Children's Festival adapting to new Downtown location

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When organizers of the Pittsburgh International Children's Theater and Festival decided to move the five-day event from Oakland to Downtown, they lamented losing the large green lawn of Schenley Plaza.

Enter LilyPad Park: a pop-up green space of artificial turf that will arise on two parking lots in the middle of the Cultural District.

"There will be thousands upon thousands of square feet of turf," said Pam Lieberman, executive director of the children's festival. "The loss of the green space initially was really sad, but the way we're solving it is really new and different."

The park -- which will also host a giant sandbox -- is one of many new attractions when the 28th annual children's festival opens Wednesday in its new location Downtown. LilyPad Park will also spotlight an expanded frog theme for the festival, with three costumed frog mascots roaming the park and a frog scavenger hunt.

Other new activities include a pinball lounge, with at least five machines on free play for the festival, and a drop-in comic workshop through a partnership with the ToonSeum. There will also be an expanded Lego presence through the Steel City Lego Users Group, including a Lego Derby for kids to build and race Lego cars on a pinewood track and a display of different Pittsburgh landmarks constructed with Legos.

In addition, the abundance of gallery space in the Cultural District will allow for more visual art and family-friendly art shows.

PG map: Children's Festival
(Click image for larger version)

"The volume of art is increased compared to previous years," said Ms. Lieberman. "We have activities that are different from what we've been able to offer before."

The giant sandbox in the pop-up LilyPad Park is a nod to one of the festival's theater productions, a Danish play called "Little Steps" that takes place in a sandbox, geared toward children ages 2 through 5.

"More and more children's theater is being developed for really small kids, and this is a great one to point out," said Ms. Lieberman.

Tickets to all shows are $8 for adults and children older than 2, with reduced prices available in festival packages for multiple shows. For full schedule and ticket purchases, go to www.pghkids.org or call 412-456-6666.

She also highlighted "Invisi'BALL," an Israeli production recommended for kids older than 4, but of particular interest to children with soccer experience.

Other shows include "Animals" (recommended for age 3-8), featuring animals made from everyday objects coming to live; "Hands Up" (ages 5-10), showing a twist on finger puppets' "Midnight Radio Jr." (ages 6-12), a 1940s-style comedy and variety show; a "Pinocchio" production from Quebec (ages 5-10); and "Tales of Folklore and Fantasy" (ages 5 and older) featuring Temujin, a storyteller with West African roots.

Returning to the festival for the third time this year is the popular Miracoco inflatable tent, bathed inside in brightly colored lights. Admission to the tent, which is fun for all ages, is $5. Other holdovers from previous years, such as face-painting and marbles, will be a part of this year's festival as well.

Visitors to the festival who buy tickets for shows in advance also have the option of buying a $10 parking pass for the Theater Square garage that is good all day -- even on weekdays.

Ms. Lieberman also said that those concerned about parking can use the ParkPGH.org parking app or call-in service (412-423-8980) to see available spaces in participating lots.

There is also the option of parking on the North Shore and taking the T, she said.

"We've thought about crossing guards and safety and parking," she said, of the transition from Oakland to Downtown. "Don't let that be why you don't come."


Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.

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