Robots, pirates and magic at the 33rd Whistler Children's Festival 

Long-running event includes kid-friendly workshops, performances and more

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SEAN ST. DENIS / ARTS WHISTLER - KID N' PLAY Whistler's longest-running festival returns to Whistler Olympic Plaza this weekend to delight the young and young at heart.
  • Photo by Sean St. Denis / Arts Whistler
  • KID N' PLAY Whistler's longest-running festival returns to Whistler Olympic Plaza this weekend to delight the young and young at heart.

If you know children's entertainer extraordinaire Ira Pettle (and, full disclosure: I do; we're pals), then you know the dude puts a lot into his performances.

So when the 38-year-old multi-hyphenate told me what he had in store for the 33rd edition of the Whistler Children's Festival this weekend, I gotta say, I was a little surprised.

"I'm going to be dropping the most energy I've ever dropped into a performance in my entire life. That's my goal: to be the best me I can ever be, and really leave it on the stage," he says. "So I'm going for it."

If you and your little ones happened to attend Pettle's Olympic Plaza kickoff party at last year's festival, his promise to crank up the octane has probably already got your dancing muscles aching.

"It was insane last year," says Jillian van der Geest, communications specialist with festival producer Arts Whistler. "Ira always gets people up and dancing." And that includes the most dance-averse demographic, van der Geest adds: "Reluctant dads."

So what's his secret?

"I'm more proficient at triggering that thing inside people that allows them to feel safe to play the game we're playing," Pettle explains. "Everybody really wants to dance. Underneath the thing that's holding you back from dancing is a desire to actually dance. Everyone wants to celebrate, everyone wants to jump. It comes in waves but it's in all of us."

Besides Pettle's pair of shows bookending the weekend — he opens the festival with two sets at 5:15 and 6:30 p.m. and wraps up the celebrations on Sunday at 3 p.m. — there's plenty on the schedule for both the young and young at heart.

"(The programming) is a real mix of getting kids active, creative and thinking, and really it's just an opportunity for families to spend time together in the mountains," said van der Geest. "Kids are born with this innate sense of creativity and this is a chance to foster that through lots of different avenues. "

One of those avenues is the bevy of hands-on workshops on offer, which cover everything from robot building to soapstone carving, and yoga to theatre games.

"I think that's really the future of the festival: more and more workshops, more unique workshops and just getting kids excited about creativity and art in Whistler," notes van der Geest.

Of course, no Whistler Children's Festival would be complete without a stellar lineup of family-friendly entertainment, and this year's program brings a full slate of performers to delight audiences big and small.

On Friday, march to the beat of the X-Corps Drumline, a community band out of Chilliwack that puts its own spin on contemporary and classic rock and pop hits, from Michael Jackson to Taylor Swift. The following day, Gabriola Island's three-time Juno-nominated The Kerplunks play their unique brand of kid's music with a "grown-up groove."

Also on tap for Saturday is The African Village Experience, a collective made up of traditional Central and Western African drummers and dancers. The eclectic group combines amateur and professional performers led by accomplished dancer Jacky Essombe and Beninese percussionist Yoro Noukoussi.

The festival's final day sees Leif David and his fun-filled magic show wowing the crowds at Olympic Plaza with his interactive style, as well as "the world's friendliest buccaneer," The Purple Pirate, who will take eager seafarers on a grand voyage with his innovative theatre production.

Now in its 33rd year, the Whistler Children's Festival is the resort's longest-running event and expects to welcome roughly 6,000 guests throughout its three days.

A festival pass costs $15 for children aged three to 15. Admission includes unlimited access to all the live performances and onsite activities. Kids two and under and anyone 16 and up is free.

For tickets, and the full schedule, visit www.whistlerchildrensfestival.com.

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