Young at Art : KidzArtz Festival Lets Youngsters Act Out Dreams

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's an artist in every child, yearning for an opportunity to sing, act, draw, create and dream. That's the theory behind KidzArtz, a two-day festival that will give your child a chance to dance, conduct, play a variety of musical instruments, perform Shakespeare, craft puppets, sculpt, paint and--with just a touch of stage make-up--metamorphose from young to old in a matter of moments.

Children will get the opportunity to do all that and more in more than 40 workshops and performances at 14 sites at the sixth annual KidzArtz Festival in Balboa Park on Saturday and Sunday.

For six years, KidzArtz founder and coordinator Elaine Krieger has brought professional artists and workshops to the children of San Diego--free of charge. It started as her response to the budget cuts in the arts in the public schools. Today it is also her response to an economy in which parents find it hard to afford arts education for their children.

Krieger, 57, does not have children of her own. This festival is her "baby," as she calls it. The delight of the children who attend is her reward.

"I thought there has to be something beautiful and positive for the children," she said. "They're our future. They have sports, they have academics, but they have to have something for the inside--something about the beauty of life.

"If we don't reach them now, we are not going to have audiences or artists in the future."

KidzArtz has grown during its six years. About 15,000 children attended the first year; this year 60,000 are expected.

It is designed for children from kindergarten to ninth grade. Those younger may enjoy looking, but this is not a face-painting, bubble-blowing, balloon-waving type of festival, Krieger stresses. This is an opportunity for children to learn and participate.

All the arts are represented, but drama is this year's theme. Old Globe Theatre drama teacher Linus Weiss will teach acting and give a tour of backstage activities on the Lowell Davies Festival Stage. Ralph Funicello, a frequent set designer at the Old Globe, will use models and blueprints to show how sets are created. Costume designer Bary Odom will demonstrate the design process from idea to finished production.

And San Diego Junior Theatre costume designer Bryan Schmidtberger will demonstrate how he built costumes for "Alice in Wonderland" from start to finish.

One favorite will probably be the stage make-up session in which Clark Mires, chairman of the theatre arts department at Grossmont College, and Nick Reid, associate professor at San Diego State University's drama department, will transform children from young to old and from beauties to beasts at the Lowell Davies Festival Stage and the Casa del Prado Theatre.

The other arts will also be well represented. San Diego Symphony Pops guest conductor Carl Hermanns will give conducting lessons. Eddie Edwards, Senior and Junior will teach painting. Former San Diego Sockers star Juli Veee will teach drawing and the Origami Paperfolders of San Diego will give instructions in the art of folding paper into animals and other objects.

The California Ballet will perform excerpts from "Coppelia," dancer Betzi Roe will teach children how to become their favorite characters through dance movement and young dancers from the San Diego Foundation for the Performing Arts' City Moves project will dance their way through Dr. Seuss stories.

The San Diego Symphony will provide a musical petting zoo. Marie Hitchcock will stage a puppet show. There will be African mask making and performances by Samahan Philippine dancers.

There is a backstage drama to the drama theme, however. Like other nonprofit organizations in San Diego, KidzArtz is struggling to pay its bills. The event is sponsored by Target Stores, the Fieldstone Foundation, Bank of America, KyXy Radio, KUSI-TV, San Diego County and the City of San Diego. But as of Wednesday, it was about $20,000 short of its $100,000 budget. Krieger is hoping for last-minute donors to step forward. Most of the money goes for artists, materials, programs and advertising the event. She also pays a two-person, part-time production staff, with the rest of the work being done by about 350 volunteers, many from the Navy.

Krieger said she gave up her livelihood producing community events to devote seven days a week, all year round preparing for this festival. Last year, when the budget was $10,000 short, she reached into her retirement funds to make up the difference. She said, however, that she is unable to that again this year.

For the first time in the festival's history, she is asking a suggested $2 donation for the printed program detailing the times of each of the performances and workshops. But she remains adamantly against charging for the festival itself. Krieger is determined that the festival will stay accessible to everyone.

"I grew up in an artistic family with many people who are musicians and artists. I was a frustrated dancer/actress/musician and never a performer in the true sense of the word, but I grew up with a love for the arts and I know how that enriched me. I am in despair about what is happening to children, with kids 6 and 7 selling cocaine on street corners, with teen-age abortions, pregnancies, suicides.

"I am reaching out to the community with this festival and I am saying we have to reach out to the children. We won't keep anybody out and that's why I've kept this festival free."

* KidzArtz runs from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in various sites throughout Balboa Park. Free parking at Balboa Park and at the former Naval Hospital across the street from the park. Maps and schedules are available in the printed program at the Organ Pavilion and three other information booths throughout the park. For more information, or to make contributions, call 685-3400.

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