Kids and their parents are in for a treat when the Yaron Yerushalmi Kesem Shel Agada (Legend Magic) Festival gets underway for the 22nd year.

The event incorporates a multitude of genres, from dance and puppet theater to object theater and Jewish music concerts.

The festival, which takes place August 13-15 at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv, caters to pre-schoolers up to eight-year-olds.

Keeping any cultural event going for more than two decades is quite an achievement, especially when you consider the changes that have occurred in entertainment items aimed at the younger generation and the increasingly sophisticated products children are exposed to these days.

The festival’s artistic director Michal Mor Haim admits it can be quite a challenge to keep up with market developments but says she is encouraged by the turnout she regularly gets. “Because we have been going for so long, we now get parents coming with their kids years after they themselves had come to the shows as youngsters.

The shows we present these days require a lot more investment and effort and use all sorts of media and angles. Today, it’s more difficult to hold the attention of small children for an hour.”

Abundant exposure to some of today’s gloves-off media has also shifted the festival’s age group parameters. “A while back, kids aged 10, 11 or 12 used to go to children’s shows, but now you have to take 10-years-olds to adult productions by Habimah because children’s shows no longer appeal to them,” says Mor Haim. “So today, most children’s shows are aimed at kids up to the age of seven or eight because after that age, it’s much harder to keep them engrossed.”

Still, the Kesem Shel Agada lineup features lots of honest-to-goodness shows for children, such as theatrical renditions of works based on Leah Goldberg’s Where Is Pluto?; the Russian folk tale Petrushka with music by Stravinsky; A Story of Five Balloons by Miriam Ruth; and a dance theater production of Rukdina’s Heart Flower. There will also be a contribution from the Jerusalem-based Train Theater, which will put on its object theater reading of Corduroy, written by American children’s author and illustrator Don Freeman.

Children’s theater companies are evidently pulling out all the stops to keep their young audiences enthralled by employing a variety of physical augmentation and visual enhancements. The Adam Theater’s contribution to Kesem Shel Agada, for example, has three productions for toddlers that include an actress, puppets, music and all kinds of accessories.

“I think it is very important to introduce children to relatively simple things like puppets,” observes Mor Haim. “There is always a strong temptation for parents to take their children to big productions, which are more attractive. So I’m happy we have puppets in our festival.”

Kesem Shel Agada is also designed to keep some of the slots low key and offer young children a more immediate theatrical experience. “The Train Theater show will be held in a studio rather than in a big hall,” explains Mor Haim. “That allows the children to be much closer to the stage activity and enables them to get a stronger sense of the development of the storyline.”

Mor Haim sees nothing wrong with spicing up children’s shows a little. “When we read bedtime stories to our own children, we sing to them and make all kinds of sounds of the characters,” she points out. “That’s fun.” The rendition of the tale by Miriam Ruth will culminate in some tangible evidence of the storyline.

“At the end of the story, the storyteller inflates a red balloon and, with the children, she releases it into the sky. That’s charming, and I think children today still have the ability to fantasize and to imagine things.”

The festival also does its best to introduce Israeli children to foreign cultures. The Melody (Ha’nigun) by the Goshen Theater, for instance, incorporates Jewish musical material from all over the world, while Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale evokes the mysteries of far-off China to convey the beauty of nature. “The show has live music, which I think is also an important element in a child’s education, to see how music is actually made and not just by putting on a CD,” says Mor Haim.

The artistic director is also a fan of exposing children to as many kinds of artistic stimuli as possible.

“I think that if we present them with all the art forms on a stage, when they grow up they are more likely to be curious about other things, things they have not yet encountered, and that has to be a good thing for everyone.”

There will also be plenty to keep kids and parents happily engaged outside the Suzanne Dellal Centre building, with art workshops and activity areas that will operate daily from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and free street shows at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

“I don’t think anyone will be bored at the festival,” smiles Mor Haim. “I expect everyone to go home tired and happy.”

For tickets and more information about the Kesem Shel Agada Festival: (03) 510-5656, www.suzannedellal.org.il and www.ticketnet.co.il.

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