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Pittsburgh children's festival turns focus toward theater this year

| Monday, April 13, 2015, 1:10 p.m.
Lyric M. (last name witheld) from the Small World II daycare center, Downtown, tries to give his balloon flower a kiss Monday, April 13, 2015, during a press conference at the Trust Arts Education Center's Peirce Studio. The event was held to announce this year's line-up at the 29th annual EQT Children's Theatre Festival held May 14-17 in the Cultural District.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Lyric M. (last name witheld) from the Small World II daycare center, Downtown, tries to give his balloon flower a kiss Monday, April 13, 2015, during a press conference at the Trust Arts Education Center's Peirce Studio. The event was held to announce this year's line-up at the 29th annual EQT Children's Theatre Festival held May 14-17 in the Cultural District.
Leo S. (last name withheld) from the Small World II daycare center in Downtown Pittsburgh makes a face after hearing several balloon animals pop Monday, April 13, 2015 at a press conference at the Trust Arts Education Center's Peirce Studio announcing this year's lineup at the 29th annual EQT Children's Theatre Festival to be held May 14-17 in the Cultural District.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Leo S. (last name withheld) from the Small World II daycare center in Downtown Pittsburgh makes a face after hearing several balloon animals pop Monday, April 13, 2015 at a press conference at the Trust Arts Education Center's Peirce Studio announcing this year's lineup at the 29th annual EQT Children's Theatre Festival to be held May 14-17 in the Cultural District.

Families still will get the variety of activities and entertainment they expect at the EQT Children's Theater Festival next month, but this year's festival has a strong central focus on kids' theater shows.

The festival, previously called the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival, features five plays from foreign theater companies, along with an interactive art installation and playful activities for children. The international companies participating are from Australia, Denmark, Scotland, the Netherlands and Mexico. The festival is from May 14 to 17, Downtown.

A few blocks of Penn Avenue in Downtown, from Seventh to Ninth streets, will close for the entire four-day festival, which is being held for the second year in the Cultural District. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust will offer a call-ahead concierge service for people who want extra help with planning at the box office, and human guides will be stationed throughout the Cultural District during the festival to help guests find their way around.

Trust officials announced details about the festival — sponsored for the second year by EQT Foundation, the charitable affiliate of EQT Corp. — at a news conference April 13.

“We expect everyone to come into the Cultural District and have a great time,” J. Kevin McMahon, president and chief executive officer of the Trust, said.

Charlene Petrelli, president of the EQT Foundation, said the foundation makes it a priority to support local initiatives that are educational and artistic, like the festival.

“At EQT, we embrace the spirit of innovation,” she said.

The featured plays are “Spot” by Theater Terra in the Netherlands, “Umbo” by Teatro Al Vacio in Mexico, “Hansel and Gretel” by Nu Gruppe 38 in Denmark, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” by Visible Fictions in Scotland and “Manxmouse: The Mouse Who Knew No Fear” by Theatergroep Kwatta in the Netherlands.

There will be multiple performances of each show. Venues include the Byham Theater, the Trust Arts Education Center and the Cabaret at Theater Square.

“Spot,” designed for ages 3 to 7, includes two sensory-friendly performances designed for children with autism and other special needs. “Umbo” is designed for kids up to age 4, and even includes babies as young as 6 months.

Pamela Komar, executive director of the festival and manager of children's theater programming for the Trust, encouraged all festivalgoers to attend at least one theater show.

“The importance of theater for young children is undeniable,” she said. Theater encourages “creativity, innovation, problem-solving and so many other valuable life skills.”

Aside from the theater performances, the festival offers more than 30 free outdoor activities in the Cultural District, all within walking distance, along with many food vendors. Attractions include the pop-up play area called Lilypad Park, at Eighth Street and Penn Avenue, which includes a sandbox and flower planters. Kids can get involved in a Frog Stop Scavenger Hunt, and watch short films and animation with the Kid Flix Mix.

The festival also includes a new outdoor, interactive art installation called “Tangle,” a creation of Polyglot Theatre in Australia. Visitors will play in this installation in Lilypad Park while creating a multicolored scene by weaving colorful balls of elastic through tall golden poles.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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