The West

Families on cloud nine
Families on cloud nine

February 14-17
Regal Theatre

Often the most anticipated parts of an arts festival program are the works that appeal to children and adults alike. Perth Festival artistic director Jonathan Holloway knows this - which is why he is so keen on presenting a strong and memorable family-friendly program during his tenure.

"There's an argument that says you should program for children because they're the audience of the future but I don't kind of go for that - I see them as the audience of now," Holloway says of his passion for family programming.

"They're just slightly younger than other members of the audience of now. I think that having creativity within young people's lives is absolutely vital and that an arts festival should be for absolutely everybody. Obviously, there's always going to be some work that is entirely for adults but our job is to also present work that appeals to all sections of the community, all sections of society."

One of the works that fits into this category is Clouds, a surrealism-inspired dance/theatre piece from Spanish company Aracaladanza.

Clouds is just one of a number of intriguing bits of kid-friendly programming that Holloway has included this year. The two major opening events are open to all, from Beginnings, the Festival's welcome concert at Matilda Bay on February 8 featuring Archie Roach and the Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company, to Les Commandos Percu's BPM (Bombs Per Minute), a spectacular display of fireworks and percussion to be held at Langley Park the following night.

On the theatre front, Barking Gecko Theatre Company will present Death, Duck and the Tulip, a work adapted from a book by award-winning illustrator Wolf Erlbruch. Aimed at children from the age of five up, this play tackles the difficult subject of death in a way children can understand.

Barking Gecko's artistic director, John Sheedy, says he loves the way in which Erlbruch tackles a sensitive subject in a way that is ultimately life-affirming. Following on from last year's much-talked-about Driving Into Walls, Sheedy has once again chosen subject matter that doesn't skim over some of the less openly talked about areas of human experience.

Educators have long recognised the importance of play and creativity in the lives of children, and there are a number of events on this year's program to cater to these impulses.

Esteemed Melbourne children's theatre company Arena will present The House of Dreaming inside the ABC studios in East Perth, which will be transformed into what appears to be a labyrinthine abandoned house brought to life via robotics, live performance and projectors. Children can enter the house three at a time to explore rooms full of unexpected objects, bric-a-brac and paraphernalia, encouraging participants to explore, investigate and interact with their surroundings.

The Perth Cultural Centre will play host to Polyglot Theatre's Tangle, described as "part visual arts installation, part playground, part dance party and all chaos". Visitors are encouraged to unspool brightly coloured balls of elastic and wrap them around a "forest" of poles. Inside the space, kids can dance to music, interact with Polyglot performers, and create their own centre of visual stimulation.

British company Stan's Cafe will present Of All the People in All the World, another interactive family piece making use of an iconic Perth building, the central GPO, in order to serve the twin purposes of education and entertainment.

The idea is to make sense of topical statistics by using tonnes of counted-out grains of rice, giving concrete form and shape to numbers that may, at the abstract level, seem hard to comprehend. How many people are born every day? How many people die? How many people live in Perth?

"The best things in life are free." So said Coco Chanel, who knew a thing or two about style and culture. Free entry to the Festival's visual arts program is no exception, ranging from Jim Campbell's Scattered Light in Kings Park to Inside Running: The Art of Sport at the Fremantle Arts Centre.

Finally, the Perth Writers Festival Family Day on February 24 allows book lovers of all ages to meet and greet some important names in children's and young adult writing, including Andy Griffiths (of The Day My Bum Went Psycho fame), fantasy writer Isobelle Carmody (creator of the hugely popular Obernewtyn Chronicles), puppeteer Asphyxia (The Grimstones) and illustrator Gus Gordon (Herman and Rosie).

The West Australian

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