School's out and children everywhere are pestering their parents for something fun to do. Starting next week, the Taipei Children's Arts Festival will break the spell of summertime boredom by providing a month of performances, educational trips and artistic activities for youngsters and like-minded adults to enjoy.
"We hope to provide kids with a multi-faceted artistic adventure," said Taipei City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Liao Hsien-hao (
This is the fifth year the Department of Cultural Affairs has organized the festival and this year the theme is master storyteller Hans Christian Andersen.
Born 200 years ago in Denmark, Andersen wrote such stories as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid which still inspire the imaginations of children around the world. His tales will come alive through the medium of theater, which, as in summers past, is the most important part of the festival due to its virtue of being more than the sum of its parts.
"It's more than music, it's more than acting, it's more than visual arts," said Liao, "and we hope that through this mixed art form we can expose children at once to all these different genres."
Taiwan's foremost children's theater group, Ifkids (
The first foreign group performing will be Bulgaria's Varna State Puppet Theater, with Thumbelina on July 23. The group was a huge hit with the kids at last year's festival and was invited to come back with an Andersen-themed show.
They chose to present the story of the tiny girl born from a flower, but instead of simply acting out the story from start to finish, the group designed a performance to illustrate the process of inspiration that created Thumbelina.
As Andersen sleeps on one side of the stage, three spirits representing his inspiration bring the story to life with puppets. The play, absent of dialogue, conveys its message of mystery and fantasy with lighting, music and its brilliantly crafted marionettes.
Equally fantastic is the Irish group Big Telly's swimming-pool production of The Little Mermaid. The actors playing mermaids and mermen swim around wearing long, green, single-legged bathing suits and flippers in a pool decked out with seaweed, rocks and a castle. The music and lighting makes this a magical experience not to miss, so get your tickets well in advance. Big Telly's next gig will be Denmark's huge Andersen festival in August and September.
An exciting new contributor to this year's festival is the South Korean group Tuida. "The group's members are all quite young and very creative," said festival organizer Fang Chiung-hua (方瓊華). "They're like an environmental group because they try to reuse materials in creative ways for their props." Tuida will be presenting Sweet Story in a Big Book, which, while not by Anderson, is a fairy tale that captures the imagination and won the Best Performance Award at the International Association of Theater for Children and Young Adults festival in 2004. Each time a page turns in the "big book" on the stage, a new scene appears with new characters, played by both humans and puppets. "You'll be thinking, `Next time the page turns, where will we find ourselves?'" Fang said.