After 31 years, the Winnipeg International Children's Festival, running June 4 - 7, has become a summer landmark for the city. Attracting nearly 25,000 festival-goers each year, the festival has been held at The Forks since 1990. Organized as a non-profit charitable organization, the festival's goal has long been to bring inspired and creative entertainment to audiences that may not otherwise be able to afford to see it.
Major performers from this year's lineup include the legendary Fred Penner, Brazilian performance group Ache Brasil, two time Grammy-winning musicians Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, Juno nominees Splash N’Boots, and Montreal-based folk musicians Bon Débarras. The Summer Bear Dance Troupe, a group of dancers whose goal is to educate young audiences on the regional origins of their dances, will also make an appearance.
Executive producer Neal Rempel has been involved as an organizer and on-stage performer since the festival's inception in 1983.
"The Children's Festival is the only event in Manitoba that brings together artists from all over the world, accessible to the entire audience demographic," Rempel says. "I'm a firm believer in kids having the opportunity to experience live art. I think it helps the whole cultural ecology because I believe kids who experience live art early in life are more likely to become patrons of the arts in the future when they become adults."
In order to maintain this accessibility, ticket prices have been cut back to $11.35 per single ticket and $9.95 per ticket if you're buying more than four at a time.
Rempel feels this has been a past issue that they hope to correct this summer.
"We have to make sure everyone can afford to come see this," Rempel says. "I would rather have more people paying less, as opposed to less people paying more."
Even audiences without children would still be wise to attend, as the festival boasts stunning live performances from a plethora of unique global art forms. Visual comedy artist Michel Lauzière, who amongst his many television performances had a recurring role on the Super Dave Osborne Show, will make his final appearance at the festival this summer.
"David Letterman just loves Michel Lauzière," Rempel says. "He's performed on Letterman's show a few times. (Lauzière) does a lot of very strange, interactive musical comedy, which is very cool."
Despite his global notoriety, Lauzière is already planning his upcoming appearance with great delight.
"I am truly excited to be part of the festival," Lauzière says. "I will bring some of my trademark acts, the musical dishes, the musical spoons, and the horn-o-phone. But I will present some new skits as well, the singing umbrella, and the broom-o-phone. On top of this, I will involve some members of the audience in a couple of my performances."
The Winnipeg International Children's Festival has been a massive aspect of Fred Penner's life since his first appearance in 1983.
"When the first kid's festivals started up in the late 70's-early 80's, it really was the heyday for children's entertainment in Canada," Penner says. "It was thriving with Raffi, Sharon, Lois and Bram, and myself. Cirque du Soleil was just starting. There was this incredibly vibrant musical and theatrical performing scene for Canadian families. The whole spectrum of generations are still there."
The always entertaining Mr. Mark is a fellow performer whom Penner recommends rather highly, having appeared at the festival since 2000.
"It's really cool to see everybody from 2 to 92 all playing, having a good time, all smiling, all laughing,” Mr. Mark says. “It's all about having a good time and that's exactly why I do it. I used to play in lots of rock bands, and this is way better."
The festival also holds an annual Summer Day Circus and Magic Camp from July 14 - 18, which is aimed at getting children of all ages involved with the performing arts.