A festival for children in which they are fully involved: welcome to the BIG BANG! Launched in Belgium in 1995 under the name Oorsmeer (Dutch for “oil for the ears”), the project has since been picked up by several European cities.
The National Arts Centre (NAC) adopted the concept in 2019. Each year, about 10 young people from the National Capital Region are selected as Ambassadors, and they take their role to heart.
“They’re active project participants,” explains Mélanie Dumont, associate artistic director of NAC French Theatre and initiator of the BIG BANG Festival in Ottawa. The young Ambassadors attend performances and report live from the festival, interview artists and visitors, and welcome, guide and advise members of the public.
At first, this children’s festival didn’t have any Ambassadors, but the value of their contribution soon became apparent. For each edition, the NAC invites applications from bilingual young people ages 10 to 14, and selects about 10 Ambassadors. For the 2023 edition, no fewer than 60 applications were received from 41 schools in the region. The call for applications is now open on the Big Bang Festival Ambassadors’ page.
“The Ambassadors are the standard-bearers of the event,” says Mélanie. “They’re prominent at the festival because they’re part of the event. You see them having fun, being adventurous with the performances, and being completely open to any experience that comes their way. And it’s as if their joy and enthusiasm spread throughout the whole event.”
In the run-up to the festival, the young Ambassadors work with the team to fine-tune their skills so that they can be excellent hosts and hostesses and provide information to the public during the festival. They also become experts on the festival schedule and the artistic approach of each event on the program, as well as budding reporters. While the festival is in full swing, the young Ambassadors set off, microphone in hand and curiosity well sharpened, to meet the artists and conduct video interviews that they put together from start to finish. “They get to meet the creator of a project that they’ve researched in detail,” says Mélanie. “After this in-depth experience, they’re attached to the NAC, they’ve been all over the building (including backstage) and they know everything about it.”
While this role is rewarding and forges strong ties between young people, they are also a source of inspiration for the festival team. “It’s an opportunity for some truly special exchanges in a fun and upbeat setting,” explains Mélanie. “The Ambassadors tell us what they think of the shows, how they feel about the experience, and we use that feedback for the next edition. There are also several young people with whom we’ve continued to work on other projects.”
There are Ambassadors in each of the 17 cities where the BIG BANG Festival takes place, from Lisbon, Athens and Rouen to Copenhagen and Reykjavik. For the next Ottawa edition, Mélanie would like to create a link between two groups of young people—”those in Ottawa and those in Dublin, for example. It would be interesting, because our two festivals take place at the same time and we all speak English. So the two groups could share their festival experience despite the 6,000 kilometres that separate them.”
Music is a unifying art that transcends all barriers. “No matter what our cultural background, we can all come together around music. It has the power to connect us,” says Mélanie.
For two days of micro-concerts, sound installations, fun experiments, treasure hunts, and music-themed arts and crafts, the NAC opens its doors to young people and invites them (and their parents and/or accompanying adults) to take over the building. “It’s impossible to leave disappointed, because if you don’t like an experience, there are still a dozen more to discover. This festival’s vision is extraordinary, and I want the programming to remain bold, festive and fun,” concludes Mélanie.
Are you ready for the next musical adventure?