21 May 2007

Monday's mp3: A day out with the kids

It's 10am and most "normal" people are at work. Where am I? Sitting amid a sea of school children howling at the antics of Les Parfaits Inconnus (The Perfect Unknowns), a Quebec-based trio that does things not ordinarily done by men in dark suits. Things like bicycle stunts, acrobatics, trying to climb rickety ladders while wearing skates, juggling, crazy balancing acts. And they do all this while simultaneously providing their own soundtrack by playing guitar, clarinet, bass, and drums.

It's the final day of the Seattle International Children's Festival (SICF), the day the show moves to Tacoma, Washington. The SICF staff are amazing at herding large flocks of children between the two main theater venues and the outdoor staging area, a closed street and adjacent city park with another stage set up for student performers. In 30 minutes, hundreds of kids leave, hundreds more arrive, and it's time for the second show.

Circo Teatro Udi Grudi take the stage backed by a white fluffy backdrop that could be an angel's wings, or a cloud. In fact, it's a mass of white plastic bags woven together. All of the props, clothing, and musical instruments used by this Brazilian group are made of trash and recycled/found objects. Their show, entitled Ovo (Egg) is a trip to the garbage dump with three brilliant but eccentric musician-storytellers. They fight, they sing, they samba, they eat rubber, plastic, masking tape, and flame instead of food. There's an edge to their performance -- not just the clear references to hunger and poverty, but also as the characters straddle the line of sanity and veer from cooperation to rivalry and greed. Some of the show undoubtedly went over the heads of the kids watching. All I know is that I want a pair of the curly car-tire shoes one character sported.

More herding of kids and it was time for the final show of the festival. Los Patita de Perro are a rock trio from Mexico. And yes, they're a rock trio focusing on kids. After starting by asking the kids if they wanted to talk in English or Spanish (the first of many, many audience participation moments in their interactive show), the band launched into a song about the effects of immigration on Mexican families: kids living without fathers, followed by one on the struggles of single mothers. They bridged the language gap by running a subtitled video of each song on a big screen behind the band. By the time they got to the song "Jump" with dozens of kids invited onto the stage to do just that, the crowd was primed for some frenzied screaming and dancing. I didn't envy the teachers their job of crowd control, but I admired the trio's ability to interact with the kids. At one point they talked a bit about children's rights, letting a dozen kids finish the sentence "Children have the right to..." The answers: dance, say what they believe in, sing, play guitar, eat, and yes... rock and roll.

You say you missed the festival? Sorry to hear that. You've never really experienced global culture until you've watched it from within a writhing, screaming mass of school children. But the festival will be back next year. According to one festival organizer, it may be bigger, spread to more locations, and with a new name. We'll keep you posted about all that, while you listen to a little Mexican rock and roll.

[mp3] Los Patita de Perro: Hasta La Victoria
[mp3] Los Patita de Perro:
El Oso

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