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International Children's Festival of the Arts to return with in-person format

For the virus cautious, organizers added four virtual shows

The goofiness, the silliness, and the happy laughter of kids tearing around the International Children’s Festival of the Arts site will soon be a reality again.

And organizers are pumped for the festival's long-awaited, in-person return. 

But due to the unpredictability of COVID variants, the normal six-day festival has been shortened to four days, running Thursday, June 2 to Sunday, June 5. 

“The schools were our normal weekday audiences. Since it takes one year to plan a festival, and we were in the middle of COVID when we were planning, and we weren’t confident schools would be able to return ... we decided to shorten it,” said Andrea Gammon, children’s festival co-ordinator. 

She quickly points out the festival will look much as it has in previous years with an outdoor stage, roving acts, workshops, free activities, traditional Indigenous games, a toddler zone, and much-anticipated feature performances. 

“The major difference is that eight to 12 months ago, when we were planning the festival, we decided to keep as much outdoors as possible. At the time, indoor shows were problematic.” 

Main stage shows 

The festival’s six main stage performances, designed to inspire creativity and stimulate curiosity, bring back festival favourites Koo Koo Kanga Roo and St. Albert Children’s Theatre.  

Fresh faces include FLIP Fabrique’s Blizzard, Mikey Harris & the Ivan Flett Dancers, Jam Side Up with the Kif-Kif Sisters, and The Silver Starlets Aerial Acrobatic Show.  

Through Blizzard, Quebec circus troupe FLIP Fabrique takes the audience on a poetic and gentle journey across winter’s dark nights. It allows theatre-goers to experience winter’s wonders before the cold snow melts into spring. 

“They’re very theatrical. They do a good job of combining circus and storytelling. Lots of circuses either focus on acrobatics or physical comedy. As the storyline journeys through winter, it takes over everything and involves acrobatics. It’s a big troupe and it’s quite a spectacle. And it’s quite timely as we come through this crazy winter,” noted Gammon. 

Having last performed to sold-out crowds in 2019, Koo Koo Kanga Roo is back with their weird energy and wacky humour joking about cats, potty visits, self-help, and “brain break” dance videos. After ushering in “Slow Clap,” a hip-hop-centric sound with plenty of groovin’ bass lines and monster drumming, the duo became a You-Tube sensation. 

However, at the festival Koo Koo Kanga Roo will be armed with nothing more than an iPod, two microphones, one giant rainbow, and gold sneakers. In this stripped-down show, the high-energy duo will inspire kids to move and groove to infectious beats and catchy pop tunes. 

TikTok sensation Mikey “Dizzyfeet” Harris and his siblings Jacob and Cieanna are the Ivan Flett Dancers, a hybrid of traditional Métis Red River jigging and modern hip hop. In this cultural blend of dance styles, audiences can learn a new aspect of Indigenous culture while enjoying modern hip hop. 

If a charming cocktail of vaudeville, circus, magic, puppetry, and typical Francophone nuttiness is your jam, check out twin sisters Francoise and Josette. In the Kif-Kif Sisters' Jam Side Up, the twins perform freakish acrobatics such as juggling umbrellas, making French fries fly, and fighting with giant pink monsters. 

“They’re perfect for any age group and for our bilingual audience it’s an attractive show.” 

Main stage shows will be featured primarily in the city’s downtown core at the Arden Theatre and Millennium Park. This year, the only outlier is the newly refurbished City Arts Space in Campbell Park, home to St. Albert Children’s Theatre. It will showcase the troupe's annual production Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School

In this 60-minute musical, the spunky Junie B. is a self-appointed expert on all first-Grade things. But as she deals with writer’s block and gets into trouble, she begins to realize she still has lots to learn. 

“It’s upbeat, fun, and a great way to see the new City Arts Space.” 


Organizers are set to host eight workshops located at various locations, including Art Gallery of St. Albert, Celebration Garden, Cornerstone Hall, Heritage River Trail System, Musée Heritage Museum, and Visual Arts Studio in St. Albert Place. 

