News Column

Pittsburgh International Children's Festival brings performers from around the world

May 9, 2013


May 09--A pop-up village of arts, crafts and international culture will come to life in Oakland when the 27th annual Pittsburgh International Children's Festival begins on May 15.

The five-day festival will enliven Schenley Plaza and nearby University of Pittsburgh theaters with performances and artwork from the United States and around the globe, including Australia, Russia, Ireland and the UK.

"The 27th annual Pittsburgh International Children's Festival presents a wide variety of unique performances and is a way for people to see many shows back-to-back or over the span of a few days," says Pamela K. Lieberman, manager of children's theater programming with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and executive director of Pittsburgh International Children's Theater. "It highlights a combination of art forms that are inspiring, not only for children, but for adults as well."

The festival features an eclectic selection of events and activities -- many of which are free.

Last year, more than 30,000 children and adults attended. They created art projects to take home, listened to storytellers, tried out some dance moves and had an opportunity to experience performances by artists from around the globe.

Lieberman expects that this year's festival will be no different.

"We're working with a multitude of local artists across the region to create different hands-on opportunities," Lieberman says.

Visitors will be able to engage in hands-on craft projects, such as creating an animal hat to wear home, or engage their feet while creating an installation tap dance piece with Pittsburgh performer Jeremy Czarniak.

Festivalgoers also can help create a group installation piece "The Cove of Happy Thoughts" that encourages children to use their talents and imagination to decorate the nursery from "Peter Pan" with happy items and happy thoughts.

Among this year's ticketed events are two popular perfomance groups making return appearances:

--"Aga-Boom," which played to sold out audiences last year, once again will be creating messy fun with toilet paper and confetti as three professional clowns engage in a frenzy of silliness.

"It has evolved. But, basically, it's the same show," Lieberman says. "Even people who don't like clowns love these guys."

--Architects of Air from Nottingham, England, will have a a brand-new luminarium, Exxopolis, created by artist Alan Parkinson. The inflatable nylon structure will cover almost half of a football field and soar three stories high. Those who enter will find themselves walking through a soothing but unconventional environment filled with color, music and light.

Parkinson studied stained-glass windows all over England before creating the 10 glowing, patterned panels illuminated from the outside by natural daylight.

A new addition to this year's festival is a free program of short films that were winners at the New York International Children's Film Festival, Kid Flix Mix 2012.

Aimed at ages 4 to 8, they vary in length from one minute to 26 minutes, which means you can slip into the program for a quick look, or watch the entire program that runs about an hour.

Also new is the Spark Tent, which is hosting learning and creativity projects to help children develop hands-on skills and digital literacy.

Approximately half of the festival's attendees engage in the free events and activities without experiencing any of the ticketed events.

They don't know what they're missing, says Lieberman, who works to program events suitable to ages as young as 1, as well as older children and the adults who accompany them.

Tickets are relatively affordable -- $8 if you buy one show, $7 each if you purchase two shows and $6 each if you go for three shows.

In addition to "Aga Boom" and Exxopolis, Lieberman is particularly enthusiastic about "Egg and Spoon" for those 5 and younger. "It's a beautiful piece ... filled with different surprises and smells," Lieberman says.

She's also really excited about "Dinosaur Petting Zoo," which has dinosaur puppets interacting with and responding to kids age 5 and older. "It's realism with a sense of Australian humor," Lieberman says. "It's not scary. It's both funny and informative"

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

Featured performances

"Dinosaur Petting Zoo" by Erth Visual & Physical Inc., from Australia, for age 5 and older, Bellefield Hall Auditorium. Performances: 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. May 15 and 16; 9:45 a.m., 12:45 and 6 p.m. May 17; 11 a.m., 2 and 5 p.m. May 18; and 11 a.m., 2 and 4:30 p.m. May 19

Erth's Dinosaur Zoo transports you to the Australian outback, where a rugged ranger and trusty dino keeper is in charge of a menagerie of Mesozoic monsters from around the world. The whimsical but life-like puppets interact with the audience for an intimate, authentic encounter.

