Citizen Dick


By Richard Lawlor
By Richard Lawlor

What Aren’t You Doing New Year’s Eve? Part II

The clock is ticking its last tocks toward the end of 2005, and in downtown Portland, the excitement is building. Roving gamesters are ready to rove. Balloon twisters are ready to get twisted. A “Hilarious Hypnotist” is ready to ESP the family into a stupor, and just about everywhere you turn there’ll be a Portland Pirate. Add to this face painting, Lego-building projects, public swimming and skating, and you get the kind of community celebration that has put Portland, Maine, on the map as the innovative, East Coast Mecca for the arts.

OK, I know sarcasm isn’t in the true holiday spirit, but as New Year’s Portland 2005 grows closer, it’s all I can muster up. (Also, when I was a young teen idol, a roving, face-painting, balloon-twisting magician forced me to build a giant Lego floating device and swim publicly in a pool filled with hypnotic hockey players.)

According to Liz Darling, Marketing Director for the City of Portland, I am alone in feeling disappointed with the direction this event has taken in recent years. 
“This will be our fourth year putting on New Year’s Portland and I never have received any complaints about the change in format,” says Darling. “Families love the event. It’s a great day for parents to bring their kids, work them into a frenzy and take them home early to pass out. Then Mom and Dad can go out on their own.”

She also notes that not one cent comes out of City coffers, and all the events and attractions are free (except one, but more on that later). 

For many New Year’s Eves, Shoestring Theatre’s Nance Parker was the cheerleader in charge of the controlled chaos. As director of the annual twilight parade down Congress Street, Parker and husband, Greg, turned spectators into participants. For two decades, the floats, puppets, drummers and revelers recruited from the sidelines set the perfect tone for the afternoon’s family activities while setting the stage for a full slate of nighttime, adult fun. 

“I miss that parade so deeply. It was a way for the community to come together,” says Parker. “When you are dancing in the streets, it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, young or old, from Portland or from away.”

Parker, who led her last New Year’s Parade in 2001, recalls the stamina of revelers fighting ice and snow and frigid temperatures. “No matter what the circumstances were, people met the challenge.”

She doesn’t feel that the new City organizers have risen to the occasion of late.
“It is insulting to me as an artist that Portland doesn’t take the collective art community seriously,” says Parker. 

In addition to the parade, Shoestring also led the countdown to midnight, when the ever-popular fireworks would fly.

Nick Bloom, former Executive Director of Maine Arts, finds the pyrotechnics (or lack thereof) this year particularly puzzling. 

In 1998, the State Fire Marshall informed Bloom and other New Year’s organizers that, for public safety reasons, they could no longer shoot the fireworks from One City Center. Appeals were made and rejected, and eventually, much to the disappointment of many, the fireworks launch site was moved to Lincoln Park, near City Hall, from which the view was much less exciting.

Last year, Bloom attended as a spectator. While in Monument Square, he noticed that fireworks were about to be set off from One City Center. “I was delighted, as an onlooker, that activities were going on, but I was befuddled as to how the City got permission to bring [the fireworks] back to our old location,” says Bloom. “We fought long and hard to keep them at City Center.”

Bloom feels that the relocation of the fireworks to Lincoln Park really hurt Maine Arts’ efforts to maintain New Year’s Portland as a major First Night-style event in the region. “When the Fire Marshall kicked us out, that was the killer,” he said. 

This year, there will be no outdoors fireworks display anywhere in downtown Portland. Darling says this is due to lack of sponsorship (sponsorship in general is rumored to be significantly lower than in past years), but Bloom wonders if a little-reported fire at last year’s event might not be the bigger reason. 

“Soon after the City Center display, fire engines and personnel arrived,” Bloom recalls. As a man who’s pushed the button to set off many a pyrotechnic show, to Bloom this meant something was amiss. (Other sources also say something went awry with last year’s display.) 

If you want to see fireworks this year, you’ll have to bring the family to the Cumberland County Civic Center, where the Pirates will take on the Springfield Falcons. The post-game pyrotechnics will feature music from Cirque du Soleil. It promises to be, according to organizers, “the biggest and most spectacular indoor display in Maine” this year. 

Ironically, for a city-wide celebration touted as “Free, Free, Free,” viewing these fireworks is the only event that will cost Mom and Dad some bucks. Kids 16 and under get in for $5 (if tickets are purchased in advance), and prices for adults range up to $20.50. 

I’ll be saving my hard-earned dollars this year. I received a Loony Tunes Chia Pet for Christmas. It’s seeded, watered, and with any luck it’ll be sprouting whiskers on New Year’s Eve.

A semi-retired arts promoter — including a stint as a consultant to Maine Arts, during which time he worked on five NYP events, doing programming, marketing and public relations — Richard Lawlor is co-founder of GFPM Enterprises (producers of and The Companionnewspaper). His column, Citizen Dick, runs biweekly.

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