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Seattle International Children’s Festival 2011



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Seattle's most magical week for kids is just around the corner – in the form of puppet troupes, acrobats, cultural dancers and more – heading to Seattle all the way from Ecuador, China, India and Tasmania, and the Louisiana Bayou. The 2011 Seattle International Children's Festival, marking its 25th anniversary, promises to be the best ever. 2011 will also be the festival's last year, its swan song.

Over the years, the festival has repeatedly made good on its mission to "present global performing arts that engage the imagination and inspire audiences of all ages to discover, explore and learn." To consistently meet that goal, festival staff have skillfully walked the tight-rope of running the best kid-focused festival in the region, while at the same time putting together all the nuts and bolts that will become the following year's festival.

With no need to plan for next year, organizers are putting all their energy and know-how into the 2011 event.

"That's the positive side of this being our last year. We can really just concentrate on making (2011) great for the kids – we can truly focus on our mission and on making this the most educational and magical event yet," says Jill Fanette, associate executive director at festival organizer Giant Magnet.

The group Andes Manta, four Ecuadorian brothers who play over 35 instruments traditional to their culture

The International Children's Festival has awed, entertained inspired countless children, and adult too. Over the years, Fanette estimates the festival has served nearly one million kids, and has brought more than 200 international companies to the United States to perform and educate. In fact, it was the first local festival of its kind to import international companies to perform and teach, a practice which has spread to other local festivals, including Seattle's Children Film Festival, which this year featured films from 29 countries.

Diane Dimmer, of Tacoma's Dimmer Family Foundation, was so taken with the festival that her foundation decided to sponsor it by bringing a handful of the performers down to Tacoma for one day each year during the festival. As part of the Tacoma program this year, kids will get to see Andes Manta, four Ecuadorian brothers who play over 35 instruments traditional to their culture. The Guangdong Province Puppet Troupe, whose elaborately designed puppets will perform a series of vignettes "rich with Confucian themes of honesty, integrity, courage, and kindness, woven with humor, action, and beauty," will also make the trek to Tacoma, saving families the car trip or bus ride to Seattle.

Giant Magnet is making this year's extravaganza happen with the smallest staff in its history. Fanette points out that "everyone in the office is rising to the occasion with an amazing attitude." She gives kudos to the festival's "Super Volunteers" – people who have, over the years, taken a week off work to volunteer daily at the festival.

She describes one such Super Volunteer, Josephine Pompey, as "a true gem with a million dollar smile, who helps with everything from wrangling kids from the buses into the theaters to working in the cultural craft center."

Says Fanette, "We save hundreds of thousands of dollars because of all the volunteers do for us."

In fact, the Festival is looking for more last-minute volunteers for this year's blowout finale.

If you'd like to be part of this inspiring and historic event, visit the International Children's Festival page on the Giant Magnet website at: http://giantmagnet.org/international-childrens-festival/. Click on the Volunteers Wanted link at the bottom of the page.

For every three hours you volunteer, you receive three tickets to a Giant Magnet event. You can even volunteer with your child and make a day out of it!

And the lineup this year is incredible. In addition to the aforementioned brothers from Ecuador, and the Guangdong Province Puppet Troupe, those who attend this year's festival will have the opportunity to see the breath-taking spectacle of the Sichuan Opera Company's acrobatics, choreographed fighting and extraordinary stunts – they'll even showcase the mysterious Sichuan technique of character "face-changing," in which the characters transform before the very eyes of stunned audience members. Additionally, local lead singer of The President of the United States of America, Chris Ballew, will perform as young audience favorite Caspar Babypants.

Fanette has been with the festival for many years and has worn many hats along the way. She says the mood in the office as organizers prepare for the last International Children's Festival/Giant Magnet Festival is wistful, but energized.

The decision to end the festival, especially at this important milestone of its 25th anniversary, was not an easy one, she says,.

It was all about quality, Fanette explains. Without completely revamping the festival's model, organizers were finding it more and more difficult to maintain the event's integrity year after year, given financial and Seattle Center scheduling constraints. The other issue that has plagued the festival? Each year, the event had to be held during the school year, and that has meant conflicts with state-mandatory testing, school bus transportation, and recent education cutbacks.

At the end of the day, and at the end of its run, the Giant Magnet Festival will go out with a bang – it culminates with a "uniquely explosive performance" by Doktor Kaboom!' on May 16.

Until then, those working now to make this year's event the best of 25 years say they are proud to be part of Seattle's cultural history and part of a kids' event that has been a Seattle staple for a quarter of a century.

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