Monday, May 07, 2007

My bro Nik and the Childern's Festival

Growing up with the kids' festival

Nick von Schulmann grew up with the international event, became part of the production and now sees his children take part

Nick von Schulmann and kids Alex,11, and Maarja, 8. All are regular visitors to the Vancouver International Children's Festival.
Nick von Schulmann and kids Alex,11, and Maarja, 8. All are regular visitors to the Vancouver International Children's Festival.
Photograph by : Mark Van Man en/Vancouver Sun
Peter Birnie, Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, May 03, 2007

No one knows his way around the Vancouver International Children's Festival like Nick von Schulmann. A visitor to the annual event since he was 11 years old, von Schulmann (now 37) also worked there for years and now enjoys taking his two kids to the festival in Vanier Park.

He even has a direct link to the very origins of the festival, as von Schulmann's uncle, Lorenz von Fersen, for many years a Vancouver city planner, helped to create the kid's fest with founder Ernie Fladell. It grew from the 1976 UN Habitat conference to become a full-fledged festival in 1978; von Schulmann tries to recall if his first visit was in 1980 or '81.

"The Flying Fruit Fly Circus stood out big-time for me," he says, citing the junior Australian troupe that was founded, appropriately enough, in 1979 -- International Year of the Child.

By 16, von Schulmann was working at the festival as a crew member. He'll never forget the year of Expo '86, one of many that saw the festival soaked in spring rain.

"They moved the kid's fest to avoid Expo and did it in April. It was just a mud pit down there," von Schulmann says.

Cirque du Soleil was making its Vancouver debut at the festival that year, and von Schulmann was enlisted to help the troupe. "I still remember shoving plywood under their truck to try and get it out of the mud," he recalls with a laugh. "There I was, under the truck, with the neighbours taking photos of me."

Those would be the good folk of Kits Point, who were initially hostile to the festival and its need to muck up the lawns in Vanier Park.

"It was really tricky in those days," von Schulmann observes.

After a year off, he was back for the long haul, first returning to the crew and then rising through the ranks to become a stage manager, production manager for various productions and finally technical director in the early '90s. Busy doesn't begin to describe his schedule.

"It involved all the site planning, material logistics, all the technical planning, the scheduling and load-in and hiring of the crew. In the peak years we had a crew of up to 70, and we were running day and night shifts."

In 1990, NHK TV from Japan leased an 11-metre trailer loaded with equipment from Telesat Canada and shot at the festival in the then-new high-definition format. Each night after the festival had closed, one of the acts would be filmed. That was a walk in the park compared to the year von Schulmann watched the wind rip a wall off a tent, forcing the festival to move a Fred Penner concert to the Playhouse.

"There was more than one occasion in the late '80s, when I lived in Kits and I'd get a call: "Come on down, the tents are blowing away."

And let's not forget the infamous rains that plagued more than a few editions of the fest.

"We built so many plywood roads over the years to get people from point A to point B," von Schulmann says.

Noting with a laugh that the weather seems to have improved since he left the festival, von Schulmann looks back happily.

"I learned so much working there," he says. "There are so many crew who have come through there and are all over Canada in theatre and film, survivors of the trench warfare of children's festivals."

Now director of production for PRP Inc., which creates events for such clients as the PNE, Legoland theme parks and the recent Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, von Schulmann still visits the children's festival -- now with his children Alex, 11, and Maarja, 8.

"Alex was born in April, so I took him when he was about a month old. I have pictures of Charlotte Diamond carrying him around."

Speaking of Charlotte, she's returning with the Hug Bug Band for this year's festival. Norman Foote is also back, this time with Simon Jackson of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, and Rick Scott also returns with the Pumkids.

International acts include the Jabali African Acrobats with Kenya Alive!, the Vietnamese Water Puppets, Malambo Flamenco from Argentina and Spain, Theatre Kazenoko and Australian puppeteer Peter Wilson with A World of Paper, Teatro Hugo & Ines from Peru and Puppentheater Halle from Germany, with Can You Whistle, Johanna?

From closer to home, Tzo'kam and Sandy Scofield present first nations music, Les Petites Tounes sings its way in from Quebec, Kaleidoscope Theatre presents The Boy Who Learned to Fly and For the Luv of It Youth! joins forces with South Asian Arts to present For the Luv of Dance.

For more information, go to or call 604-708-5655.

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