Pittsburgh International Children's Festival extends the fun

The festival runs Wednesday through Sunday on the grounds around Carnegie Library in Oakland with interactive and hands-on activities

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Over the past few years the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival has experienced some growing pains -- after its move in 2008 to Oakland. It has gotten so popular that families have complained that activities aren't offered late enough in the day.

If you go

2013 Pittsburgh International Children's Festival schedule

• "Dinosaur Zoo." A puppet show that finds a ranger on the Australian Outback examining dinosaurs. It's informative but so realistic you forget that it is a handler moving puppets. (Erth Visual & Physical Inc., Australia, ages 5 and up) Bellefield Hall: 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Wed.; 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Thurs.; 9: 45 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. Fri.; 11 a.m., 2 and 5 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m., 2 and 4:30 p.m. next Sun.

• "Aga-Boom." Three former stars of Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Brothers and the Moscow Circus don clown costumes to relive the glory days of circus arts, physical comedy and European avant-garde theatrical clowns (1 to 1 Entertainment, Russia/USA, ages 3 and up). Charity Randall Theatre: 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Fri.; 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sat.; 9:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. next Sun.

• "African Pourquoi Tales." Master storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston explores tales that make you say "Why?" and asks the audience, "What would I do in that situation?" This tradition followed Africans to America where Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and company were born (Charlotte Blake Alston, USA, ages 5-10). Frick Fine Arts Auditorium: 11:30 a.m. Weds.; 9:45 and 11:30 a.m. Thurs.; 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Fri.; 11 a.m., 2 and 6:15 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m., 2 and 4:30 p.m. next Sun.

• "Exxopolis" takes its inspiration from natural geometry and architecture. The completed structure occupies half of a soccer field and rises to the height of a 3-story house (Architects of Air, Nottingham, U.K., all ages). Mazeroski Field near Mervis Hall: Entry every half-hour 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Wed.-Thurs.; 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

• "Egg and Spoon" is a ride across the four seasons for babies, toddlers and young kids in a multisensory, interactive celebration of nature. The magical year of seasons is 40 minutes long (Lyngo Theatre, U.K., ages 1-5). Cathedral of Learning's Studio Theatre (lower level): 9:45 and 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. Wed.; 9:45 and 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. Thurs.; 9:45 and 11:30 a.m., 4 p.m. Fri.; 9:30 a.m., 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sat.; 9:30 a.m., 12:30 and 3:15 p.m. next Sun.

• "The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly." Peggy can't sing at all. But when winter comes and everyone in her city vanishes, Peggy must save the day by drawing everyone out of where they are hiding. She learns about love, loss and the courage to sing gloriously on or off-key (Theatre Lovett, Ireland, ages 7 and up). Charity Randall Theatre: 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Wed; 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Thurs.; 9:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. Fri.; 12:30 and 6:15 p.m. Sat.; 12:30 and 4:30 p.m. next Sun.

For tickets, visit the Box Office at Theater Square, www.PghKids.org or call 412-456-6666. Children ages 2 and under are admitted free but need a lap pass for shows. Festival hours are 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed-Thurs.; 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri., Sat. and Sun.

"We started to get a lot of families coming down after school shocked that there weren't offerings," says Pam Lieberman, executive director of the weeklong event that is held near the University of Pittsburgh campus. "Now Friday will be just like the weekend days, with the grounds active until 6 p.m., about four hours later than previous and with several plays scheduled during the extended time."

Translation: There's just more good stuff to go around.

The Pittsburgh International Children's Festival, one of only four in the country, kicks off Wednesday to present a combination of offerings through next Sunday. The grounds around the Carnegie Library will abound with interactive and hands-on activities for children of all ages and visual arts.

"All of the activities are under tents," she says. "Everything happens, rain or shine, so dress for the weather. The only activity that might be affected by bad weather would be the popular petting zoo and the carousal, both free to participants.

Local and regional performers and musicians once again will show off their talents on stages in Schenley Plaza.

But the main attraction is the mammoth walk-through structure made of inflated fabric and plastic by Architects of Air. This marks the third consecutive year that the British group has brought one of these cathedral-like and vividly colorful sculptures.

"Exxopolis" celebrates the organization's 20th anniversary and will sit in Mazeroski Field near Mervis Hall.

"It is a brand-new piece," says Ms. Lieberman. [Architects of Air artistic director Alan Parkinson] "has been studying classic stained glass and has incorporated fabric panels sewn together. It creates a juxtaposition of classical stained glass with the abstract light the structure brings through the sun."

But most children will blow right past these beauties to wind through the maze inside the soccer field-sized building that's as tall as a three-story house.

"There are all different rooms and passageways with several routes you can take," she said. Tours require a small payment for entry every half-hour.

The main features of the festival, and its most international elements, are the five plays that take place in auditoriums of nearby buildings. They range in appropriateness for young children (shows that are also shorter) and ones that are more advanced, but still enjoyable to all. This year there is a puppet show and an acrobatic clown troupe and some dramatic storytelling. These require modestly priced tickets.

The ultimate takeaway from the festival is how art of many types and of many cultures opens the minds of children and promotes creativity -- and is simply fun, too.

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Classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.


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