Arts and Culture for Early Years       May 4 – 24, 2020        

2016 Season Announcement

Theatre Direct Announces 2016 WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years-

“Wide-Eyed Wonder: The Power of Nature and Art in Early Childhood

Theatre Direct, a leading creator and innovator in theatre for young audiences, has announced the programming for the 2016 WeeFestival, a theatre and culture festival entirely dedicated to engaging children 0 – 5 years.

From May 16 – 23, 2015, 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.

This second edition of the festival features two musical works for babies and toddlers with the immersive and stimulating performance Hup from the pioneering company Starcatchers, (Scotland) and the enchanting Nest from Theater de Spiegel, (Belgium).

La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi (Italy) and Helios Theatre (Germany), two leading European theatres creating for very young audiences, featured in the inaugural festival in 2014,  return with new performances.  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, brings a beautiful dance/theatre work exploring the magic of light with Under a Different Light.

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 in the 2016 WeeFestival is Table Top Tales, a new family show from the 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!

In addition to engaging theatre productions, the festival will offer a range of multi-disciplinary programming designed to engage little ones and their parents including the “Walk, Stop, and Wonder” photography project, nightly “Cozy Concerts” at bedtime at the Theatre Centre, The Wee Shorts Film Series at Alliance Française, a variety of literary events, playful interactive installations, and an exhibition of the Charter of Children’s Rights to Arts and Culture from La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi.

Of the festival’s themes, Lynda Hill, Artistic Director of Theatre Direct says:

“Socrates said “Wisdom begins in Wonder” and there are no two forces more capable of invoking wonder in a child than art and nature.  Indeed, the wonder and mystery of nature is the central theme for our second edition of the WeeFestival. Stories flowing from a simple piece of wood, forest creatures on epic journeys, a nest filled with song, memories traced in sand, or dreams painted with light, this festival is a week celebrating beautiful art inspired by nature created especially for the very young. We can’t wait to share these theatrical gems with the very youngest of our audiences!”

Venues for the festival include The Theatre Centre (festival HUB), Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space and studios and the Artscape Wychwood Barns, home of Theatre Direct’s Wychwood Theatre.  Additional venues hosting festival activities will be announced soon.

The week will also feature a one-day conference for theatre educators, scholars, creators, and presenters featuring keynote addresses from Ben Fletcher-Watson, a leading researcher of Theatre for Early Years, Rhona Matheson, Chief Executive of Starcatchers, Scotland, and Columpa Bobb, Artistic Director of Urban Indigenous Theatre.

The 2016 WeeFestival will close May 23rd with a full day of performances and activities from Child-focused, community-based organizations at the Artscape Wychwood Barns.

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 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, Toronto Public Library, Rainbow Caterpillar, Bureau du Québec, and the festival’s community 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 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.

About the WeeFestival

Out of a passionate belief that children in their early years of development should be exposed to aesthetically-rich and stimulating arts artistic experiences, Theatre Direct conceived the WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years. The festival launched in 2014, 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.

Ticket Info

Public Bookings begin March 1st, 2016

School Bookings begin February 1st, 2016.

Visit for more information on purchasing tickets.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 11th, 2015
Media Contact: Mariel Marshall. associate producer.
Theatre Direct Offices: 416.537.4191

A Welcome Message:

The WeeFestival comes at a perfect time where there is a growing awareness around the importance of providing the best start for our children. We believe that participation in arts and cultural experiences can contribute positively to a child’s overall well-being and that of their families.

Theatre for early years presentations are offered for small audiences with their parents or caregivers in order to offer the highest degree of engagement and quality of experience. It is not a traditional play that adults have encountered or imagined, children are not expected to “behave!” or “sit still!” or “listen!”. However, children most always engage and listen because the performance is speaking to them at their level and is designed to be flexible and responsive. The artist engages with the children in a sensitive and interactive way – giving attention to each child.

Theatre for babies and toddlers? Theatre for this age is about creating a rich sensory experience that stimulates the child through music, light, colour, and texture. There are rarely “characters” on stage, instead, the artist is in the role of facilitator or guide rather than “actor”. There is always a “journey” and a sense of completion at the end of a presentation.The children are free to engage with the performance as they wish, sometimes they crawl or walk onto the stage and this is okay, as they become part of the experience. Lights are not too harsh or glaring and sounds and actions are not too loud. We don’t force an entertainment experience and yet, there is always humour and acceptance of what comes in the moment, which is often really funny and joyful!Theatre for preschoolers begins to introduce more narrative or story , though with minimal text while still relying on a visual and sensory rich experience. For children in kindergarten grades, story, character and the “suspension of disbelief” is introduced. We also begin to introduce the role of the audience and cooperation to support a positive experience for everyone in a gentle, positive and playful way. This encourages children to think about themselves as part of a larger group and the power of witnessing theatre together!Parents can feel calm as the artists are very experienced in working with children and we believe that an arts outing should be welcoming and stress-free. The environment and atmosphere of the theatre is welcoming and the staff are all committed to greeting and meeting the child and parent/caregiver gently and openly.The role of the parent/caregiver is to enjoy watching their child engage with the experience, to observe what interests or doesn’t interest their child, to observe what provokes laughter or wariness. They should never worry that their child will be scared or shocked as we ensure that both the environment and pace of the shows take into account their sensitivities and sensibilities. Our goal is to create a lasting and wonderful memory for a child’s first experience of theatre!

We are excited to share these beautiful and engaging performances with the very youngest of our audiences!