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Whistler’s Flag Stop Festival, a hidden secret no more, returns to The Point

Over its 12 years, the grassroots event has blossomed into a showcase for local and regional performers alike
Original theatre, live music and comedy returns to the Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival’s scenic floating stage on Friday, Aug. 11 and Saturday, Aug. 12 at The Point Artist-Run Centre.

As a rule, Whistlerites love proving how local they are, and there is perhaps no better litmus test than asking someone if they know what The Point Artist-Run Centre is, or, for that matter, its flagship annual event, the Flag Stop Theatre & Arts Festival.

Part of The Point’s hidden-gem status is due to its literal off-the-beaten-path locale, a heritage fishing lodge turned grassroots arts hub nestled on the shores of Alta Lake, only accessible by car through West Side Road and no longer serviced by transit. As someone who has performed at The Point and its beloved celebration of live original theatre, music and comedy for more than a decade (this week marks my 11th Flag Stop in a row!), I had assumed the event’s relatively low profile on the resort calendar was at least partly by design. After all, in a tourism town that evolves at breakneck speed, us Whistlerites tend to be overly protective of any local secret.

Not so, according to The Point’s artistic director Stephen Vogler.

“The festival, I’m not trying to keep it small and hidden,” he says with a laugh. “I want it to become known and a draw beyond Whistler. That’s always been the vision: to get it on the map to the point where people from the Lower Mainland, elsewhere in the province and beyond might want to come out to a destination-type event. We’ve got a ways to go on that, but that’s the idea.”

Inspired by the folk festivals and art fairs he attended on Vancouver Island, Vogler is moving closer every year to his original vision for Flag Stop: a showcase for both B.C. performers and Whistler’s criminally underrated arts scene, in a venue like no other.

“The vision I started with was original theatre on the floating stage, live music, and art. I’d say that has carried through. It’s just that it’s grown larger,” Vogler says.

Much larger. What began in 2012 as a one-night affair, with just a single band and Vogler’s own short play on the bill, has grown into two nights of live entertainment at The Point, Aug. 11 and 12, featuring a packed lineup of both local and regional performers. That’s on top of satellite events in the village, on Aug. 8 and 9, when organizers exported Flag Stop to Florence Petersen Park for two nights of live music, kids’ programming, food trucks, and live comedy by Laugh Out LIVE!.

The added events are one way Vogler can expose Flag Stop, and by extension The Point, to a wider audience.

“I do like reaching out to the village because that’s the centre of town, so you can get to a broader and larger number of people,” he says. “It’s beautiful forest on one side, the library and [Whistler] Museum on the other. It also slopes like a natural amphitheatre.”

But The Point and its unique floating stage remain the festival’s centrepiece. And if you need further proof of the event’s drawing power, just count how many former Whistler locals are returning to take part. You’ve got born-and-raised Whistlerite Sarah Ford coming all the way from the Big Apple to kick things off on Friday, Aug. 11 with a stand-up comedy set. Later that night, former local Emily Molloy is bringing her badass country band, Pistol Whip the Devil, which is making waves in the Vancouver scene after forming during the pandemic. Then, slated for Friday and Saturday nights, you’ve also got local playwright Karen McLeod’s stirring production set in the Sylvia Hotel, Yours Truly, Kay, hitting the stage, directed by a name that looms large over the resort’s performing arts scene: Angie Nolan, who left Whistler in 2020 to pursue her TV and film ambitions in Vancouver.

“I can check out anytime, but I can never leave,” Nolan says of Whistler. “I feel like having been so heavily involved in the arts for so long, pretty much two decades, and then having moved away during COVID times, it’s a big hole to fill. There are things that have opened up for me in Vancouver in that way, but nothing as deeply rooted. I just hold The Point so dear to my heart.”

The other play on tap for both Friday and Saturday nights at The Point is North Vancouver playwright John McGie’s Bloppera, a fast-paced farce inspired by the melodrama of daytime soap operas.

That will be followed, on Saturday night, with the stylings of Garret T. Willie, an Indigenous guitar prodigy hailing from B.C.’s Kingcome Inlet.

“He’s a guitar phenomenon. He’s really doing well, so it’s pretty exciting to have someone like him in the lineup,” Vogler says. “The local scene and the broader Western Canadian scene cross over a lot more than they used to.”

Tickets to either remaining night of the festival are $55 with dinner included, or $30 for the show only. Dinner tickets must be purchased in advance, at Show-only tickets can be bought online or at the door. The festivities kick off both evenings at 6 p.m.