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Michael Harrison headlines 2024 Whistler Children’s Fest

The ventriloquist from Victoria has performed everywhere from "America’s Got Talent" to the Disney Cruise Line

Victoria Day long weekend will mark another chapter in Whistler’s longest-running event: the Whistler Children’s Festival (WCF). Various artisans and free activities will light up village streets, while the Maury Young Arts Centre is set to host six memorable performances and a dozen creative workshops. 

“Every year, it's a thrill that this happens,” says Arts Whistler executive director Maureen Douglas. “Its consistency and longevity should be a point of pride for the whole community.” 

One of the biggest names this year is ventriloquist and comedian Michael Harrison. 

Some parents may remember Harrison from Season 3 of America’s Got Talent, while other families might have seen him with the Disney Cruise Line, where he’s helmed more than 3,500 shows in 20 years. The Victoria, B.C. native’s eyebrow-raising resume also includes appearances at the Canadian National Exhibition, the Calgary Stampede, the Alaska State Fair as well as the Royal Caribbean, Princess, Crystal and Norwegian cruise lines. 

Harrison has never performed in Whistler before—though he’s previously gone skiing here on his own time—and can’t wait to return. 

“I've always enjoyed my time in Whistler and I've known of the Children's Festival for quite a few years,” he says. “When I had the opportunity handed to me to come perform this year, I was over the moon. It's a great excuse to come back to Whistler, experience everything it has to offer, and get to share my talents with the kids and families.”

Real escapism

Harrison has carried on something of a family tradition during his career. His great grandfather, Frank Merryfield, was a flyweight boxer-turned all-around entertainer: ventriloquism, vaudeville magic, trick bicycle riding, you name it. Harrison himself dabbled in various performing arts as a younger man but consistently found his heart pulled in one specific direction. 

“Ventriloquism always intrigued me the most,” he explains. “I feel there's a real escapism in it when you can create a character that instantly comes to life. The audience tends to forget you're a ventriloquist within seconds and fall for the character.”

After twice being rejected for a broadcasting degree, Harrison decided to break into show business independently. His talent level, compared with his work ethic and natural disposition to thrive on stage, proved to be a winning formula—and America’s Got Talent was a valuable launch pad for his portfolio. 

“You can spend thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, websites and videos, but there’s nothing like international recognition on television and the way things go viral,” says Harrison. “The experience of being on a major TV production—seeing how it all comes together behind the scenes—was very interesting as well. Plus, being among entertainers of all sorts is always fun.” 

Having been self-employed his whole life, Harrison has consistently found employment, paid his bills and raised his kids. It’s not easy to make it in show biz, but he’s done so, and he considers the frequent flier miles a huge bonus.

“Most people save up for months and years to go on dream vacations, and I was just so fortunate that with this job came the opportunity to see amazing places that I may have never been to otherwise,” he says.

‘Nobody’s going to leave disappointed’

Much like a good Disney or Pixar film, Harrison’s gigs feature two layers of comedy: one for the youngsters and another for their parents. He’s never pigeon-holed himself as just a kiddie entertainer, and he’s versatile enough to appeal to viewers of all demographics. 

At the same time, he appreciates the unique way children can suspend their disbelief. 

“I love performing for all sorts of audiences, but there's something about entertaining kids,” he remarks. “They will very easily let you take them and escape into a reality that as adults, we tend to not visit as much. I have a tennis ball that I make talk, and the kids relate to it and react like it's real. There's something magical about that which I could never really fully explain.” 

The WCF runs from May 17 to 19, and other items to keep in mind include Friday afternoon’s Street Party (featuring free family-oriented activities), Rain City Improv workshops and Will’s Jams on Saturday, and three-time Juno nominee Ginalina on Sunday. It’s a diverse lineup to reflect an increasingly diverse community. 

“We’ve seen an increase in multicultural families participating,” Douglas notes. “Kids from different ethnicities can see their culture reflected back at them, but we're also exposing them to a whole array of entertainment, some of which is much more rooted in North American tradition.” 

Adds Harrison: “That's the great thing about the Whistler Children's Festival—there's such a variety. Nobody's going to leave disappointed, that's for sure.” 

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