Published on April 26, 2021
Celebrating 40 Years of Play at the Children’s Festival
The fact that the 40th anniversary of the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival of the Arts landed right smack dab in the middle of a pandemic is not going to stop St. Albert from celebrating this milestone year. Who says we can’t celebrate while we follow provincial public health measures? It can be done!
According to the Cultural Programming Manager for the City of St. Albert’s Community Services Department, Andrea Gammon, even in the face of COVID-19, the Children’s Festival team is determined to bring impactful artistic experiences to the children of our community. But to keep everyone safe, the team is taking the trademark performances, crafts and cultural activities the festival is known for and putting them online.
“It has been a long time that people have gone without the arts in their lives in a very significant way,” says Gammon. “The longer [the COVID-19 pandemic] draws on, it’s really having an effect on people’s mental health. The arts are a way to connect with other people and to connect with ourselves. In the absence of being able to do that [in person], we didn’t want to let another year go by without doing something—without bringing a little light, a little hope, a little cheer into the lives of families and children in our community.”
In honour of this local institution’s 40-year history, the festival team is expanding the regular six days of events to 40 days of virtual crafts, activities and performances in what they have dubbed 40 Days of Play.
“40 Days of Play is our way to bring the festival into homes, while people are not allowed to come to us,” says Gammon.
Starting on April 28th—40 days out from what would normally be the end of Children’s Festival—activity prompts will be posted online, encouraging both the young and the young at heart to get creative this Spring. Prompts will run the gamut of what St. Albertans have come to expect from the festival: from butterfly-inspired crafts, to clowning workshops, to ground-breaking children’s theater.
Shows like The Wizards of Oakwood Drive haven’t simply gone virtual, but have tailored their work to the ‘Zoom’ meeting format, creating an interactive experience for kids that is simply magical. With a little help from parents—who will be asked to hide some common household items in advance—every child gets to discover, in their very own home, just how powerful the warring wizards of Oakwood Drive truly are. As each spell is cast, kids will hunt down items that have ‘appeared’ due to their powerful sorcery, in an experience The New York Times called “absolutely enchanting.”
While Wizards might create a few mysteries, Mundane Mysteries: Power Hour is strictly about solving them. Customizing a mystery specifically for your family, these masters of improvisation will call your home directly, unfolding a narrative each household gets to investigate over the course of an hour.
“There’s some very innovative virtual programming happening in the professional programming sphere,” explains Gammon. “The theatre companies that we’ve hired to deliver some of the professional shows are doing some very creative things where it’s not just sit and watch something that’s been filmed, but it’s interactive and engaging in a whole new way.”
Each household is encouraged to participate in 40 Days of Play in a way that suits them: whether that’s following along with every prompt or picking and choosing from those days that ignite creativity.
“It’s very much going to be a grass roots effort this year and it will have as much impact as people want,” says Gammon. “It’s not prescribed. It’s called a prompt because we hope that people start with that and then wherever they take it from there is great.”
While the regular festival site might feel conspicuously empty for yet another year, Gammon is hoping families will help make the 40th anniversary special by decorating their homes in the spirit of the festival and, therefore, spreading that uplifting energy throughout every neighbourhood. Though it’s absence from the downtown core continues to be deeply felt, 40 Days of Play is sure to keep that artistic spark burning in the hearts of young and old alike, until that emblematic Children’s Festival butterfly can re-emerge in a post-COVID world.
“We’ve always assumed and hoped that everyone likes the festival,” says Gammon, “but it has been very encouraging to hear more vocally how much people love the festival, are missing it and want it to come back as soon as possible. I’m really grateful to hear of the impact it’s had on people and families over the years. We are excited to be back this year, with some innovative programming that will continue to inform the Festival, and how we engage with young people and their families, long after we are back on the physical site.”
For more information, including a full list of shows and activities, visit Childfest.com
COVID-19 public health measures
We ask when participating in the virtual Festival that you follow all provincial public health measures, including physical distancing. For more details, visit the Government of Alberta’s Stronger Public Health Measures.
Last edited: April 28, 2021