Over 90 events for kids and families beginning this week at Belfast Children's Festival

Young at Art are going big for the festival's 21st birthday with an even more fun for all ages following last year's landmark celebration

A roller-skating soldier, a magic bear, and dancing aliens are a snapshot of some of the delights that will appear at this year’s 21st annual Belfast Children’s Festival, where the theme is ‘Our Place in the World’.

From Friday 8 to Wednesday 13 March, over 90 events will take place in 12 locations across the city. Belfast Children’s Festival has become one of the largest children’s arts festivals on the island of Ireland and the UK, attracting over 31,000 people last year.

This year Young at Art will be presenting world, UK and Irish premieres of several theatrical works, including Oorlog (War), Loo, Removed, and The Alien’s Guide to Dance Gone Wrong.

Opening the festival at the festival hub, the MAC, on Friday March 8, Oorlog (War) (ages 7+), by award-winning Netherlands-based Theater Artemis, explores the challenging subject of the effects of conflict and the chaos that this has on people and their surroundings, and ultimately, how the human spirit endures. Watch a trailer for the show here.

Oorlog WAR_Scenebeeld-liggend6-©-Kurt-Van-der-Elst

Removed (ages 11+) is a funny yet moving and shocking insight into the experiences of a young man sharing his story of life in the care of the state, and will have its world premiere in the Brian Friel Theatre (March 7 - 13). For three years, Prime Cut Productions and writer Fionnuala Kennedy have collaborated with VOYPIC (Voice Of Young People In Care), working with looked after young people across Northern Ireland to explore their experiences and learn from them.

Closing the festival on Wednesday March 13 is the high energy and playful Expedition Peter Pan (ages 7+) by another Dutch theatre company, Het Laagland. This production promises a wild adventure of imagination, hilarious surprises, and rediscovery of the child in all of us.

Meanwhile, Ponten Pie and El Mes Petit de Tots (Spain) make their Irish premiere with the visually stunning Loo (ages 2-5), at The MAC on March 12. The Loo is a hot, dry wind from Asia. Set around the bow of a sunken boat, in a sea of sand, this production uses evocative music and stunning visual effects, inviting young audiences to explore how this wind can change its surroundings.

Another incredibly powerful performance is We Come From Far, Far Away (ages 10+), presented by NIE (Norway/UK/Czech Republic), which tells the story of two boys who have travelled alone from Syria to Norway and is based on true stories. Thanks to support from Belfast City Council’s Good Relations Unit and Community Relations Council, Young at Art have designed an accompanying education programme and will be working with 360 school children in areas where Syrian families are settling.

Supported by funding from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Young at Art will again be hosting the TYANI (Theatre for Young Audiences NI) Showcase. The four-day showcase will profile some of the finest performance work for young audiences being created right here and features performances, a unique work-in-progress from the Belfast Ensemble, a ‘scratch’ performance platform featuring four emerging individual artists, discussions and networking events. The festival will also welcome a group of international programmers and producers to the city.

Kicking the showcase off will be Cahoots NI, who have been selected to appear at the IPAY showcase (International Performing Arts for Youth) in Philadelphia this month. They return to Belfast Children's Festival with Milo’s Hat Trick (ages 3+), based on the book by Jon Agee. Expect magic, music and mischief in this charming tale, following a struggling magician on the search for a sensational new trick.

Maiden Voyage Dance return with a new show having enthralled previous Belfast Children's Festival audiences with Quartet for 15 Chairs and Pause & Effect. The Alien’s Guide to Dance Gone Wrong (ages 4+), created by world-renowned choreographer Lea Anderson, promises to be a fun feast for the senses, as aliens attempt to rediscover a thing humans used to do called dancing.

The festival features more homegrown talent in the shape of the irrepressible Paul Currie with a new Family Comedy Club (ages 6+), and three events for early years. Baby Daddy, by Replay Theatre Company, combines sensory theatre, live music and play and has been specifically designed for babies aged six to 18 months. Back by popular demand is Young at Art’s Baby Rave for under fours and their adults. A special edition ‘Rave in the Nave’, takes place in the impressive surroundings of Belfast Cathedral on Saturday March 9. There’s also a special festival edition of Babaithe Cultúir (Culture Babies) for 0-4 year olds and their adults, delivered in Irish and everyone is welcome regardless of fluency. Cultúrlann McAdam Ó’Fiaich in partnership with Young at Art successfully piloted two seasons of these interactive creative sessions in 2018.

The festival will present several relaxed performances, for children and families with additional sensory and communication needs including learning difficulties and autistic spectrum conditions, audio-described performances for those with sight loss and, on Sunday March 10, the Black Box will host a Mini Moon Disco, which has been specially created for children aged 0-7 with any kind of disability.

The Right Twig Showcase (ages 14+) will be the first outing of new plays created through an exciting new young playwrights’ programme (14-18 years old) with Fighting Words Belfast and the Lyric Theatre. The rehearsed readings take place on Sunday March 10. The teens can also check out Volume Control (ages 13+), a music gig organised by young people for young people, taking place in Oh Yeah Music Centre on Friday March 8.

Young at Art’s visual art engagement project, HOME, will culminate in an exhibition in the MAC featuring the work of pupils from eight primary schools, in West, East and North Belfast. It is part of Belfast City Council’s ‘(Y)Our Home’ programme, which allows young citizens to explore what it means to feel at home in Belfast. Visual art is also at the heart of Da Vinci Day, a day of interactive activities at the Ulster Museum, on March 10, to connect families to the much-awaited exhibition of the great master’s works from the Royal Collection Trust.

Organisers Young at Art continue to build on a strong partnership with Translink, and is encouraging families across NI and beyond to take a creative journey with Translink into Belfast city with special discounted family travel tickets. The guarantee of lots of amazing free fun coupled with fantastic performances makes for an easy decision for a big family day out over the festival weekend.

The festival also offers a diverse Industry Programme aimed at grown-ups, and those working, performing or studying in arts and education.

Festival tickets are on sale at www.youngatart.co.uk. Many events are free, with the maximum ticket price £10, and adults pay the same price as children.

The 21st Belfast Children’s Festival will once again be nourishing the creative minds of children and young people and proving why arts and culture are so important for the social, emotional and educational well being of our children and young people.