One of the things that has helped First Night Virginia endure as the nation’s second-oldest New Year’s Eve celebration of its kind, after Boston, is listening to its patrons.
Years ago, when disappointed people were being turned away from some of the most popular acts because the venue was full, organizers did something about it. The remedy was selling guaranteed reserved seating for a nominal extra fee of $3.
A lot of people have been eagerly slapping down three bucks to make sure they get a seat for Mark Nizer’s two shows tonight at 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. at the Paramount Theater. The internationally renowned entertainer — and local resident — will be trying something new during this 29th installment of the alcohol-free community celebration.
“The show we’re doing at First Night is new in the sense that it’s a 3-D show,” Nizer said recently during a telephone interview. “You will be issued 3-D glasses at the door.
“There are five parts of the show that are 3-D, and when you put on the glasses, man, it just pops out to the audience. I really ramped up the technology, too.
“I no longer use any sound or lighting operators. I control everything, so it’s truly a one-man show.”
It’s a one-man show, but the father of three will have a special treat for his hometown fans and friends. His 17-year-old daughter, Haley, will be opening the show.
The promising ballet dancer will perform in a pas de deux from the Nutcracker Ballet.
“Haley is unbelievable,” Nizer said. “A lot of people have asked if she is ever going to perform around here, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to do that.”
The transition from graceful ballet movements to Nizer’s show opener should be a thrill for the audience. Although he is ranked among the best jugglers in the world, he’s much more than that.
Nizer has remained in the forefront of the entertainment business by creating an ever more dazzling array of tricks, special effects and visual delights. He weaves funny one-liners, physical skill, technology and personal charm into performances that have wowed audiences from Kuwait to Zambia.
After tonight’s performances he will be traveling with his wife to Mumbai, India, where he has been invited to participate in Techfest.
“Techfest is a celebration of technology and theater, and is one of the coolest things I’ve been chosen to participate in,” Nizer said. “They pick acts from all over the world that use technology in their shows.
“The cool thing is that technology has grown at the exact time I need it the most. People are expecting so much stimulation now that I’m always trying to make the show bigger, more exciting and more energetic.
“Because of the new computer stuff I’m using, instead of having 20 light cues in a show that I have to teach a lighting guy, I can have 350 light cues, all of which are timed perfectly to the music and firing off perfectly. It’s also turning on and off fog machines, lasers, fans and all my electronics.”
During the show, Nizer will play a special piano he designed. The piano lies on the floor, and Nizer creates music by bouncing balls off the keys. Another innovation of his is a glow-in-the-dark robot suit that took him hundreds of hours to create.
FNV is trying out a new innovation as well this year. It’s substituting wristbands for the traditional buttons, which give full access to all the many performances being held throughout the evening.
Organizers say the wristbands are more efficient and will save money. Those who have collected the buttons through the years need not fear: There are collector buttons available for $1 each at FNV’s headquarters in the Omni Charlottesville Hotel.
Offering a wide range of first-rate entertainment is another factor in FNV’s long success. The annual shindig has events scheduled today from 3 p.m. until the ball drop at the Charlottesville Pavilion at midnight.
“Once again we have a great lineup of entertainment, both local and out of town,” said Cindy Adams, a FNV organizer and board member. “We have magicians, musicians, comedians and a huge festival for the kids.
“For the younger children, we will have bounce and play with inflatables in the Omni Ballroom from 3 to 7 p.m. And for kids ages 10 and older, we have something new this year called Teen Extreme.
“This will be set up in the Key Recreation Center and has attractions like a bull ride, obstacle course, a huge slide and inflatable attractions designed for older kids. I think it’s going to be a great event, and people are gobbling up reserved seating for Mark Nizer’s shows at the Paramount.”
One of the highlights of Nizer’s show is doing the Impossible Trick. He practiced the trick daily for seven years before he did it once.
The trick is so absurdly difficult that it still usually takes him more than one try to pull it off. The late Francis Brunn invented the trick, and Nizer learned it as a tribute to the man who later became his friend.
“There’s a picture in my studio of Francis doing that trick,” Nizer said. “He gave me that picture on my birthday, and I just looked at it every day as I tried to do it.
“What you do is spin a ball on your right finger. Take a second ball and throw it to your forehead from your foot. You then roll the ball down to the back of your neck, and then down the spine of your back and then blindly kick the ball with your heel.
“The ball comes up over your head and lands perfectly in a tangent on top of the other ball spinning on your right finger. The two balls then spin together. It’s crazy.”
First Night Virginia starts today at 3 p.m. and offers entertainment right through to midnight. Wristbands that provide access to all events are now only available at the Omni Hotel headquarters. The bands are $18 adults, $5 for ages 6 to 15, and a family pack for two adults and two children is $42. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. A full schedule and information are available online at www.firstnightva.org.