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Jeff Heuchert photo

Jeff Heuchert photo

Ron Dodson, artistic director for the 14th World Festival of Children's Theatre, which will be held in Stratford in June 2016, announces preliminary plans for the 10-day celebration at a launch event Monday at the University of Waterloo Stratford campus.

Best in children’s theatre coming in June 2016

Jeff Heuchert editor@stratfordgazette.com

World-class theatre for a younger audience will be the focus in Stratford in June 2016.

The 14th World Festival of Children’s Theatre, a prestigious multi-national showcase produced by the International Amateur Theatre Association, will bring up to 500 young performers from as many as 22 countries to Stratford for 10 days of performances, workshops, and academic events.

About one-third of the visiting children will be from developing countries and their travel expenses will be subsidized, noted the festival’s general director Steve Rae.
Rae was speaking at an event launch Monday in the University of Waterloo Stratford campus lobby where guests were treated to two performances from the Stratford Central Singers – one of them a specially composed piece by Marek Norman, whose resume includes the Stratford Festival, to serve as the theme for the 2016 festival.

The festival is promoted as “for children by children” and organizers expect at least two performances of each play – all of which will be performed in the children’s native languages – will be held for the public and visiting children. Rae noted cultural learning opportunities will also be extending into Stratford schools, where performers will visit and participate in workshops with local students. Performers will also be billeted with local families.

The chance for kids to learn about different countries during the festival “pays dividends for years and years into the future,” Rae added.

The festival began in 1990 in Lingen, Germany and is held every two years, returning every fourth year to its home base in Lingen. Previous host countries include Turkey, Denmark, Japan, Cuba, and Russia, and each festival is designed to reflect the host country’s culture.

The festival has never been held in North America, and Rae said it’s “a huge undertaking to get everyone here.” Hundreds of volunteers will be needed, and Rae encouraged people to check out the event’s website – worldfestivalofchildrenstheatre.com –  to learn more.

The festival’s artistic director, Ron Dodson, said Stratford will host some of the best children’s theatre over the 10 days, and highlighted one group in particular: the Piano Theatre from the Nizhny Novgorod boarding school for deaf children in Russia. The performances incorporate circus elements, acrobatics, and pantomime and “is one of the groups that will absolutely blow people away.”

Dodson shared comments sent to him by Merja Laaksovirta, president of the International Amateur Theatre Association.

She said she is excited for the children who will perform in Stratford.

“While we adults will think of the importance of the event for the future, the children will be focused on the quality of their experience in Canada … they will remember so many happy memories for many years to come.”

Visiting children will participate in workshops in drama, arts, music, dance, and other disciplines led by by theatre experts. For adults, a director’s forum and international symposium will provide academic opportunities to share successes and learn new practices.

Organizers, including directors, a steering committee, and advisory committee, are working with a $400,000 budget, the majority of which will be invested locally.

Significant donations have already been made by the Stratford Rotary Club, Stratford Kiwanis Club, and Stratford Perth Community Foundation. But more money is needed, and to kick-start those efforts two fundraisers are scheduled for this fall.

Well-known Canadian comedian Colin Mochrie from Whose Line is it Anyway? will be joined by Brad Sherwood for an evening of improv comedy at the Festival Theatre Sept. 22. And on Nov. 1 Knox church will host local Celtic band Rant Maggie Rant and other musical acts for a special event hosted by actress and radio personality Barbara Budd. Tickets can be purchased for both fundraisers on the festival’s website.

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