One of the festival’s most popular workshops, printmaking, always makes a great impression. Youngsters are taught to look for printmaking in signs, books, stickers, clothing, packaging, and even money. 

“It takes place in the Visual Arts Studio, and they use silk screening. It’s popular because they don’t always get to do it at school or at home,” said Gammon. 

The Art Gallery of St. Albert has also partnered with the festival to host Time to Fly, a 45-minute workshop that will give visitors an opportunity to experiment with mask making. 

This year — 2022 — is the Year of the Garden and Musée Heritage reintroduces Lois Hole through her family garden legacy. A second woman honoured is Dr. Anne Anderson, who sought to preserve the Cree language with a tactile series of objects from the Dr. Anne Anderson Métis Garden. It is also a way to learn more about pollinators and the important role they play. 

Spur-of-the-moment campfire stories have a way of bringing people together. In Théâtre des Petites Âmes’s Fire Stone Stories bilingual workshop, a leader starts a narrative. 

“The focus is on interactive storytelling. You start with an outline and then have students select items that will change the direction of the story.” 

Sangea Academy’s Drum Speak is back after their ultra-successful virtual performance at last year’s festival. 

“Their music is based on West African rhythms. There’s room for 45 participants and it works best with Grades 3 to 6. It’s an opportunity to learn West African rhythms and beats.” 

Fizzlewit’s Fairy Finding tours launches a treasure hunt in a magical fairy kingdom. Children must solve puzzles and search out clues to find Flutterby, a vanished fairy princess. And along the way, participants meet pocket fairies, toilet goblins, gnomes, and toenail fairies. 

“He leads a group through a fairy forest. There’s a whole narrative and a mystery to solve.” 

In Sound Lab, Doctor Dave Clarke, a mad genius of sound, gives out pointers in making sound effects and music to make movies and games come alive. 

“Kids hear sound effects recorded in movies, but they may not realize they are recorded separately. Dave Clarke shows you how movies are recorded and tracks overlaid over them.” 

Two Shumka dancers will also host a workshop showing attendees a few whirlwind moves. 

“This was planned quite early, but it’s very appropriate now with what’s happening in Ukraine. The two dancers will be teaching some of the basic techniques and simpler tricks. Visitors will also learn about background of the dances and costume,” Gammon said. 

Virtual shows 

Additionally, organizers have programmed four virtual shows for families unable to attend in-person festivities. Award-winning playwright and children’s writer Marty Chan returns, hosting Unlock the Vault. It is a virtual escape room where students need their wits and knowledge of math, science, and language arts to tackle challenges. 

In Super Agent Jon Le Bon, Montreal cartoonist Alex A. reveals the secrets of his comic book character Jon Le Bon. And American award-winning author Eric Litwin blends music and literacy together while strumming a guitar and doing interactive readings of Peter the Cat, The Nuts, and Groovy Joe

Lastly, in the Australian production Child Nation, children operate an Internet-connected device, allowing them to follow a series of prompts to physically explore and text along the way. The project gives child users access to magical secrets that may otherwise not be noticed. 

For families who prefer to stroll through the festival grounds, there are a series of free inclusive events and activities. They range from a self-guided kid-sized maze and airbrush tattoos to visiting stilt-walkers and magicians. 

Gammon added, “It’s such a place of joy. There’s something for everyone. Just to be outdoors and be joyful and laugh in the company of others is something we’ve been missing.” 

Tickets for main stage shows and workshops go on sale Wednesday, April 13. Main stage shows are $13 per ticket and workshops are $6 per ticket. 

“We are about 30 per cent sold out for school days (Thursday/Friday) although individual performances/workshops vary. Junie B. is virtually sold out and Blizzard is nearly 50 per cent sold and all the workshops are more than 50 per cent sold.” 

Prior to COVID, the festival budget reached about $1.3 million from several sources, including ticket sales, corporate sponsorship, individual donations, and government funding. With fewer festival days, Gammon stated the budget is two-thirds the listed amount. 

This year the City of St. Albert’s cash contribution to the festival is $178,000 as well as in-kind staff costs. Canadian Heritage donated $95,000 and Alberta Foundation for the Arts provided $38,000.  

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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