The International Children's Festival opens its 12th season Saturday at 10:45 when the Kennedy Center's "Annie" (Becky Snyder) cuts a ribbon to unwrap this year's package of international folk culture and fun.
Sponsored by the Fairfax Council of the Arts, the festival's held at Wolf Trap Farm Park throughout the Labor Day Weekend. The program -- which includes about 1,500 performers in 129 shows staged in five different areas of the park -- may seem daunting, but with a little foreknowledge and preparation, you and yours can survive -- and enjoy -- this end-of-summer cavalcade of kiddie culture.
Last year, attendance was 20,000 to 25,000 for the festival's three days -- a crowd easily handled by Wolf Trap. Although cars spilled over into the second parking lot, it never filled up, said Lynne Fitzhugh, director of development for the Fairfax art council.
Once inside the park, Fitzhugh warns, be prepared for some crowds at the perennially popular puppet shows (the program lists four troupes) and in Theater in the Woods, which on a hot day becomes even more attractive since it offers cool shade.
In past years, workshops have also proven very popular and you may want to arrive early to be assured of a chance to silk-screen (courtesy of the Corcoran Gallery), paint your face (Museum of African Art and the Renwick Gallery) or experiment with musical instruments using the "Orff" method (sponsored by the Music Teachers of Fairfax County).
Also be prepared, says Fitzhugh, for all kinds of weather since the show goes on, rain or shine. Be sure to bring a blanket to spread on the lawn and some cool drinks or snacks. (There willbe food for sale, featuring for the first time such international finger foods as tacos and egg rolls as well as standard American hamburgers and hot dogs.)
The wise parent will take more than a few minutes to contemplate the festival program, available at the entrance, before planning an attack. Performances go on simultaneously in five locations: Meadow Center, Theater in the Woods, Plaza Stage, Concert Shell and The Knoll. Although no two are more than 10 minutes' walk apart, you'll want to factor in some extra time for wandering-off children.
By far the most difficult chore will be deciding what shows to take in; perhaps you could start by focusing on the international groups you may never have a chance to see again. This year, Taiwan, Canada, Finland, Iceland and The Philippines are sending home-grown talent.
On Saturday and Monday at 12, young people selected from junior high schools in Taiwan will be giving a demonstration of artistic martial arts and ribbon and shuttlecock dancing. The Kalipayan Troupe from The Philippines will perform folk dances in colorful costumes on Saturday at 1.
Each day at 2, The Inner Stage, a Canadian musical theater for children that incorporates mime and graphics, will give a multimedia show. The rest of the Canadian contingent consists of Sharon, Lois and Bram, a singing group whose children's records are bestsellers in Canada. Their repertoire is a smorgasbord of street rhymes and international and bilingual folk and nonsense songs. They'll perform on Sunday at 3.
Finland's world-renowned Tapiola Choir of children 9-13, will sing on Monday at 1 and the Icelandic Male Choir, one of Europe's oldest, performs on Monday at 3.
What next to do? Well, if you're a dance fan, join in the "Dancelebration" on Saturday at 1 for a whirlwind 11/2-hour trip around the world watching young Cambodian, Mexican, Asian, Mideastern and Bavarian dancers, plus ballet, jazz and clog dancers. On Sunday, another "Dancelebration" gets under way at 1 featuring Sahara, Chinese, Chilean, Irish and deaf dancers. Sunday's program adds Greek and Italian to the cultural mix. More dancers are scattered throughout the festivities.
If drama appeals to you, catch the Folger Theater's Playaround Shakespeare troupe (Saturday at 3) or the Nubian Theater Company (Sunday at 12:30). Puppet shows include Vermont's Two-Headed Cow Puppet Theater featuring rod puppets (Saturday at 11), "Tales of Beatrix Potter" (Sunday at 12:15) and the Clarion Puppet Theater's shadow puppets (Monday at 12:30).
There'll be lots of tall stories by two renowned griots (African traveling storytellers): Linda Goss (Saturday at 1) and Mary Carter Smith (Monday at 1:15). Musical storyteller Rick Tarrier from North Carolina spins tuneful yarns (Sunday at 12:15) and Roadside Theater acts out traditional Appalachian Mountain tales (Sunday at 1:45)
Strictly musical groups include Japanese koto players (Sunday at 12:45), an orchestra of recorders (Sunday at 1:30), a Double Decker String Band (Saturday at 11:45) and the Mount Vernon String Orchestra (Sunday at 1:30).
Add some mimes, clowns, street musicians and a magician (Monday at 2:30) and you begin to get an idea of the overwhelming variety. You might just forget about planning and plunk yourself down in front of any stage.
As for me and my dinosaur-obsessed three-year-old, we're making a beeline to the Concert Shell (Sunday at 1:15) to snag front-row seats for Michele Valeri and Mike Stein's "Dinosaurs Are Back!" show, which, the program promises, features "seven sparkling new songs all about our prehistoric sauropod friends" along with dinosaur dancing and dinosaur puppets.
CHILDREN'S FESTIVAL -- The International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap, 11 to 4 Saturday through Monday. Adults $5; children 4 to 12 $3.50; senior citizens $3.50 and children under four, free.