Giant Magnet attracts Chinese troupes for final year of fest
A preview of the 25th — and final — Giant Magnet Children's Festival, held May 10-16, 2011, in Seattle and in Tacoma.
Seattle Times theater critic
Giant Magnet Children's Festival• Tuesday-Saturday at Seattle Center and May 16 at Pantages Theatre in Tacoma; performers include Guangdong Province Puppet Troupe, the Shaanxi Folk Art Theatre and Terrapin Puppet Theatre.
• Giant Magnet Family Day is Saturday, offering performances plus free games and crafts at Seattle Center to the general public; $7-$10 (800-838-3006 or www.giantmagnet.org).
Rich traditions of Chinese theater — in puppetry, folk drama and opera — will be on colorful display at the Giant Magnet festival at Seattle Center this week.
Aimed at children and families but also enticing for adults without kids in tow, Giant Magnet has more than just offerings from China: music from Ecuador and India. Puppets from Tasmania. And some appealing American acts, including Seattle's beloved, interactive musical combo Caspar Babypants.
Giant Magnet (formerly the Seattle International Children's Festival) is celebrating its 25th year of bringing extraordinary performers from around the globe to expand the cultural horizons of Washington youths.
Many children get rare access to, and insight into, foreign cultures via the artistry of such far-flung companies (appearing this year) as China's Guangdong Province Puppet Troupe, the South American folkloric troupe Andes Manta and the Punjabi band Tigerstyle, which fuses hip-hop and traditional Indian music.
But the 2011 celebration is also, to the regret of many, the festival's finale.
Last month the board of directors of Giant Magnet made the surprise announcement that the nonprofit organization will close down after winding up its offerings in Seattle and Tacoma this month.
The decision was a wrenching one, said Jill Fanette, the associate executive director and overseer of the current festival. According to Fanette, and previous statements by Giant Magnet board president Teresa Gallo, several factors went into it.
Cutbacks in public education have made it more difficult for schools to bus students to the festival. A conflict between the usual dates of the festival, and mandated educational testing in the schools, was another concern.
And Fanette says that while Giant Magnet is carrying no accumulated financial debt, and derives some support from such major corporations as Microsoft and Boeing, fundraising for the festival (budgeted this year at about $640,000) is getting increasingly difficult.
Fanette (a Giant Magnet staffer for seven years, in various capacities), reports that the Seattle Center "really wanted us to see if we could keep it going. They hate to see it end, especially at the time of their 50th anniversary. They offered to look at other dates, and help offset some of our building expenses. But our board wants to be responsible, and feels it is not feasible to continue."
Some others, including arts consultant and former Giant Magnet executive director Andrea Wagner, question the abrupt decision (made in March, according to Fanette) to make this the final festival.
"It's a huge resource for this community on all sorts of levels," said Wagner, whose sudden termination in 2009 without stated cause, after 14 years heading Giant Magnet, drew community protests. "The people currently involved have made a case that the festival isn't viable. But that doesn't mean the city should totally abandon it. I would hope it rises like a phoenix in another form."
Whether or not that occurs, this year's Giant Magnet will serve some 20,000 children at the weekday school matinees, and additional spectators on Saturday's family day, which features additional free participatory activities (mask-making and beading, outdoor games, etc.) on the Seattle Center grounds.
To make the event more accessible, Saturday show ticket prices have been reduced to $7 for children, $10 for adults (down from last year's $10 and $15). Cut-rate packages for multiple hourlong performances are also available.
Misha Berson: email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.