Serious kids' stuff

As today’s children become more sophisticated, the Haifa International Festival for Children’s Theater strives to keep up with them.

Mud Child play 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mud Child play 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is not a new notion that education begins with children, but that can take many forms. The 21st edition of the Haifa International Festival for Children’s Theater, which will take place at the Haifa Theater from April 20 to April 22, follows several avenues to broadening junior minds in an as entertaining and varied a manner as possible.
“This festival has always tried to offer children a wide choice of productions,” observes artistic director Zvia Huberman, who has been at the helm for the past three years. “You can have a pantomime or something for more sophisticated tastes, but it has to be a good show. That is why the festival exists. We always try to offer quality.”
That is abundantly clear in this year’s festival lineup, which features a plethora of artistic endeavor, relating to many walks of life and feeding off numerous cultures from around the world. Mud Child, written and directed by Shirli Goldstein, which is an entrant in the festival competition, will offer the audience something akin to a hands-on experience as artists Lee Aloni and Asaf Leunbuk create characters from mud in front of the audience. The Mud Child plot has a clear educational message, relating the folk legend of a child who lives in a small village in Africa who constantly cries. The only one who manages to stem the flow of tears is a young girl who encourages the boy to climb up on a baobab tree. The production includes a soundtrack of African music played by Leunbuk.
“The audience will see the story unfolding before their eyes,” says Huberman. “It is a very exciting spectacle.” Mud Child lasts 50 minutes and is aimed at the three- to nineyear- old age group.
The opening slot of the festival, Full of Love, is based on songs penned by Leah Goldberg. “This year everyone is marking the centenary of Leah Goldberg’s birth, and ours is the first,” notes Huberman. “The opening show will be a very grand affair and, for the first time, we will have a symphony orchestra.” The repertoire covers many of Goldberg’s songs, such as “Ma Ossot Ha'atyalot,” “Shir Layakinton” and “Hehalil,” set to music by a wide range of composers, such as Yoni Rechter, Sasha Argov, Shalom Hanoch and Miki Gabrielov.
There are also plenty of free outdoor shows on offer over the three days. “Street shows are very important,” says Huberman. “It helps to bring the whole of Haifa and the rest of the country into the festival.”
One of the festival’s declared tenets is to support creativity among the younger generation and, as every year, there will be a competition, with six shows based on works written by young writers. The shows cover a wide range of themes, addressing traditional topics, as well as more contemporary issues. Yuval Berger’s Click to the Heart, for example, looks at how children can get lost in the virtual world of computers but, at least this time, with a positive outcome.
More entertaining enlightenment is on offer in Let’s Move by Gideona Raz-Issa and Sharon Borstein, in which a problematic hyperactive boy manages to channel his unbridled energies into a constructive and socially acceptable musical pursuit.
Over the years the festival has increasingly reached beyond Israel’s borders. There is an international section in the program with shows from Spain and Japan, including an intriguing puppet and shadow theater rendition of “The Ugly Duckling,” a multimedia version of “The Japanese Garden” and a silent production of “Papyrus” from Spain, portrayed through paper figures.
According to Huberman, our junior theater sector is doing pretty well. “We sifted through 80 entrants to the competition section before we arrived at the final six.
There is a lot of talent out there. We have always aimed for quality.
People in the theater community don’t always understand the responsibility they have for educating children and cultivating the next generation of culture consumers. We have always attached great importance to that at the Haifa Theater.”
Still, with children increasingly exposed to material and forms of entertainment which, up to a few years ago, were considered the exclusive domain of adults, Huberman says she and her colleagues have tried harder to move their junior audiences. “Children are far more sophisticated and cynical than they used to be. If I see children moved or crying in one of my shows, I know I’ve done my job.”
Let’s hope there are some tears, of the right kind, in Haifa next week.
For tickets and more information about the Haifa International Festival for Children’s Theater: (04) 860-0500 and