"Aga-Boom" by 1 to 1 Entertainment, from Russia and the United States, for age 3 and older, Charity Randall Theatre. Performances: 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 17; 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. May 18; 9:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. May 19

Three former stars of Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Brothers and the Moscow Circus form the clown clean-up crew with lots of silliness and physical comedy that creates a live-action cartoon, exploding with sophisticated slapstick, outlandish chases and a most chaotic finale.

"African Pourquoi Tales" by Charlotte Blake Alston from the United States, ages 5-10, Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. Performances: 11:30 a.m. May 15; 9:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. May 16; 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. May 17; 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. May 18; 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. May 19

"Pourquoi" is French for "why." Alston's stories from African and African-American oral traditions are designed not just to entertain but to inspire questions that go beyond "Why?" to "What will Turtle do next?" or "What would I do?"

"Egg and Spoon" by Lyngo Theatre from the United Kingdom, ages 1-5, Studio Theatre. Performances: 9:45 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. May 15 and 16; 9:45 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. May 17; 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. May 18; 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. May 19

Designed to entertain the youngest festivalgoers, this multisensory, interactive celebration of nature takes youngsters from summer to winter to spring with peek-a-boo puddles, fluffy snowflakes, blowing leaves, bursting cherry blossoms and a birdie egg that just might hatch.

Exxopolis by Architects of Air from Nottingham, United Kingdom, all ages, Mazeroski Field. Entry every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 15 and 16 and 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. May 17 through 19

Artist Alan Parkinson is back for the third consecutive year with a new inflatable designed to captivate adults and children. The interior of blues and reds and purples has large, vaulted ceilings reaching up into skylike structural displays lit by natural light. Spanning the area of half a football field and reaching the height of a three-story house, Exxopolis with its domes and 10 stained-glass panels inspires contemplation and appreciation.

"The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly" by Theatre Lovett, from Ireland, age 7 and up, Charity Randall Theatre. Performances: 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. May 15 and 16; 9:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. May 17; 12:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. May 18 and 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. May 19

In Louis Lovett's tale of love and courage, Peggy sings with the voice of an angel -- a grossly unfortunate angel, who can't sing at all. The adventure crosses snowy lands and wild seas as Peggy desperately tries to save the day and finds the courage to sing gloriously on- or off-key.

A free program of film shorts for children will be screened in the auditorium of the Frick Fine Arts Building. Times: 9 a.m.-10:30 a.m. and 1-2 p.m. May 14; 1-2 p.m. May 15; 11 a.m.-noon and 2-6 p.m. May 16; 9-10 a.m., 12:30-1:30 p.m. and 3:30-6 p.m. May 17; 9-10 a.m. and 12:30-1:30 p.m. May 18

Tips for visitors

--Before setting out, check out the map to learn where to park and the locations of theaters. In addition to garages behind the Carnegie Museums and beneath the lawn at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, parking can be found on many streets surrounding the festival sites.

--Be aware that the street between Forbes Avenue and the Frick Fine Arts Building will be closed to traffic to make room for food booths.

--Stop at the on-site box office on Forbes Avenue across from the entrance to the Stephen Foster Memorial. That's the place to purchase tickets and pick up a locator map to help you navigate through the festival grounds and to find theaters.

--Some shows may sell out in advance. To avoid disappointment and save time, check out the show options online or in a brochure and purchase tickets before your arrive.

--Make sure you leave time to travel between one performance and the next.

--Ticketed performances are indoors and will perform rain or shine. Not all outdoor activities and performances have sheltered spaces for groups and may be cancelled because of inclement weather. If you want to wait out a rain shower, use the time to visit the Carnegie Library or to take a tour of the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning ($2; $1 for children and free for 8 and younger)

--It's a festival, so food will be available. In addition to the festival's food court, food kiosks in Schenley Plaza offer lots of casual dining options. Most vendors are cash-only. ATM machines can be found nearby on Forbes Avenue.

If you're looking for sit-down options, The Porch is open in Schenley Plaza. Alternately, head for South Craig Street, which intersects with Forbes Avenue at the far end of the Carnegie Museum of Art, or trot down Forbes Avenue to investigate the dining options there.

--Portable toilets and a baby-changing station can be found near the lunch area. Bathrooms also are located inside the Carnegie Library, Stephen Foster Memorial, the Cathedral of Learning, Bellefield Hall and in Schenley Plaza.


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