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Orange County Family

All's Fair at Kids' Fair

Festival has the usual--stories, magic, music--but with a dash of irreverence.


The German shepherd had to be canned, ("his material was lousy," joked his owner), but the bulldog rolls 'em in the aisles. He's easy to handle too. When the show's done, you can just toss him in a box and forget him.

Before you call the ASPCA, it should be noted that this pup--or more accurately, pup head--is foam and wire. It's one of the "props with attitude" dreamed up by children's entertainer Norman Foote to enliven his often irreverent songs.

You can meet Foote and his entourage of puppet props Saturday when the Canadian artist headlines Saddleback College's inaugural Kids Fest '97 in Mission Viejo.

Foote, who will give three concerts in the college's McKinney Theatre, is one of several artists providing music, magic, storytelling and visual arts in and around the fine-arts section of the campus for Kids Fest. Others include comedic illusionist Ed Alonzo (a.k.a. Max on the NBC sitcom "Saved by the Bell") and singer-storyteller Beth Lawrence.

Also featured are face-painting and craft-making, appearances by local firefighters and sheriff's deputies, Saddleback's Symphonic Wind Ensemble and "Math U Love," an educational circus-arts show. Kids Fest '97 is presented by the Saddleback Children's Festival, which hosts a youth theater series, and by the Mission Viejo Cultural Arts Committee.

The event is being paired with the school's annual food fair and a concert by Queen Ida & Her Bon Temps Zydeco Band. The fair, which includes food and beverages from about 18 local restaurants and vendors, begins at 5:30 p.m. in the courtyard outside the gymnasium; the concert kicks off at 8 p.m. in the gym.

Kids Fest activities range from free to $6, and Queen Ida tickets run $8 to $11. For $20, visitors can buy an All-Day Adventure Pass good for all performances. Food scrip is sold separately.

Saddleback's Performing Arts Director Geofrey English said he's been hoping to stage a family festival like this for about five years, since he attended the internationally recognized Vancouver Children's Festival.

English figured the time was ripe to try one here, given the growing popularity of the school's children's theater series (the Saddleback Children's Festival includes two summer shows on campus and a six-show season at a storefront theater in the Mission Viejo Mall that began in 1996). It became riper still when Queen Ida's June concert had to be postponed because she was ill.

"Queen Ida's concert is such an incredible family event we thought, 'Why not tie the two together?' " he said. "The little kids get out there and dance with their grandparents and parents. . . . It's music that just gets everybody up and going."

Inspired by what he saw in Vancouver, English has big plans for future Kids Fests. He hopes, in the next three to five years, to expand the event to several days and make it international, bringing from around the world artists skilled in a variety of performing and visual arts.


This year, Foote is probably the lineup's best-known performer, especially to those who favor kids' music that doesn't bore adults to tears.

The 42-year-old Foote has recorded for Disney's now-defunct Music Box Series label ("Footeprints" in 1991 and "If the Shoe Fits" in '93). He was signed in spring by Youngheart Music, the label that carries children's artists Greg and Steve, Shari Lewis and Joanie Bartels. Youngheart released Foote's "Shake a Leg" albums this summer; his newest, "Pictures on the Fridge," is scheduled for U.S. release by the winter holidays. (Oak Street Music in Winnipeg has both albums in Canada.)

He has several music videos running on the Disney Channel, the Learning Channel and the Family Channel and has a Web site (

Foote recently made his first foray into the children's book market with "Spider Dan," illustrated by Charlie Mitchell and inspired by Foote's song of the same title. It's about a spider who's philosophically opposed to eating other spiders and must come up with an alternative menu.

Foote's current "Tour de Foote" is crisscrossing Canada and the United States and will include a stint in Ireland in October. He'll play the Forum Theatre in Thousand Oaks on Oct. 18.

Caught between school concerts on Vancouver Island, B.C., Foote, who estimates he performs about 175 shows a year, said he tries to give listeners a blend of "songs you can dance to, songs that are fun to get involved in and songs that have a message."

Foote's musical settings range from reggae to country to rhythm and blues. His lyrics, which often feature sophisticated word plays, cover such universal themes as sibling rivalry and grueling family road trips.


When he's playing for audiences, Foote says, he likes to put them to work.

"I like to get them involved right from the beginning," explained the Vancouver father of four who frequently hauls audience members on stage to help bring his props to life. "And the best way they can participate is through laughter."


* Saddleback Children's Festival's Kids Fest '97, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo, Saturday. Kids Fest activities and performances begin at 10 a.m. and continue until late afternoon. Admission to various activities is free to $6. Food Faire begins at 5:30 p.m.; Queen Ida & Her Bon Temps Zydeco Band concert begins at 8 p.m. Admission: $5-$11. All-Day Adventure Pass, including admission to all events: $20. (714) 582-4656.

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