Children’s Fest gets off to an energetic start

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It is Tuesday morning. The 35th International Children’s Festival of the Arts is open for business.

Yellow school buses pull up. A classroom of short-legged kids jump, leap and step gingerly off the bus while teachers marshal them in an orderly fashion.

But this is a children’s festival – their day and they plan to have fun.

There is a ton of construction going on in downtown St. Albert. Sidewalks swerve in odd directions and shortcuts are fenced off.

But those small inconveniences only add to the adrenalin rush.

A miniature town of white tents has mushroomed along St. Anne Street, down the banks of the Sturgeon River and into Lions Park.

The bright sunlight outside only makes the tents’ interiors seem darker. Yet surprisingly it adds mystery and excitement to an already boisterous day.

The excited giggles and fast-paced chatter of thousands of children blends readily with the energy of roving artists and outdoor stage performances.

Inside, professional mainstage shows deliver a range of acts from good old-fashioned foot-stomping music to more high-tech video theatre.

Below is a sample. All shows run until Saturday. Tickets are $11 and are available at 780-459-1542 or at the Arden box office, or at ticketmaster.ca.

Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical

St. Albert Children’s Theatre

CN Stage: St. Albert Curling Club

Recommended ages: six and older

Although St. Albert Children’s Theatre production is the only non-professional mainstage festival production, it is consistently one of the most popular. Much of the magic lies in kids performing for kids.

SACT’s hot streak once again sizzles with Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical based on the best selling book series by celebrity actress Julianne Moore.

In the opening number we meet the spunky seven-year-old Freckleface Strawberry, and her gang of friends representing every school stereotype – the jock, the geeky genius, the boy-crazy girl, etc.

Freckleface is dotted with freckles and she’s self-conscious about them. After friends tease her, she tries to cream her freckles away and bleach them with lemon juice. Finally she puts a mask on her face. This girl is desperate to be someone else.

In the course of the 65-minute show, songwriter Gary Gupper offers a wide spectrum of songs. Be Yourself is a bit blunt in its message, however I Can Be Anything is an infectious song and dance showstopper.

A couple of other standouts are Kid in the Mask, a jazzy tune with an odd sci-fi sound effect and Creative Minds, a rambunctious rap.

There’s even a dream sequence with a ’30s era gangster quartet of dancing freckles wanting to know why she plans to “rub us out.”

The play successfully tells its story by gently nudging people to realize beauty lies within, not in the mirror. SACT has whipped up a delightful confection full of tried and true values – something for kids of every age.

Love That Dog

Theatergroep Kwatta

CN Stage: St. Albert Curling Club

Recommended ages: eight and older

Canadian audiences are used to seeing children’s theatre based on a few traditional cornerstones. Keep it light. Attention spans are short. Add lots of colour, action and noise.

The Netherlands Theatergroep Kwatta takes a slightly more cerebral approach. In their North American touring show Love That Dog, the material remains light.

However, there are serious undertones in the content and the storyline does not shy away from asking tough questions about difficult issues.

In Love That Dog, Kwatta skilfully blends traditional music, song, dance and puppetry with miniatures and high-tech visuals and film. A strategically placed camera projects live action shots on a screen.

Adapted from the Sharon Creech novel, the plot is simple. Jack is OK with school. But he hates writing poetry. It’s for girls. Besides, writing poetry gives him a headache.

The entire play takes place in his class during a school calendar year from September to May. His teacher Miss Stretchberry, has a flip calendar on her desk. As she hands out weekly assignments, she turns over calendar dates.

Jack, meanwhile, breaks the fourth wall and commiserates over every poetry assignment. It quickly becomes apparent that the dates signify his personal diary with matching words appearing on the screen to reveal his thoughts.

As the seasons pass, Jack slowly divulges an anxiety. His dog Sky was killed by a speeding car and it has affected him more than he displays. Sky’s death scene, performed with puppetry, is startling for sure.

The human heart works in different ways, but the loss of a pet is a hurt many children deal with and this show brings it out in the open.

However, the main thrust is that Jack comes to enjoy working with words. As his skills as a wordsmith develop, so does his inner confidence.

Love That Dog is a sophisticated, fascinating production on numerous levels and provokes thought and discussion. To obtain the most mileage from this show, it is recommended that children eight and older attend.

De Temps Antan

Save-On-Foods Arden Theatre Stage

Recommended ages: six and older

The music of French Canadian De Temps Antan has an unquestionable joie-de-vivre, a dynamic energy that comes from a tic-a-tac, tic-a-tac form of clogging, syncopated fiddle bowing, a rhythmic guitar and pumping button accordion.

This is a kids’ concert and the powerhouse trio skip their familiar rowdy drinking songs or eerie ancient ballads from medieval France.

Right from the first tune, De Temps Antan held audiences in the grip of their palm with powerhouse crescendos and arrangements that made them sound like a full band.

Paralleling the trio’s lively, infectious tunes was sustained hand clapping followed by heavy foot stomping of hundreds of fans. It was an electric concert that never let up for 45 minutes.

Sliding an educational component in between the instrumentals, André Brunet showcased his four-string fiddle. Pierre-Luc Dupuis spoke about his harmonica and accordion while éric Beaudry lovingly cradled his flat-back bouzouki.

A beautifully balanced concert with just the right mix of music and patter, De Temp Antan is the number to dial for invigorating entertainment.

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.