Your guide to Pittsburgh’s Children’s Theater Festival: bigger and better with more than 50 free activities

Face Painting and Eyeball Art add to the party at the EQT Children’s Theater Festival. Photo above courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Downtown will be transformed into one of the biggest family celebrations of the year during the EQT Children’s Festival, happening May 19-21. Now in its 37th season, young revelers are encouraged to play, craft and laugh, shepherded by parents who may have experienced the festival firsthand as children. You can look forward to three days of stimulating theater productions, as well as more than 50 free activities and performances throughout the Cultural District (see map below).

“The EQT Children’s Theater Festival is known for bringing award-winning, international family theater to Pittsburgh,” says Pamela Komar, director of Theater, Music and Youth Programming for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. “But our commitment to highlighting the work of local artists and our community partner organizations is just as important. The inclusion of the free programming not only allows us to strengthen those relationships but also turns the Cultural District and beyond into a non-stop fun zone for kids and families.”

Here are some highlights of what to expect. You can find the complete lineup here.

Experience a mission to the moon with Moonshot Museum. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

What to do: Free hands-on fun

Kids can make wearable Eyeball Art from ping pong balls and pipe cleaners that add a silly vibe to the day. Complete the look with a stop at the Face Painting station.

Art in Motion Pittsburgh combines dance and crafts with kids using flowing props and percussion instruments for an interactive dance lesson. Catch a session of Craft Time with Pittsburgh Park Rangers for artsy nature fun. Have an enchanted experience with Princess Encounters and take pictures with those favorite storybook characters.

Kids can explore musical instruments with Mini-Lessons from the School of Rock South Hills and 5-Minute Music Lessons with Sunburst School of Music. The Musical Instrument Petting Zoo shows kids how to hold and play a variety of brass and string instruments as an intro to music programming.

Kids can refine their chess playing skills with Let’s Play Chess offered by Queen’s Gambit Institute of Pittsburgh. And Steel City LUG offers LEGO Derby Track Races where kids build LEGO cars and test them for speed on the racetrack.

Learn dot painting and create a personal piece of Aboriginal-Inspired Art with Go Explore Create art studio.

O’Ryan the O’Mazing. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

What to see: Free performances

The ever-popular O’Ryan the O’Mazing returns with his crazy juggling, stilt walking and humor.

The Harris Theater offers Kid Flicks One from the New York International Children’s Film Festival. These charming and delightful short films will screen in one-hour sessions.

The Story Corner brings a variety of storytellers reading from books including “Giraffes Can’t Dance,” “A Color of His Own,” and “Hair Love.”

Students in the School of Rock South Hills house band will perform an exuberant rock concert of iconic hits.  Or bop to the rhythm of Cajun Drumming with Vince Wallace of Steel City Drumline.

Be dazzled by Paige Besse’s Hula Hooping Performance and join in the Giant Puppet Dance Party. And be amazed by Street Magic by Mr. Messado.

Kids can also embark on a high-octane lunar science expedition with Moonshot Museum in the Mission to the Moon session that includes explosive rocket science, audience participation and a look at the work of local space industry professionals.

Also reaching for the stars, The Starry Messenger presents a circus of the heavens by balancing stars, juggling planets and performing acrobatics with constellations.

In “Hiccup,” a koala gets a bad case of, you guessed it, hiccups. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Where to catch ticketed theater

This year brings a whopping eight theater productions to the festival. Tickets are $12 each.

The beloved story of “The Gruffalo,” best for ages 3 and older, is presented by Tall Stories from the United Kingdom. “It’s OK to be Different,” aimed at ages 3-7, is produced by Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia and incorporates innovative puppetry with playful music.

Little ones ages 18 months to 4 years will be enchanted by the water play of “Buoyant Sea,” created by the Hiawatha Project in partnership with the Cultural Trust. Windmill Theatre Co.’s “Hiccup” hails from Australia with its hilarious rocking musical extravaganza that’s best for kids ages 3-9.

“A Letter for Elena,” a production from Quebec and France, takes a more serious tone for kids ages 7 and older. Water is the theme of “Sakasaka,” a wordless physical comedy from La Compagnie Zolobe of Madagascar that teaches the importance of water conservation between laughs and music. This one is best for ages 3 and older.

Japanese storyteller Kuniko Yamamoto brings “Origami Tales,” presenting the ancient world of paper folding with puppets, masks and a six-foot dragon. Recommended for ages 3 and older. And Liberty Magic’s resident magician brings his Mr. Messado’s School of Magic for the Young and Young at Heart,” a performance filled with magic words, interactive tricks and hilarious entertainment. Designed for ages 8 and older.

Where to eat: Food trucks

A day of play requires sustenance. Festival food will be sold with a rotating variety of food trucks like Kona Ice, Aviva Brick Over, Hot Bunz and Goodeats. Check out the daily schedule and also view this list of suggested family-friendly restaurants in the Cultural District.

Getting around: Festival map