by Lynn on May 26, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Junior International Children’s Festival, Virtually Junior edition.

For the last three years Harbourfront has produced the Junior International Children’s Festival over the Victoria Day Weekend. This year because of COVID-19 the Junior Festival, May 16-18 was on line, hence, Virtually Junior. It’s billed as “Big Thoughts For Growing Minds” and the roster of events proves that. It has been co-curated by Natalie Bonjour and Mary Francis Moore. Bravo to them both.

This year there were 21 events on offer over the Victoria Day weekend (and still up on-line for your enjoyment) that ranged from: films, nature walks that explore the Humber River or looks at the life cycle of bees—Harbourfront Centre raises bees on its roof and collects the honey (for sale?) in the Fall—storytelling, crafts and performances in dance, song and comedy.

I was particularly impressed with the following (in no particular order) for so many reasons:

Story Time with Fay Slift.

Fay usually performs with Fluffy, but Fluffy was taking care of people on the West Coast, so Fay performed solo.

Fay is dramatic in a huge swooping pink wig and pink-strapless gown, startlingly made up in glittery, muti-coloured eye-shadow, eye-liner, mascara, eyelashes, red lipstick, a beautifully groomed salt and pepper beard (yes) and the most generous, open heart. Fay read three books with stories for our time: I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black that addresses concerns that young children might be going through; Be You by Peter H. Reynolds about being proud and happy with who you are and know all the good things about oneself; and The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak that has no pictures but lots of wonderfully wonky ‘words’ that the reader must say out loud.

As usual, Fay offers the young audience compassion, understanding, kindness, support, trust, faith, hope and humour.  He says that if something is bothering you to talk to a trusted adult or older sibling. You are not alone and don’t need to carry the burden of your worries by yourself. A wonderful message.  

Deconfine Me

By Aguibou  Bougobali Sanou a dancer-choreographer from Burkina Faso.

This is an excerpt of a larger piece called Talking to My Mom. It is a poem and dance in response to self-imposed isolation, with his mother in mind all the way from Burkina Faso. Aguibou Bougobali Sanou performs it in a grove of trees. The movement at times is free and open and other times it’s confined and restrictive. It expresses so many emotions we are all feeling while we are in isolation and longing to connect with those we love who are far way.

For me, the most important events were contributions from Indigenous artists who brought wisdom, generosity, an embracing attitude and their respect and knowledge of the land to share with their audience.

Nature Walk with Alan Colley.

Alan Colley, of Toronto Aboriginal Eco Tours, gave a nature walk along the Humber River. His mission was to bring people out into nature so they can connect to the land in a meaningful way.  He said the Humber River and its environs were not only things of beauty but also they could be considered a grocery and a pharmacy. He pointed out the various plants that were edible: violets, garlic mustard and horsetail. The river was teaming with various species of fish, equalled by the wildlife on the land. Colley’s respect for the land and river was matched by his enthusiasm in talking about it. When physical distancing is over I’ll take that tour.

Strawberry Moon Teachings with Kim Wheatley

Kim Wheatley is from Shawnaga First Nation, an Anishinaabe Ojiway Grandmother.

She greeted us she said, “In the various languages that the traditional peoples of these lands have spoken for time immemorial.” When she said in English, “Greetings, my relatives,” my heart melted.

As she said, “You are never too old to hear a story” and told the story of two brothers who went into the woods to wrestle. One of them died and the other brother tried to hide his crime. Eventually twines formed at the spot of the death, with a perfect red strawberry in the twines. The strawberry is in the shape of a heart and a drop of blood. Kim Wheatley talked of the Strawberry Moon, the traditions surrounding it and the folklore.

Cody Coyote, An Indigenous Voice in Canadian Music.

Mr. Coyote is Ojibwe. He sings of a child surviving the “60s Scoop”; of youth being told they aren’t good enough, or can’t do something, or is considered a loser and contending with that attitude and prevailing. In his comments to his audience he talks of doing small acts of kindness, “rock with each other”, “and if you aren’t Indigenous, come into our circle, share what we have…let’s live in harmony.”

Chats and Crafts with Lesley McCue

Lesley McCue is from Curve Lake First Nation. She made crafts referencing the animals and birds of the land illuminated in light. She also talked of the Seven Ancestral Teachings which certainly are important during this time in isolation: Respect, Bravery, Love, Honesty, Humility, Truth and Wisdom. Interestingly these teachings are also the basis of the programming at Young People’s Theatre.

In these sometimes divisive, angry times, the inclusive, embracing message of these artists is heart-warming.

These are some of the offerings of Virtually Junior this year and there are much more. Both Natalie Bonjour and Mary Francis Moore have worked hard to curate a festival that speaks to children from 4 years of age to 12 years old or so and are to be celebrated for their efforts.

But I do have a concern, as I have had since the beginning of this worthy festival, and that is that it seems to be a secret that Harbourfront wants to keep to itself. Trying to find any publicity on this festival is an exercise in frustration. I have reviewed this festival since it began three years ago, but getting advanced information on the festival is like pulling teeth. Fortunately I know Mary Francis Moore so I was sent information but that should not be her job. Surely in that vast administration of Harbourfront there is a publicity department, although you would hardly know it, and surely that department should be sending out information way in advance of the festival. I didn’t receive anything. And surely all the social media platforms should be brimming with such information, but that too seems strangely absent. Frustrating.

And isn’t it time that the Junior International Children’s Festival and the Wee Festival (catering to very young children to six-years-old) began collaborating instead of being separate festivals? The age groups overlap. That should be just one reason to collaborate. Both are worthy festivals. Collaborate, folks! News on the Wee Festival will follow shortly.

In the meantime, here is a link to the Virtually Junior Festival:

May 16-18, 2020. But still on line.

Click on “Instagram events” and scroll through the list. You can still watch and enjoy many of these offerings.

Leave a Comment