Edmonton Economic Development Corporation

Edmonton Economic Development Corporation

April 18, 2012 14:01 ET

Edmonton Economic Development Corporation- Much More Than Sock Puppets: International Children's Festival

EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - April 18, 2012) - Theatre is to Edmonton what music is to Austin.

A million people live in Edmonton but the interplay between artist and audience makes the city seem much larger, especially when a festival is about to launch. Thirty years ago, there were two big theatre festivals in the city: a wild, avant-garde, occasionally controversial festival on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River: the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.

And on the other side of the river something just as wild, just as avant-garde, just as controversial: only with the occasional crying baby in the audience. The Northern Alberta International Children's Festival was launched by the Citadel Theatre, the largest theatre complex in western Canada, in downtown Edmonton.

It lasted 18 years at the intersection of office towers, Chinatown, and the city's largest convention centre. Until someone had another idea.

What about moving the children's festival to the historic community of St. Albert, to the north and west of Edmonton?

There was plenty of room in the Arden Theatre, designed by one of North America's most acclaimed architects, Alberta-born Douglas Cardinal. There was a mini-forest for picnics, on the banks of the mighty Sturgeon River. The festival could make and mold downtown St. Albert, over its five-day run every spring, paint it with sidewalk chalk and add a dose of urban spontaneity and clownery to one of Canada's safest, cleanest, wealthiest and most pristine suburban cities.

In downtown Edmonton, a children's festival would be a small splash of delight. In St. Albert, where the total population is just over 60,000, an infusion of 55,000 children and parents over five days feels like an explosion.

Every year, children's theatre artists from around the world come to five indoor and outdoor stages in the quaint, frontier-style downtown of St. Albert. Off the stages, there are street performers, storytellers, and enough crafts to cover the walls of every fridge in Edmonton.

This year, mainstage performers are from Russia, Ukraine, Iceland, Australia, the United States and, of course, Canada. Latin America, Africa and Asia have also brought magical work to downtown St. Albert in the last few years. The 30th anniversary edition, in 2011, was run by 147 performers from around the world, 850 volunteers from St. Albert and kids from all over Alberta.

As we've seen with juvenile fiction in recent years, some of the most surprising and beautiful theatre for adult audiences happens to have been written for teenagers. Shows that launch in St. Albert will end up in Edinburgh, Avignon and New York City.

St. Albert is more than a bedroom community. It was founded in 1861 by Catholic Missionary Father Albert Lacombe, who was hunting for good soil and a fine supply of fresh water and timber. Fort Edmonton wasn't far, and the Sturgeon River valley was on the trade route for First Nations people.

The city has a centre, and a soul, and it resides along the river - set in among the low-slung, renovated old time storefronts that now house restaurants, cafés, galleries and boutiques. St. Albert is a trilingual community thanks to its First Nations, francophone and Métis roots; you'll see English, French and Cree on downtown signs.

The 31st annual International Children's Festival, which runs May 29 to June 2, revolves around the theme of the giant red button - dare we press it? - which is reassuringly funny now that the Cold War has mostly ended. Dimitri Bogatirev, who grew up in Russia and ended up in Quebec's Cirque du Soleil, is presenting the red-button-centric, enormous and decidedly absurd AGA-BOOM to this year's festival.

"A lot of festivals are international, but that aspect of this festival is crucial," says Liz Nicholls, theatre critic for the Edmonton Journal. "They do a lovely job of bringing in work from places where children's theatre is not the B-team: Europe, Quebec, Latin America. And this inspires better and braver work from local playwrights."

There will be puppets, music, more clowns, First Nations and Métis storytelling and crafts, and a varied cast of street performers to entice children out of their school-and-soccer routine and into the realm of the imagination.

Contact Information

  • Edmonton Economic Development Corporation
    Renee Worrell
    Communications Manager External Relations