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For Early Years, returns for a second edition: May 16-23, 2016

Theatre Direct, a leading creator and innovator in theatre for young audiences, has announced the programming for the 2016 WeeFestival. This theatre and culture festival entirely dedicated to engaging children 0 – 5 years will take place May 16-23, 2016 in venues across Toronto, including the Theatre Centre, Tarragon Theatre, and the Artscape Wychwood Barns. Additional free family activities will animate the festival, including the highly anticipated Family Day events on Monday May 23.

Performances at the WeeFestival will feature productions by acclaimed companies specializing in theatre for the very young from Belgium, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Québec, Manitoba and Ontario. Whether for babies and toddlers, preschoolers, or kindergarteners, each show has been created with the emotional and social developmental needs and interests of young children and are presented in intimate venues to ensure every child is close to the action and fully immersed in the experience.

The 2016 WeeFestival features two music-theatre performances for babies and toddlers with the immersive production Hup from the pioneering company Starcatchers, (Scotland) and the enchanting Nest from Theater de Spiegel, (Belgium).

Returning to the festival with new productions after the success of their performances in 2014 are La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi (Italy) and Helios Theatre (Germany). Helios offers two distinct shows, Traces, an exploration of memory through sand, sights, and sound, and Woodbeat, an epic tale about a brave little creature overcoming large obstacles with puppetry and music. La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi (Italy), brings a beautiful dance/theatre work exploring the magic of light with Under a Different Light. Under a Different Light will be featured for a special evening performance at 7pm on May 17th.

The festival is proud to feature Urban Indigenous Theatre (Manitoba), a dynamic new company creating and performing work for young people that celebrates First Nations culture with the production of Jumping Mouse. This adaptation of a traditional legend promotes the values of friendship, courage, and the rewards of persistence.

The 2016 WeeFestival sustains its commitment to strengthening ties with its Québec-based counterparts by featuring two companies from la belle provence. Isabelle Payant of Le Théâtre des Petites Âmes brings her beautiful tale of Pekka, a little turtle on a big journey to audiences of 2-4 years old, while the artists of Le Chemin qui Marche weave together two stories told through music and puppetry with Tree/Arbre & Inuksuk. Shows by both of these companies will be performed in French or English.

Rounding out the line-up of feature productions is Table Top Tales, a new family show from the Toronto-based Snack Music Collective. In this fun-filled romp into the world of family stories, children and parents are invited to share their stories which are then brought to life through puppetry and an original musical score.

Through its fundraising activities and funding from the Arts Department of the TDSB, The Festival offers free tickets to children in daycares and kindergartens or through community programs to individuals who would not otherwise have the means to attend.

Festival Events:
In addition to engaging theatre productions, the festival will feature the Wonder Garden, a playful interactive installation open for young children and their parents throughout the festival in the Theatre Centre’s Incubator. Designed by Andy Miller and inspired by the WeeFestival artwork created by Kinnon Elliot, the Garden will offer a range of multi-disciplinary programming for little ones including Cozy Concerts by Toronto’s best musicians at naptime and bedtime, storytelling and readings from notable Toronto theatre and literary artists, and parenting-focused talks.

The WeeFestival is proud to haveAlliance Française as a program partner for Animez Vous!, a unique creative movement workshop for kindergarten students inspired by animation. Programmed especially for the WeeFestival with the themes of nature, art, and wonder, we are pleased to offer this fun and interactive workshop for children and their teachers.

In partnership with the Koffler Centre, the WeeFestival presents Walk, Stop, and Wonder, a photography project that celebrates the little things that capture the attention of children. Photographs from the project will be displayed in the Gallery of the Theatre Centre throughout the festival.

WeeFestival is pleased to have the participation of The Royal Conservatory of Music with Smart Start workshops throughout the week for parents and children.

The 2016 WeeFestival Family Day will close May 23rd with a full day of music, dance, and literary performances and activities for families at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.

More details on WeeFestival events including schedule and featured artists will be announced May 1, 2016 on the WeeFestival website.

Festival Conference
The week will also feature an array of conference activities focused on arts and early years featuring key note presentations from Ben Fletcher-Watson, a leading researcher of Theatre for Early Years, Rhona Matheson, Chief Executive of Starcatchers, Scotland, Lise Hovik, of Norway’s Teater Fot, and Indigenous artist Columpa Bobb, Artistic Director of Urban Indigenous Theatre. On Thursday May 19th, the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts will hold a one-day symposium on arts in early childhood and welcome 2 performances of Hup from Starcatchers, Scotland for Hamilton families.

Theatre Direct is pleased to have the generous support of The Department of Canadian Heritage, The Canada Council and the following cultural partners as co-presenters: Istituto Italiano di Cultura for La Baracca Testoni Ragazzi’s production of Under a Different Light; and the Goethe Institut-Toronto for Helios Theatre’s productions of Woodbeat and Traces.

Additionally, the company would like to recognize the programming sponsorship and support from Koffler Centre of the Arts, Prologue to the Performing Arts,Toronto District School Board, Rainbow Caterpillar, Bureau du Québec, the Royal Conservatory of Music, and the festival’s new network partner, the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts.

The Little Paper is the Print Media Sponsor for the WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Childhood.
Additional arts funding to Theatre Direct is received from our Government Arts Councils including the Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts and Toronto Arts Council.

About the WeeFestival
Out of a passionate belief that children in their early years of development should be exposed to aesthetically-rich and stimulating artistic experiences, Theatre Direct conceived the WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years. The festival launched in 2014 and welcomed close to 5000 children and their grown up guests, and now returns for its second installment with an exciting line-up of events and performances from internationally celebrated artists.

The first of its kind in Toronto and second only to Festival Petits Bonheurs in Montreal, the WeeFestival joins the international arts for early years movement and brings together leading artists and companies from around the world to Toronto for one week of performances for children 0-5 years.

About Theatre Direct
Now entering its 40th year, Theatre Direct Canada is one of the Country’s leading theatres for young audiences whose productions have reached audiences in schools and theatres touring throughout Ontario, across Canada and overseas. Within its theatre and education studios in the Artscape Wychwood Barns, the company’s productions engage students from over 25 local schools while its year-round drama school and community-based education involve over 300 children and their families.

Theatre Direct’s work has been recognized with numerous Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations and have won 6 Dora Mavor Moore Awards for outstanding Production in the TYA category, 10 Chalmers Canadian Play Awards, as well as, the Canada Council Theatre for Young Audiences Prize.