Bigger Ace! Festival for kids

The well-loved tale of Puss In Boots, done musical-style, and a puppet play about a trusting bird who gets duped are among the highlights of the returning ACE! Festival.

The upcoming children's arts festival will showcase home-grown and British theatrical productions, as well as creative workshops and free fringe activities for young children and their families.

With the aim of celebrating creativity in children through the arts, local theatre company I Theatre organised the first Ace! Festival in 2009.

This year's festival, which presents five full-length productions, will have a bumper crop of seven workshops and three free events covering the performing and visual arts as well as creative writing.

"We want to make it a full and free-standing festival of the arts," says I Theatre's artistic director Brian Seward. "Our vision is to connect young people to creativity. There is value in engaging in the arts that today's technology can't achieve."

His company has a strong focus on family oriented entertainment. Apart from organising the festival, it produces four original shows a year on average for children and families.

For the coming festival, British theatre company Toto Tales - a previous collaborator of I Theatre's - will stage Starbird, a play about a bird in the forest who lights the stars in the sky and is tricked by a cunning hunter.

The play uses colourful puppets as props and explores themes of greed and injustice in a way that children as young as three years old can understand.

Mara Menzies, 35, Toto Tales' creative director, says of its performance here: "We are extremely excited. The illustrator of the play's accompanying storybook is married to a Singaporean with three beautiful daughters, so we feel a stronger connection to Singapore." The book is done by illustrator Rachael Lemon and will be available for sale at the festival.

Seward hopes with the festival to bring top-quality productions to the local children's theatre scene, while keeping prices affordable. Ticket prices start at $30 for a single standard ticket, while family packages of four tickets start at $114.

At the same time, he is confident that the Singaporean theatre groups performing in the festival (I Theatre and Creative Edge Ensemble) will not pale in comparison to the international guests.

"We wanted to prove to our audience that local shows are equally good, if not better than the international ones," he says.

I Theatre will put on two shows directed by Seward: Puss In Boots and Spot The Difference. Puss In Boots is a popular tale of European origins about a trickster cat who wins the hand in marriage of a princess for his lowly born master. The theatre group has turned the story into a musical.

As for Spot The Difference, a play about two neighbours who learn to accept and appreciate each other's differences, it has colourful sets and interactive elements to appeal to young audiences.

This article was published on May 16 in The Straits Times.

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