BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY — Officials with the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival spent the eve before the event's kickoff awaiting the arrivals of the first guest comedian and filmmaker, passing out volunteer T-shirts, and searching for a jon boat or dory to use in rowboat races at what will become a downtown Front Street "sports arena."
The festival opens today with sold-out-or-almost shows by comedians Colin Quinn and Kathleen Madigan and runs through Sunday. Venues include the State Theatre, City Opera House, Old Town Playhouse and InsideOut Gallery, where seats are available — online and at the door — for all but a few events.
"I think people are really excited," said festival assistant director Susan Fisher. "We have an awesome feedback on Facebook and social media. The comedians are interacting on Twitter with us and their fans, so it is becoming nationally known."
One of those comedians is "30 Rock" actor Judah Friedlander, who signed on late to do two shows at the festival after following tweets by a former festival comedian.
Nearly 500 volunteers were expected to gather at the Park Place Hotel Dome Wednesday evening for festival credentials, details and last-minute assignments, Fisher said. Most are from the Traverse City Film Festival and the National Cherry Festival, the two organizations putting on the winter comedy arts festival.
"It's definitely less than the number of film festival volunteers, because we have fewer events, but I'd say the turnout is great," she said, adding that volunteer ranks were at 80 percent Wednesday morning and were expected to grow at the Park Place gathering.
Officials will close the 200 block of Front Street at midnight today to begin construction of outdoor activity venues like an ice-skating rink and a sledding hill, said Trevor Tkach, executive director of the National Cherry Festival. The rink will feature synthetic ice of the sort used at Florida theme parks, in playing warm-weather hockey and for the 94th floor observatory deck ice rink at Chicago's John Hancock Center.
Outdoor events will open Friday and will feature free ice skate rentals, sledding, a Ferris wheel and ice bowling.
In an email this week to film festival Friends, winter comedy arts festival "Weather and Bonfire Manager" Nancy Belton encouraged supporters to "think" ideal weather for the weekend: 28 to 34 degrees, with light snow and no wind.
"It's really the power of positive thinking," Fisher said. "It's kind of like prayer to the weather gods. So far the weather looks great. It looks good for what we have planned."
For tickets or more information, contact wintercomedy.org.