When Heidi Lynne Weeks begins developing a show for the Vancouver International Children's Festival, she turns to a reliable source for help-her nine-year-old niece.
At last year's festival, Weeks performed Pirate's Cove on the Aquabus. This year, she and three other actors will mount Little Red and the Sea Wolf on a larger boat for the weeklong festival on Granville Island that starts May 29.
Last year, Weeks asked her niece, Enya Casey O'Grady, what she'd want to see in a play about a pirate that was set on a boat.
O'Grady immediately replied she'd want to see a sword fight and someone get tied up.
"Tied up, that's the weirdest thing, I find, but she loves that," said the Studio 58 grad. "She loves the danger of it all."
This year, O'Grady suggested a mermaid and a talking sea creature.
In her spin on the classic fairytale, Weeks plays Little Red Riding Hood who's on an odyssey to her ailing grandmother's seaside home. En route, she encounters a Sea Wolf disguised as a sailor, mermaid Silver Star and the bass guitar-wielding Sir Samuel Seal.
"He's a rapper and he used to be in a band with Silver Star that was called Hot Tail," Weeks said.
The first show Weeks set on the Aquabus, which she piloted for 15 years, was a 2001 Fringe Festival show for adults called Storm Warning that featured a choose-your-own ending.
But Weeks has enjoyed her recent forays into writing for kids. She aims to appeal to the broadest demographic. "I was thinking about movies like Toy Story and Shrek," she said. "The adults understand it on one level- Sometimes there're double entendres, for sure, and I guess Hot Tail would be one of them."
Weeks, who now runs one of Montreal's longest-running improv companies, On the Spot, says producing children's shows keeps her on her toes.
"It really puts you to the test because it can't ever really lag," Weeks said. "Last year I wrote this one whole portion of the show that I was like, oh yeah, this is amazing, it's so well written, they're going to love it, and then they were looking out of the boat during my little piece-"
Little Red and The Sea Wolf will keep kids busy with audience participation.
The 35th annual children's festival focuses on storytelling with the theme Celebrate our Stories this year.
The Puppet and Its Double Theatre from Taiwan will present Oscar Wilde's classic tale The Happy Prince in Mandarin with English narration and intricate rod marionettes, and Vancouverites can see the North American premiere of the film The Itch of The Golden Nit, which tells the story of an 11year-old who must save the universe. It was created for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad by the Tate Modern with Aardman Animation (of Wallace & Gromit and Creature Comforts fame) with the help of 34,000 British children.
The festival includes 15 shows, a free outdoor stage and hands-on activities for children. Weeks will host the festival's annual variety show June 2. Tickets to this showcase are $22.
Individual performance tickets range from $9 to $18 and include access to all on-site activity zones. Go to childrensfestival.ca for more information.
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This story has been corrected since it was first posted May 23.