Every year, the net of the Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe allows families to drag in an assortment of kid-friendly shows. But for 2010, you're going to need a bigger boat.

For the first time, the curated Live Arts Festival aims straight for families, via Philadelphia dance/theater/clown artists Pig Iron Theatre Company and their new all-ages show Cankerblossom, a collaboration with West Philadelphia puppeteer Beth Nixon.

An original fairy tale featuring the cardboard inhabitants of Flat World alongside three-dimensional company regulars Hinako Arao, Alex Torra, and David Sweeny (whose alter ego Johnny Showcase created last year's Fringe hit Purr Pull Reign), kids can expect top-notch music, dance, and the signature style that has earned the troupe Obie and Barrymore Awards as well as international acclaim.

Ridley Park's Barnstormers Theater brings a more traditional tale to the Fringe with Michael Dutka's original children's opera The Crowded House. A good witch leads the story of a friendship involving people, animals, and nature.

Fidgety types might just sit still for three dance-oriented Fringe shows that lean closer to spectacle. For those afflicted with a YouTube attention span, there's Gravity Theater, featuring InMovement Dance (a Philly-based company offering dance classes for all ages and abilities), local favorites the Green Chair Dance Group, and choreographer Amanda Varone. Here, gymnastics, "acroyoga," theater, and film join forces to grab your kids and keep them focused. For an hour, anyway.

Still too high-concept? The most hardened fidgeters don't stand a chance against

Scorch

, the newest show by the women of Philadelphia Fire Arts (no, that's not a typo). Acrobats, artists, and musicians literally set the stage on fire. Resistance is futile. Just, you know, don't try this at home.

Both the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe present freewheeling musical extravaganzas, Live Arts with the Bang on a Can Marathon - 10 hours of a 20-year-old tradition described as "Lollapalooza advised by the ghost of John Cage" - and the Fringe with the Philly Song Shuffle, three hours of 50 artists performing four-minute sets with a four-second set change in between. Both shows are held at World Cafe Live, where your little one can load up on burgers and/or sweet potato fries, and you can kick back with a cocktail - handy, when you're trying to enjoy a three-hour show with your kid.

Of course, the best reason to get children involved in all the frenetic energy that takes over Philadelphia every September is to let them see creativity in action, anywhere and at any time. The heart of the festival beats strongest at events that turn the city into a great, spontaneous playground for the arts.

Here too, both Live Arts and Fringe deliver. The Live Arts' Cosmic Terrarium project pairs Philadelphia painter and sculptor Paul Santoleri with Paris-based graffiti artist Psyckoze to turn a neglected vacant lot into the site of a vibrant installation; a two-week-long teachable moment, free of charge. The Fringe lets board-game addicts step away from Monopoly's Depression-era Atlantic City and into hipster-era Northern Liberties for the Brothers Cromie's Afoot!, a treasure hunt for 4- to 6-person teams through Philly's streets, with prizes for all.

Settle in with the festival guide, cast your net even wider, and you'll catch plenty more. One thing's for sure: You can always rely on the festival's bounty to contain some major surprises.

Fringe for the Playground Set

Cankerblossom $15-$30, Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St., Sept. 1-5, 8-12, 14, 17, 18.

The Crowded House $10-$15, Lantern Theater, 10th and Ludlow Sts., Sept. 9-12.

Gravity Theater $10, InMovement Studio, 737 S. Eighth St., Sept. 15, 16.

Questioning Drive $15, Greene Street Studio, 6122 Greene St., Sept. 5, 18, 19.

Scorch Free, The Piazza at Schmidts, 1050 N. Hancock St., Sept. 10, 11.

Bang on a Can Marathon $15-$25, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Sept. 12.

Philly Song Shuffle $25, World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Sept. 10.

Cosmic Terrarium Free, 631 N. Fifth St., Sept. 4-17.

Afoot! $10, Liberties Walk, 1040 N. Second St., Sept. 4, 11.

EndText

Follow Wendy Rosenfield on Twitter at #philastage.