackie Brown & the Gill Street Band and Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats. But this year, there are some new surprises.

Yang Xiao Di, a senior instructor with the National Circus Project, an arts-in-education project that teaches American kids performing skills, will be at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center at 4:30, 7 and 9 p.m. Yang became an apprentice acrobat at age 6 and rapidly excelled in a variety of Chinese acrobatic genres, including equilibristics, juggling, trapeze, teeterboard, the traditional Lion Dances and clowning.

Laura Herts — a clown, mime, theater performer, teacher and director — has created a unique world of clown-comedy derived from observations she made during her world travels. On her first trip to First Night State College, Herts will perform at the State College Municipal Building at 5, 6:45 and 9:30 p.m.

Typically, the staff works on First Night in the fall and spends the other three-quarters of the year on Arts Fest. There is plenty of room for the First Night audience to grow, and Bryant hopes it continues to do so each year.

“In the past couple of years, local hotels have offered room packages for First Night and I hope that market continues to grow,” he said. “State College is such a different place on Dec. 31st, when 99 percent of Penn State students are gone, and we’d like people to experience the town then too.”

While State College might not have a New Year’s Eve tradition like the “Pickle Drop” in Dillsburg or the “Hershey’s Kiss Raise” in Hershey, the entertainment provided every year is a reflection of an area that is well-known for its diverse arts background and wide array of performances to choose from all year-round.

“I do think for a town of our size, we have a great event,” Bryant said. “State College is fortunate to have a great local music scene with lots of talented performers. We also have one of Pennsylvania’s largest ice sculpture displays and the 800 folks in our run. That’s a good sized 5K. So, I think we compare pretty well.”

First Night is an event that lets you drop in and drop out — where you can see a concert and then go out to eat — much easier than one can do at Arts Fest.

“We want to share that experience with lots more people,” Bryant said. “Our feeling is if they come to State College once they’ll keep coming back, and that, as Martha Stewart says, is a good thing.”

First Night buttons, available for $10 at a variety of area retailers, give the wearer general admission to most of the event’s performances and workshops. Children younger than 12 do not need a button.

On the web

Find a full schedule of First Night events at www.firstnightstatecollege.com.