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International Children's Festival returns to St. Albert

Pop-up carnival brings magic, wonder to young audiences

It’s the last week of May and the school year is nearly finished. It’s time to enjoy the sun, fresh air and get energized at the International Children’s Festival of the Arts.

Easily accessible, the pop-up carnival is located at St. Albert Place and extends onto the grassy banks of the Sturgeon River and Lions Park. 

Starting May 30 and running to June 2, it is four full days of magic, fun, crafts, music, dance, theatre, imagination and lots of sparkle. For 43 years, the festival has produced incredible stories and moments of wonder. Yet every year, the performances are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

What has made this festival a major success year-after-year are the organizers and volunteers. They put a great deal of thought and effort into turning what would ordinarily be a blank patch of land into a fairyland of magic and joy.  

This year, seven children’s main-stage shows are planned with an emphasis on culture, diversity, fun and togetherness. The major stage shows take place in the Arden Theatre, St. Albert Public Library’s Forsythe Hall, St. Albert Curling Club and St. Albert Community Hall. 

St. Albert Children’s Theatre returns bringing with it the Broadway hit Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical. Directed by Janice Flower, the plot revolves around eight-year-old Lily Polkadot, who just moved to the all-square small town of Rockway. 

As a polka dot, it’s hard to find acceptance in a square town. The result is daily bullying and segregated drinking fountains. But then she meets Sky, a shy square boy who is curious about polka dots and soon they become pals. 

“This musical sends out a powerful message. The music is very poppy, and it is a great lesson in friendship, and a reminder that our differences are to be appreciated,” said Elliott Garnier, professional programming presenter. 

Brian and Neil, the hopping duo forming Koo Koo Kanga Roo, are back with their one-of-a-kind comedic dance party songs. International celebrities with the kid crowd, they have toured the world amassing a legion of young fans who readily identify with their bouncy hip-hop music. 

“The best way to describe them is the Beastie Boys meet Sesame Street," Garnier said. "Their songs are hilarious and things I’d never think about. I never thought you could make a song out of barbecue sauce and honey mustard.” 

New to the festival, Jay and Will Grimmz of Experiential Theatre Company are a couple of fable dance-pop sensations who use hip hop to put a modern spin on The Brothers Grimm stories. The cast’s six artists dance with swagger and there are additional elements of puppetry. 

“They take fairy tales and make them relevant to what kids experience today. Snow White and the Queen have an argument on Instagram. Rapunzel encourages kids to let their hair down and reminds kids about being accountable and being yourself,” Garnier said.

Lightwire Theatre returns with Dino-Light a 45-minute “glow-in-the-dark puppetry” show. “Each character in the Dino-Light story is built from a framework of struts and joints covered with black cloth and lined with electroluminescent wire. The wire is attached to a battery pack that actors wear and operate, and the wire glows when current is run through it.” 

The plot is easy to follow. A famous scientist with magic powers brings a friendly dinosaur to life. When the dinosaur wanders from home, he stumbles upon a wonderful world of glow-in-the dark creatures. 

“It’s almost like watching a silent movie. Once the dinosaur is brought to life, he meets an ostrich, fish, birds and tortoise. There’s even a light-sabre battle between two dinosaurs. It has themes of love and friendship, and it's such a visually stunning musical piece.” 

James Reardom of Brú Theatre from Gallway, Ireland has created The Libravian. The one-man show focuses on Lynn, a shy but quirky librarian who grew up in a circus. As a librarian, Lynn is expected to give public tours, but has a fear of speaking in public. 

“In the show, Lynn tells stories about growing up in the circus and she reads stories from Irish authors. The stories are about bullying and facing your fears.  The stories are whimsical and light, and I hope it inspires kids to take risks.”  

Foolish Operation’s Tricoter (means knitting in French) is targeted to babies and toddlers up to age two and will be set in St. Albert Public Library. 

“It recreates the spirit of the knitting circle. Everyone is seated in a circle. Just off to the side is a violinist providing the soundtrack. Julie (a dancer) weaves in and out and integrates yarn in the dance. It’s a nostalgic piece similar to watching grandma knit, and it creates moments of wonder.” 

Bighetty & Bighetty are four brothers and their Cree-speaking puppets who show a joyful side of Indigenous life. 

“They grew up watching puppets on Sesame Street. They looked for Indigenous puppets, but didn’t find them. So, they made four puppets that reflect their own personas — Marcel, Baptiste, Michel and The Chief,” said Garnier. 

“The puppets speak in English and Cree. And they’re treated like rock stars in Northern communities. The brothers were also the subject of a CBC documentary. Bighetty & Bighetty is very improvisational with crowd participation, skits, a singalong and silliness. There are conversations about bullying and being in touch with your emotions. And it’s an ingenious way to engage kids in the Cree language.” 

Festival organizers are also bringing back Festival After Hours, an adults-only evening at The Thirsty Rooster on Sunday, June 2. It will be an evening of split performances between Ingrid Hansen of Snafu Dance and Washboard Hank, a backwoods philosopher who plays banjo, guitar, kazoo, dobro, mandolin and Stradovarious washboard. 

Public tickets for mainstage shows are $18.25 and Festival After Hours tickets are $20. They go on sale April 2 and are available online at or at Arden box office, 780-459-1542. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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