Mayo, Galway, the places to be for children

 

A madcap dancer on stilts with an enormous nose and multiple heads; goblins, giants, fairies and frights, and the world over 100 years as seen through the eyes of a tree. Such is the flavour of this year's Baboro International Arts Festival for Children, which opens in Galway today.

And Galway won't be the only mischief and merrymaking venue for the west's minors this week. Louisburgh, Co Mayo, is also hosting its second annual children's festival, entitled Sonas 2000.

Baboro's new director, Dubliner Ms Emer McGowan, promises an exciting and dynamic programme of events in venues and schools throughout the county over the next six days. Highlights include two of the most innovative companies from North and South America - the world-renowned Teatro Hugo and Ines from Peru, and Michael Cooper from the United States.

Teatro Hugo and Ines blend mime and puppetry to create a picturesque world of unforgettable characters in its show, entitled Short Stories, with Hugo Suarez Flores. It runs at An Taibhdhearc from Friday to Sunday. Micheal Cooper performs Masked Marvels and Wonder Tales, a one-man extravaganza in the Town Hall Theatre from tomorrow to Thursday.

European guests include members of the Puppentheater der Stadt Halle from Germany, billed as "masters of marionettes", and Theatre San Toit from France, which presents Topsy-Turvy World. Belgium's Compagnie Sac a Dos will stage Memories of a Tree with a storyteller, puppets and music; and the Welsh storyteller Catherine Aran will present her "unique and wacky" version of A Tickle and a Tale in the Galway Arts Centre this coming weekend.

Irish work is featured, and Emer is particularly enthused about the Abbey Theatre's involvement. The Abbey has already been out in early learning venues, performing Harold and Sophie - a tale of two snails who happen to be best friends - as part of Baboro's outreach programme. The stage version of the snails' journey takes place this coming weekend in the Town Hall Studio. Little Red Kettle also visits Baboro for the first time, and more than 20 children have been involved in all aspects of this production, written and directed by Ben Hennessy and Liam Meagher.

There's world music, calypso, reggae and African dance, and Irish poet and playwright Maire Holmes will present poetry workshops in Irish and English. Baboro is also collaborating for the first time with the National Museum of Ireland on a series of workshops entitled If Things Could Talk . . . using artefacts from the museum's collection, while the National Gallery of Ireland, The Ark, and the Gallery of Photography in Dublin are also involved.

The programme is centred around the school curriculum, with the outreach performances being a significant element, but the festival director hopes to tip the balance towards younger children in the future. Ms McGowan, who is a former Dublin Youth Theatre participant and administrator, and has worked with the National Association of Youth Drama, TEAM, and the City of Dublin Youth Service Board, travelled extensively to commission work for this year's Baboro.

She has strong views on the dearth of artistic experience and opportunity for children here. "Adults have access to art experience all the time, whether they choose to avail of it or not," she says. "We owe it to our children, as their guardians, to give them that opportunity in their formative years." She would like to think of Baboro as the "icing on the cake", with sustained provision in the future for little people in a city that trades on its "youth" image.

It is a sentiment that would surely be echoed in Louisburgh, which has drawn up a wonderful week-long programme of music, theatre, puppetry and storytelling for its rising generation. Organised by Louisburgh Community Project and sponsored by the Arts Council, Mayo County Council and other local bodies, the programme promises a French magician with tricks for would-be Harry Potters; acrobat musicians; Pedro the Music-man from South Africa, bearing a suitcase full of African traditional instruments; The Flying Gorillas; and street theatre galore if weather permits.

An audience of children from Clare Island and Inishturk will join contemporaries from Killeen, Lecanvey and Louisburgh national schools, and 26 workshops will be held over this coming weekend for participants between the ages of three and 16. Themes will range from Nigerian drumming and African batik to mask making, paper costumes and T-shirt design.

Open to all, each Sonas 2000 activity costs £1 per child. For more information, Sonas Festival can be contacted through Louisburgh Community Project at (098) 66218.

Galway has initiated its campaign to secure the European City of Culture title in 2005, and Galway Corporation has appointed Ms Fidelma Mullane as administrator to co-ordinate the submission. Ms Mullane has an impressive track record in heritage, arts administration and in securing approval for a range of EU-sponsored projects. She is anxious to hear from groups or individuals with ideas, themes or events by the end of this week and can be contacted in Galway City Hall at (091) 536426 or email: thanley@galwaycorp.ie