The WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years, on this week and long weekend, is a rare opportunity for children ages 0-5 to get up close and personal with international theatre geared just for them. The numerous performances are paired with workshops and other artistic explorations, to give our youngest a chance to get excited about the beauty and creativity the world has to offer.
The festival is inclusive and open to all; Artistic Director Lynda Hill says, “through its fundraising activities and funding from the Arts Department of the TDSB, The Festival offers free tickets to children in daycares and kindergartens or through community programs to individuals who would not otherwise have the means to attend.” We asked Hill and Associate Producer Mariel Marshall a few questions about what kids, their parents, and their loved ones can expect from the festival.
Can you briefly describe the festival and how it was inspired?
Marshall: Out of a passionate belief that children in their early years of development should be exposed to aesthetically-rich and stimulating arts artistic experiences, Lynda Hill, Artistic & Executive Director of Theatre Direct conceived the WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years. The festival launched in 2014, and now returns for its second instalment with an exciting line-up of events and performances from internationally celebrated artists. From May 16 – 23, 2015, the WeeFestival will feature productions by acclaimed companies specializing in theatre for the very young from Belgium, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Québec, Manitoba and Ontario.
Hill: Socrates said “Wisdom begins in Wonder” and there are no two forces more capable of invoking wonder in a child than art and nature. Indeed, the wonder and mystery of nature is the central theme for our second edition of the WeeFestival. Stories flowing from a simple piece of wood, forest creatures on epic journeys, a nest filled with song, memories traced in sand, or dreams painted with light, this festival is a week celebrating beautiful art inspired by nature created especially for the very young. We can’t wait to share these theatrical gems with the very youngest of our audiences!
What can people expect to see?
The 2016 WeeFestival features two music-theatre performances for babies and toddlers with the immersive production Hup from the pioneering company Starcatchers (Scotland), and the enchanting Nest from Theater de Spiegel (Belgium).
Returning to the festival with new productions after the success of their performances in 2014 are La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi (Italy) and Helios Theatre (Germany). Helios offers two distinct shows, Traces, an exploration of memory through sand, sights, and sound, and Woodbeat, an epic tale about a brave little creature overcoming large obstacles with puppetry and music. La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi (Italy), brings a beautiful dance/theatre work exploring the magic of light with Under a Different Light, featured for a special evening performance at 7pm on May 17th.
The festival is proud to feature Urban Indigenous Theatre (Manitoba), a dynamic new company creating and performing work for young people that celebrates First Nations culture with the production of Jumping Mouse. This adaptation of a traditional legend promotes the values of friendship, courage, and the rewards of persistence.
The 2016 WeeFestival sustains its commitment to strengthening ties with its Québec-based counterparts by featuring two companies from la belle province. Isabelle Payant of Le Théâtre des Petites Âmes brings her beautiful tale of Pekka, a little turtle on a big journey to audiences of 2-4 years old, while the artists of Le Chemin qui Marche weave together two stories told through music and puppetry with Tree/Arbre & Inuksuk. Shows by both of these companies will be performed in French or English.
Rounding out the line-up of feature productions is Table Top Tales, a new family show from the Toronto-based Snack Music Collective. In this fun-filled romp into the world of family stories, children and parents are invited to share their stories which are then brought to life through puppetry and an original musical score.
Are there any festival highlights you’re particularly excited about? What non-theatre events support the plays?
In addition to engaging theatre productions, the festival will feature the Wonder Garden, a playful interactive installation open for young children and their parents throughout the festival in the Theatre Centre’s Incubator. Designed by Andy Miller and inspired by the WeeFestival artwork created by Kinnon Elliot, the Garden will offer a range of multi-disciplinary programming for little ones including Cozy Concerts by Toronto’s best musicians at naptime and bedtime, storytelling and readings from notable Toronto theatre and literary artists, and parenting-focused talks.
The WeeFestival is proud to have Alliance Française as a program partner for Animez Vous!, a unique creative movement workshop for kindergarten students inspired by animation. Programmed especially for the WeeFestival with the themes of nature, art, and wonder, we are pleased to offer this fun and interactive workshop for children and their teachers.
In partnership with the Koffler Centre, the WeeFestival presents Walk, Stop, and Wonder, a photography project that celebrates the little things that capture the attention of children. Photographs from the project will be displayed in the Gallery of the Theatre Centre throughout the festival.
WeeFestival is pleased to have the participation of The Royal Conservatory of Music with Smart Start workshops throughout the week for parents and children.
The 2016 WeeFestival Family Day will close May 23rd with a full day of music, dance, and literary performances and activities for families at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.
What is the value of introducing young children to theatre?
Our work is driven by a belief that young people deserve truth not diversion, that they have a right to meaningful cultural content and experiences. We view our audience as thinking, feeling, complex individuals-not a market, not future audiences, but emerging citizens that demands relevant theatre that engages all their faculties, feelings and intellect.
Our audience inspires us to tackle big questions in the same way children and youth ask them: honestly, directly, and, courageously.
- The WeeFestival runs May 16-23 at various locations throughout the city.
- Tickets range from free-$14 and can be purchased online.
Promotional graphic provided by the company