International Intrigue
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International Intrigue

Children take over Wolf Trap this weekend for the 35th International Children's Festival.

Cutting a famous two-hour Moliere play down to 25 minutes is no easy task — especially when performing it in the woods at a festival that draws talent from around the world.

But then again, The Traveling Players Ensemble are used to the "hard-knock-life" of the performing arts, centering their group around the lifestyle of medieval-European minstrel performers. Despite little more than three weeks rehearsal time, the Traveling Players are geared up and ready to present Moliere's "Scapin" at the 2006 International Children's Festival, this weekend at Wolf Trap.

"We have a remarkably organized little army of young students," said Jeanne Harrison, producing artistic director for the Traveling Players Ensemble. "It's kind of like theater meets boot camp."

Performing at Wolf Trap's Theater in the Woods, the Traveling Players are in a familiar setting. With annual backpacking trips to Skyline Drive and upwards to two-weeks of hiking and performing, this is more than your average theater "camp."

"Our mission is to bring great theater into the great outdoors," said Harrison about the McLean-based organization. "Ironically we are representing France at the festival, although it makes sense in the idea that in the Middle Ages there were traveling performers. That is the whole basic philosophy behind the group. It ain't theater for wimps."

FOR 35 YEARS NOW, the Arts Council of Fairfax County, has culled young talent like the Traveling Players Ensemble from around the globe and showcased them at this two-day event, held annually in September.

"We've been around a long, long time," said Ann Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Arts Council of Fairfax County. "We were born out of a conversation with the founder of Wolf Trap [Catherine Filene Shouse]. The idea was conceived between the founder and others who wanted to bring the international stage to Wolf Trap."

First produced and billed as "International Children's Day," in 1971, the festival has grown to feature roughly four large international performing arts companies annually, as well as a host of nationally touring acts, local troupes and learning centers devoted to teaching showcased cultures and the relationship between technology and the arts.

"We have 12 workshops in a specially designed building that's going to connect the technology and arts," said Rodriguez. "You can do the green screen that allows you to perform and then we put in a background. There are over 20 arts activities. You can come with your family and spend a day and be surrounded by the visual and performing arts all with an international concept."

This year, the festival will showcase four children's groups. Three of the groups, the Qatari Children's Choir (Qatar), the Gimcheon Youth Korean Traditional Music Group (South Korea) and the Harman Folklore Youth Club (Turkey) will make their first trip to the International Children's Festival. Halau Hula Olana, from Oahu, Hawaii will return for the first time in five years. The festival also presents two-time Grammy Award winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, and The New York Goofs, a clown troupe from New York City.

With an additional 15 local performance groups, Wolf Trap utilizes all of its space to put on the festival.

"Not only will there be lots and lots of performing on the Filene Stage, there will also be performances in the Meadow and the Theater in the Woods," said Rodriguez. "Let's just say that the performing part of this will be ongoing all day on all stages."

BECAUSE OF THE VOLUME of performers, many of the shows have been limited to 25 minutes. But due to a scheduling glitch, Harrison says that her Traveling Players Ensemble were able to increase their stage time.

"Now we have a 40-minute slot. We are thrilled. We can tell the story better in 40 minutes then in 25," she said.

"I'm thrilled that we are out there in the Theater in the Woods because it is a beautiful stage and appropriate for what we do. The arts can be an international language and that's one way to work for a culture of peace and not a culture of war."

<1b>—By Christopher Staten