Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Open Air, sponsored by both the Live Arts Festival and the Association for Public Art (formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association) will turn a half-mile of the Ben Franklin Parkway into an interactive light show using GPS technology available via a free downloadable mobile app. (Smartphones are also available for loan.) Twenty-four searchlights will respond to participants' voices and reorient themselves according to the speakers' locations, thus confirming most children's suspicions that the world really does revolve around them.
Also on the Parkway, and also free, Canadian choreographer Sylvain Emard's Le Grand Continental takes place at the Art Museum steps. But instead of one guy running up, Rocky-style, about 200 volunteer dancers will perform an exuberant 30-minute line dance for a step-sitting audience. This piece has appeared in festivals from Montreal to Mexico City, but Philly's effort will be Emard's largest gathering yet.
The festival's indoor offerings require tickets but still deliver big excitement, albeit with more intimate themes - and, in one case, a very intimate setting. Montreal's 7 Fingers circus troupe returns this year, after the success of its 2011 hit Traces, with the U.S. premiere of Sequence 8. 7 Fingers' contemporary dance, stripped-down acrobatics, and human-scale interaction will capture the attention of children who find Cirque du Soleil's baroque costuming and thematic abstractions a one-way trip to Fidgettown.
If the previously mentioned shows provide an excess of sensory stimulation, Headlong Dance Theater's This Town Is a Mystery brings to its performance all the low-key comforts of home. That's because the show will be performed at home - actually, at four homes - by the homes' residents, based on their own stories. Even better, each performance ends with a potluck dinner provided by audience members, so small spectators who eat only hot dogs or SpongeBob macaroni and cheese are guaranteed a perfect evening. However, only 10 tickets are available per show, so expect this one to sell out fast.
The other part of the festival, the un-curated, anything-goes Philly Fringe, probably seems like a free-for-all to parents unfamiliar with Philadelphia's top-notch independent-theater scene. But again, plenty of quality acts also welcome kids to the action, or include them in it.
Dragon's Eye Theatre, helmed by several area stage veterans, sets its Seek and Hide inside Fairmount Park's Smith Memorial Playground, and sends children on a quest to find one character's lost imagination. Visiting Smith is a rite of passage for the city's under-10 set, and participating in a Fringe show there equals instant mini-hipster cred, guaranteed.
Issues-oriented children might want to check out OfPlastic Things and Butterfly Wings, a puppet show with an environmental message. Little Fish Theatre, the company that brought The Rocky Horror Puppet Show to the 2006 Fringe Festival, uses recycled materials to introduce a cast of tropical and aquatic characters united in their quest to explore a plastic-filled ocean gyre.
A final destination, Grasso's Magic Theatre, is just the sort of gem that exists to be discovered during the Fringe. Construction worker/musician Joe Grasso's jewel box of a dedicated magic house will host Jeff Carson's The Cabinet of Curiosities. Combining sleight of hand with mystery, humor, doodads, and gewgaws, Carson opens up his cabinet and explains its history, drawing on his own - more than 40 years of prestidigital experience.
Evening performances, while still family-friendly, include access to a full bar, because sometimes moms and dads need age-appropriate fun, too.
Open Air Free, Sept. 20-Oct. 14, 8-11 p.m., Eakins Oval, 24th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Le Grand Continental Free, Saturday, 4 p.m., 8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. (postshow dance party after each performance), Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Sequence 8 $18-$55, 7 p.m. Sept. 18 and 20; 8 p.m. Sept. 21; 2 and 8 p.m. Sept. 22; 2 p.m. Sept. 23. Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St.
This Town Is a Mystery $18-$35, Friday-Sept. 22, two shows per night. Venue information follows ticket purchase, locations in South Philadelphia, Mount Airy, Tacony, and Wissinoming.
Seek and Hide $10, 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, Sept. 15, 16, 22, and 23. Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse, Reservoir Drive, East Fairmount Park.
Of Plastic Things and Butterfly Wings $10, 7 p.m. Wednesday; 6:30 p.m. Thursday and next Friday; 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sept. 15; 3 and 7 p.m. Sept. 16. The Off-Broad Street Theatre at First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom St.
The Cabinet of Curiosities $15, 8 p.m. Friday to Sept. 22. Grasso's Magic Theatre, 103 Callowhill St.
For ticketing information, details about the shows, and much more, visit www.livearts-fringe.org.