Can taking a child to see live theatre have a profound effect on them? Certainly, says Stephen Bourdeau, director for the International Children’s Festival of the Arts.
Last year he brought his young son Bennett, four, to see the Chinese water puppets.
“That was the one show that resonated with him,” said Bourdeau adding that when Bennett splashes in the tub, he still re-imagines the event playing with rubber duckies as stand-in water puppets.
“If the festival didn’t bring in these kinds of shows, children wouldn’t see or get these kinds of experiences.”
As the children’s festival celebrates its 35th anniversary in downtown St. Albert from May 31 to June 4, organizers continue to program main-stage shows that are not only fun, but also establish critical thinking, appreciation for the arts and tolerance for others.
To achieve these goals, organizers programmed eight main stage shows bringing together a creative cornucopia of acrobatics, juggling, storytelling, theatre, music, songs and magic.
Following a tradition of introducing diverse cultures, the festivities salute Iraq, the Netherlands, Guinea, the United States, Canada and Quebec.
Budgeted at $1.3 million, the entire festival is programmed around the 2016 theme – The Butterfly Effect.
“It reflects how the movement of one butterfly can forever change the world by the energy it creates when flapping its wings. We take that to heart by what we do at the festival,” says programming presenter Caitlyn North.
With that in mind, below is a list of the main stage featured performances that are geared to the whole family.
Book of Ashes
Theatre of the New Heart and The Cookie Theatre
Governor-General Award winning playwright Emil Sher’s world premiere of the Book of Ashes is the story of young boy, who along with Alia Muhammad Baker, an Iraqi librarian, saves 30,000 books from destruction as troops storm Basra.
“We workshopped it for two years. This year it’s the fully realized production and we’re really excited to show it,” said North.
“Although the story took place in 2003, it is still current. There is still conflict in our times and here you see the human element.”
Freckleface Strawberry, the Musical
St. Albert Children’s Theatre
If Julianne Moore’s career as an Academy Award winning actress ever nosedives, she can always rely on her Freckleface book series. Based on Moore’s own experiences, it is the tale of a young girl who tries everything to get rid of her freckles.
“The general message is that you can overcome obstacles and that you can learn to be comfortable in your own skin and not be afraid to be different.”
Love That Dog
Based on the book by award-winning author Sharon Creech, this heart-warming tale is the story of a boy who discovers a love of poetry with the help of a teacher, a writer, a pencil and a dog.
“It’s a seamless blend of puppetry, music, theatre and multi-media. At first he can’t stand poetry, but in the end, he develops a love of poetry. Poetry gets a bad rap because it can be complicated and hard to write. But I think this is a very charming show.”
De Temps Antan
This traditional folk music trio takes listeners onto a flight of fancy inspired by QuĂ©bĂ©cois culture and history. A dynamic blend of fiddle, accordion, harmonica, guitar, bouzouki and foot percussion, the trio has earned a reputation of boundless energy and infectious flair.
“They’re such a fantastic group and do such a great job of paying homage to Quebec’s music history.”
The Gizmo Guys
A regional favourite, Allan Jacobs and Barrett Felker are accomplished clowns tossing, juggling, performing slapstick and pushing silliness to a new height.
“They are a consummate variety act. What they do is true art, but it’s much more accessible for young audiences as opposed to older kids.”
Magician Sheldon Casavant performed at the festival on several occasions as a roving performer and the outdoor stage.
He returns as a featured act creating illusion and sleight of hand tricks making items disappear and reappear and bringing inanimate objects to life.
“Sheldon does spectacular sleight of hand. What is fun is that he’s really engaging. He’s great about including kids in his show. They don’t just sit and watch. They become part of the performance.”
Afrique en Cirque
An African/QuĂ©bĂ©cois circus troupe, Afrique en Cirque introduces the vibrant energy of Guinea’s culture. The 11 performing acrobats, dancers and musicians blend traditional drumming, kora and singing with fiery acrobatics, innovative dancing and physical storytelling.
“It’s not a traditional circus show, but it’s a beautiful blend of African heritage. They are incredible. Without the support of apparatus, they tumble, balance and use their own strength to support each other.”
There’s not much to say about Fred Penner that hasn’t already been said.
“He’s so beloved by everyone whether it’s people my age, my parents’ age or kids. We grew up with him and kids are easily engaged because his goings on are so funny and the melodies are so easy to remember.”
After a year of working out festival logistics, there’s a genuine buzz starting to flow from command headquarters at St. Albert cultural services.
North concludes by saying, “We are privileged to offer such a variety of performances from different regions across Canada and from different communities all over the world. It’s a one-of-a-kind festival that celebrates children. It’s a magical time of the year and we encourage people to attend.”
Tickets for main stage shows are $11. Festival finale tickets are $25.
A $20 best value pass for Friday evening after 2:30 p.m. and all day Saturday only includes one feature performance, unlimited access to all site activities, Toddler Town, professional face painting and one bag of popcorn.
Tickets are available on a first-come-first-serve basis starting Wednesday, April 6.
Book of Ashes, Freckleface Strawberry, Love That Dog, De Temps Antan, The Gizmo Guys, Magician Sheldon Casavant, Afrique en Cirque and Fred Penner
International Children’s Festival of the Arts
May 31 to June 4
Downtown St. Albert
Tickets go on sale Wednesday, April 6. Call 780-459-1542 or online at ticketmaster.ca