The sun shone across a blue sky as ominous clouds scuttled across the horizon last Monday as the International Children’s Festival media launch kicked off the festivities.
Nearly 220 elementary school children from Ă©cole Father Jan School jammed St. Albert Place plaza sitting at tables surrounding the outdoor stage. Organizers had prepared a sampling of the upcoming entertainment from musical acts to acrobatics.
One act, Drums United, a group of seven drummers from Europe, Africa, South America and Asia took centre stage, promptly burst into flood of drumming filled with get-up and go.
The normally chatty students stopped talking and in some cases sat open-mouthed listening to the explosive beats.
Every year the festival books a couple of shows that for varying reasons get the buzz going. Drums United may be one of those shows predicts professional programming presenter Caitlyn North.
“We’ve had large groups in before, but this one is so interesting and they’ve captured so much excitement. It will be hard to keep the kids in their seats.”
Working quietly behind the scenes since last year’s festival, North is responsible for booking mainstage shows, roving artists, site activities and Toddler Town.
And this year there is a variety of shows from storytelling, ballet and puppetry to hip hop, physical theatre and musical theatre.
One act that also performed at the media launch is The Kerplunks from Gabriola Island. They spent 20 straight hours driving from the Strait of Georgia to St. Albert barely making it in time to unload equipment.
“It wasn’t too bad,” says upright bass player Dinah D. “We have banjos and ukuleles in the van and we sing to the driver. We love touring.”
The three-time Juno-nominated four-piece delivers a combo of smooth jazz, funk and swing skillfully blended with simple lyrics.
For The Kerplunks, performing in St. Albert means having a chance to play at a festival with an extensive reach. About 55,000 visitors are expected.
“The neat thing about the festival,” says vocalist Tina Jones, “is that we get to see a variety of acts and how kids respond to them, and it gives us inspiration for new material.”
While some adults assume children’s productions may lack sophistication and artistry, North points out that nothing could be further from the truth.
“I honestly think children’s theatre gets a bad rap. I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it last year and I’m speaking as an adult without children.”
She points to Drums United, 3rd Street Beat, ZooZoo and The Snail’s Shadow as “beautiful pieces with great entertainment value.”
In fact, this year tickets are selling slightly faster than last year. St. Albert Children’s Theatre production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, for instance, is completely sold out. And Eric Litwin, the New York Times best-selling author of Pete the Cat picture books, has only a few tickets left.
“The thing I love is that there are so many different activities. There are the main stage performances, the roving entertainers and the site activities where kids can get their hands and feet wet and create art – which is so much fun.”
The festival does not have a gate fee and everyone is welcome to attend. And if it rains, “We keep right on going,” adds North. “The festival doesn’t stop. We have a lot of indoor activities and we keep going.”
Parking is limited. Visitors are encouraged to use Park-and-Ride available at the St. Albert Centre Bus Exchange. Buses depart every 15 minutes between 7:45 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Friday, Park-and-Ride operates from 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.