My World, Our Planet

The 14th World Festival of Children’s Theatre

Photo of actors performing PIANO-winter. PIANO-winter: A scene from a performance by the deaf children of PIANO Theatre from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Plate-spinning. Peeling onions. Juggling things—lots of things, each different from the others. These are some of the images that have helped our team describe organizing the 14th World Festival of Children’s Theatre (WFCT), coming to Stratford in June.

These images are familiar to teachers who organize curricula, young people, time, space and so many other variables and distractions as they guide students toward understanding. Forty years in a secondary classroom and an Ontario Faculty of Education have taught me how to deal with multiple, competing priorities. On this project, more than four years of preparation have flown past and the final exam is coming soon!

Stratford, arguably Canada’s foremost theatre city, is hosting almost 300 young people from 20 countries and all continents for ten days of performances, workshops and social events. It’s theatre “for children, by children.” The festival puts the children’s voices front and centre, so the audience will understand how they view their world. It values their ideas ahead of adults’ ideas, who in North America often perform what they think is best for children.

“My World, Our Planet” is our festival’s theme, asking young people to tell stories that share hopes and fears, visions of a green Earth, dreams and dreamers, little worlds in this big world, the enchanted kingdom and the secret garden; stories that could be set in the past, present or future and explore and honour the creativity of young people.

The WFCT originated in 1990 under the auspices of the International Amateur Theatre Association (AITA/IATA). Lingen (Ems), a city of 54,000 in northwest Germany, is the festival’s home, where it returns every fourth year. In the intervening even-numbered years, festivals have been held in Antalya, Turkey; Copenhagen, Denmark; Toyama, Japan; Moscow, Russia and Havana, Cuba.

The festival has never been to North America until now. Stratford is by far the smallest city to host a World Festival of Children’s Theatre. In a city of 33,000, our visitors will be noticed! It’s also the first to be organized entirely by volunteers, many of whom are teachers.

The festival is a celebration. There are no Best Performance awards, however, the selection process is competitive. Forty-five applications arrived from all continents.

We will celebrate young people’s creative work from AFRICA: Uganda, Zimbabwe; ASIA: Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Palestine; EUROPE: Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia; NORTH AMERICA: Canada, El Salvador, United States; SOUTH AMERICA: Colombia, Cuba, Paraguay and OCEANIA: Australia.

Getting major community partners on board early was vital. Each recognized the potential in this enormous dream to build a new sense of community. Each bought into the festival’s mission: “to make a positive change in children’s lives…,” which informs every decision we make. Stratford’s WFCT Administrative Director and retired teacher Wendy McNaughton realized, that in organizing this festival, we were doing what we always tried to do in the classroom: building a sense that everyone has a significant role to play in the success of the group and focusing on that goal.

For the first time in its history, the festival will include a meaningful role for the local education system. The visiting children will be twinned and home-hosted with local classrooms, with whom both will learn through meaningful activities prior to the festival. The children will attend their host school for two mornings.

The WFCT would not be possible without the enthusiastic support of the federations and school boards. “We are very excited about this opportunity for our students to not only be enriched by the performances, but also by their potential interactions and learnings from students from around the world,” says Jane Morris, Avon Maitland DSB Superintendent. Teachers will also benefit, according to Jeff Denys, OSSTF/FEESO District 8, Avon Maitland Teachers’ Bargaining Unit President: “This is a great way for teachers to help their students learn about the world beyond their district borders. And when students make new friends in other countries, they learn empathy, the antidote to bullying.” Sarah Papoff, President of the Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators, says, “Showcasing children’s voices is an empowering and crucial way to highlight our connections and to inspire emotional literacy, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and innovation that impacts and changes our world, locally and globally.”

“PLAY! A Symposium” is a two-and-a-half-day international conference focusing on the importance of creativity. It will run in the middle of the festival, from June 10 to 12, (June 10 is a PA day in many Ontario boards!) and takes place at the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus.

The symposium is about exploring questions and imagination in young people. It will take a dynamic, open approach to interacting with artists, researchers, practitioners, and parents from all over the world!

Teachers and others will learn from and exchange ideas with high-profile education experts including Britain’s Jonothan Neelands and Patrice Baldwin, Canada’s David Booth, Kathy Lundy, Juliana Saxton, and Larry Swartz, among others. International presenters from the United States, Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran, Ghana, South Africa and Germany, to name a few, will be complemented by presentations from Right to Play Canada, and Clowns Without Borders. Registration opens in February.

Videos from children’s groups worldwide will play on the three story projection wall. They are responses to our “Our Stories, Our Planet: A Global Invitation” student-led project organized by retired drama teacher Helen Zdriluk’s Centre Stage Theatre School in Burlington. Her students’ invitation asks young people everywhere to share their stories on video. Your students can be part of the project!

Todo vive

Todo vive:
A member of the group Axioma Teatro, Asunción, Paraguay with a symbol from their play “Todo Vive” (Everything Lives).

The visiting children will participate in workshops most mornings, organized by a teacher committee, led by Gail Fricker. A director’s forum brings the play directors together to share their best practices. An Interfaith event at the Stratford Festival Theatre and multicultural community picnic will bring the children closer to the Stratford community in a different way. The adults will be treated each night to international food prepared at The Local Community Food Centre and a Canadian-themed gala dinner rounds out the festival. All of the children and adults, including the host families, will attend the Stratford Festival’s “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.” A “World Village and Cultural Expo” will be set up near the river—and much more.

The plates will stop spinning, the onions will be peeled and the juggling will stop when the children go home. But the long-term friendships they formed at the festival will touch their lives for a very long time.

And that makes all the difference.

World Festival of Children’s Theatre:
PLAY! A Symposium:
Our Stories, Our Planet: A Global Invitation:
Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators (CODE):
International Amateur Theatre Association (AITA/IATA):

About Ron Dodson
Ron Dodson is the Artistic Director of the WFCT and a retired drama educator from District 8, Avon Maitland and Brock University.

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