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Going global: What's new at Seattle International Children's Festival

Although it celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, the Seattle International Children's Festival still feels a bit like a well-kept secret. Performers are often remarkable but little-known, and you can see them in relatively small theaters. Getting day-of tickets isn't that big of a deal. The crowds aren't overwhelming. It all feels very "old, relaxed Seattle."

The festival's name is probably partially responsible. Adults without kids -- or those not in the know -- might find themselves unable to get past the C-word. Entertainment for kids is flashy, boring and color-coordinated, right? For the past couple of years, SICF has reached out to a more adult crowd with evening performances called Seattle International Nights, but it's telling that the shows remain the same even as the audience's drink of choice changes from apple juice to vodka martinis.

This year's festival, "globalicious," once again offers a challenging mix of world music, sophisticated clowning and theater. SICF tweaked its ticketing and attendance policies this year to make shows more accessible, and has added interesting new works to the lineup.

For the first time at the festival, families with very young children can attend a show created especially for them. Le Théâtre de Quartier from Québec developed "GlouGlou" (French for "glug-glug") based on current knowledge of early childhood learning. The 45-minute show is narrated in a quiet voice and follows a small child as he experiences a series of firsts: first smells and sounds, first snuggle in a parent's arms, first friendship. Toddlers can get a first taste of live theater, in English or French, and the 12 shows (Seattle only) are scheduled at tot-friendly midmorning and post-lunch times.

American juggler Thomas Arthur presents the world premiere of his solo show "Luminous Edge," which was commissioned by SICF. Arthur's phenomenal juggling is accompanied by music, projected imagery, and narration that touches on science, mathematics and mythology. The show is best for ages 7 and older, and SICF staffer Jená Cane points out that Arthur has a local following, and families who want to see him perform shouldn't wait long to buy tickets.

File this under "weird and worthwhile." "Share This Place," another of SICF's world-premiere commissions, sets Britta Johnson's stop-action animation of insects to live music by singer-songwriter Mirah and the cello/percussion/oud/accordion quartet Spectratone International. The insects, created by Johnson out of discarded household bits and pieces, conduct onscreen lives based on the work of the 19th-century French entomologist J. Henri Fabre, who wrote exacting accounts of his insect encounters. Bring your bug-mad kids ages 7 and older and see what they make of it.

Party with SICF at Seattle's Family Day on Saturday, May 19, or Tacoma's single day of performances on May 21. In Seattle, kids can shake their booties with mom and dad at the 12:30 p.m. Global Dance Party, with music by gospel/jazz/funk band H'Sao from Chad and Mexican rock 'n' rollers Las Patita de Perro. Kids can hang out at discovery centers, where they can do arts and crafts and listen to live music, and check out Vera Project's new digs on the Seattle Center grounds.

Performers at the Tacoma event include Brazil's Circo Teatro Udi Grudi, who demonstrate in "Ovo" ("Egg") that an instrument can be made out of just about anything; Les Parfaits Inconnus from Québec, who somehow manage to combine clowning with rock 'n' roll; and Chinese Theatre Works, who use colorful shadow puppets to retell the 16th-century Chinese story of the prankster Sun Wu Kung in "The Birth of the Monkey King." Broadway is closed to traffic between Ninth and 11th streets, as festival-goers enjoy activities and performances by Tacoma School of the Arts students.

This year, Cane urges parents to play hooky with their kids and attend a weekday school performance. Homeschoolers, parents of younger kids and shameless slackers can take advantage of the greater number of shows on the Seattle schedule during the week and avoid the festival's most crowded day, Saturday. To make attending multiple shows easier on the wallet, ticket prices have also been restructured: The more tickets you buy, the less each show costs.

SICF received a $225,000 grant from the Allen Foundation in 2006, and the money is earmarked for future marketing campaigns and educational activities. Enjoy the festival's laid-back vibe now, because once SICF begins to make use of that money, it might not be the area's best-kept entertainment secret any longer.

Kris Collingridge is ParentMap's Out and About Editor. She attends as many SICF shows as she can, every year.


  • The Seattle International Children's Festival runs May 14-19 (Seattle) and May 21 (Tacoma).
  • Performances are held at venues at Seattle Center in Seattle, and at the Pantages and Rialto theaters in Tacoma.
  • Opening Night Celebration, May 14 at 7 p.m., Seattle: $18-$20.
  • All weekday, school-hour shows (Seattle and Tacoma) $9.50-$10.
  • Saturday Family Day, May 19, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Seattle: $10-$15; two-to-five show packages $7-$45.
  • For tickets and more information, visit www.seattleinternational.org or call 206-325-6500.

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