What makes the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival so special?

First staged under canvas in the city’s Inverleith Park back in 1990, the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival [27 May to 4 June 2023] has become an indispensable part of Edinburgh's appeal as a festival city. According to the renowned critic Joyce McMillan stated: “After 20 years as a professional theatre critic in Scotland, I can say honestly that, in my opinion, the country's finest theatre festival is the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival”. So what makes it so special?

Is it the Quality of the Shows?

https://youtu.be/LHfFjtLhPlw It might be for children, but the Edinburgh International Children's Festival is never childish. The productions that the Festival presents and supports, provide compellingly told stories designed to challenge and inspire young minds. Each year it showcases high quality, distinctive Scottish and international performances to an audience of children, their teachers, and their families each year.  Many of the productions are non-verbal and therefore accessible to a broad audience. As a result the Festival is now the pre-eminent place in the UK to see the best theatre and dance work for children and young people, becoming a ‘must’ for international programmers seeking the highest standard work for their own countries.  

Or the joy of the Opening Weekend?

https://youtu.be/25JCnrWNSvA The Edinburgh International Children's Festival opens with the Family Encounters Day, a day of free pop-up performances and artists interventions for families on Saturday 27 May [10-17.00], in the beautiful setting of the National Museum of Scotland. Drop-in activities will include physical performances, walk-about characters, musical explorations, hands-on arts activities and much more. Entrance to the National Museum and the Festival Family Encounters performances and activities is free, with events repeated throughout the day to enable as many people to take part. The programme will also feature two new commissions in partnership with Merchant City Festival, Glasgow.

Maybe it's because there's something for the very young?

Children's - Little TopOne of the amazing features of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival is the way that the programme does not present all young people with the same shows. Instead the festival recognises that children need something different at different ages and so the shows are presented with an age guide, starting with shows for babies. At this year’s festival you can find shows like And the Ideas Soar [ages 2-5years] a genuine celebration of play and audience collaboration, where light and sound composition come together to make each moment a new and thrilling experience; and You Are Here [ages 2-6years] a beautiful and gentle performance about finding your way in the world – and within yourself. 

While also dealing with serious subjects for older children?

Childrens - Protest c Ali WrightThe Edinburgh International Children’s Festival wants more children to experience work that is deeply engaging, innovative and inspiring, believing that all children deserve the opportunity to develop their creativity, emotional intelligence and reach their true potential. As such, the festival often presents and commissions complex theatre pieces about serious subjects. Amongst such shows in 2023 are - Too Close to the Sun (7-13yrs) the story of a girl worried about the environmental crisis who, inspired by the Greek legend of Icarus, begins to work out her escape; A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (8-13yrs) a darkly comic tale about a couple who find a strange old man with enormous wings and, unsure about what to think of him (imposter, angel?), decide to keep him in the chicken coop; and I… Er… Me (8-15yrs) a powerful performance exploring a daily routine going wrong and what it's like to lose your grip on reality.

Or could it be, its reputation for creating new work?

https://youtu.be/_-Z-KmCF1E0 The Festival has been fortunate over many years to be able to commission new high quality theatre and dance productions, supported in large part by Scottish Government's Festivals Expo Fund. This year showcases Protest, co-commissioned and co-produced by Fuel, Imaginate and Northern Stage in association with National Theatre of Scotland. Three girls prepare to challenge the status quo and tackle injustices in this new play exploring the power of friendship, activism and the believing in your own voice.

And showcasing international artists?

https://youtu.be/svAU15UI6t0 The Festival has developed a worldwide reputation as the place to see great work for children from across the globe. This year, despite restrictions imposed by Covid, the programme remains international and includes a regional focus on Flanders, one of the world’s leaders in producing innovative theatre and dance for young audiences. Amongst the shows are - BullyBully [The Netherlands] a madcap musical about childish grown-up men, featuring two performers, songs, funny quarrels, a bit of bickering and eventually, a happy ending; The Problem with Pink (Quebec, Canada) a high-energy show which pokes fun at gender clichés through the eyes of a care-free and exuberant group of friends living and playing in a world carpeted in pink; Udul (Spain) from the enchanting world of Los Galindos, the award-winning Catalan company who perform their enchanting and highly entertaining show in a small intimate Mongolian yurt; and Der Lauf (Belgium and France) authentic surreal circus that is strange and joyful, absurd and jubilant, interactive and just a little bit dangerous.

Alongside it's ambition to inspire school children?

https://youtu.be/2cu0BPlPJhE While the festival is open to children and their families, a core part of the programme is focussed on school chidren and their teachers, Imaginate - the parent company of the festival - runs a year-round Schools Programme which includes in-schools performances as well as artist residencies. Ahead of the festival, schools are provided with information about the themes, the areas of the curriculum which they relate to and other Learning Resources, together with detail of the Travel Subsidy scheme - ensuring that as many school children as possible can be inspired by the amazing shows in their city. 

So those are just some of the reasons why we think the Edinburgh International Children's Festival is so special. Why don't you check it out for yourself? The Festival runs from 27 May to 4 June and you can find full details HERE 

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