A revolt of the animals to save the planet. The adventures of a marooned astronaut. The creation of an Afro-futurist Pinocchio. A monster who can’t scare a scaredycat. Urban youth encountering gun violence.
These and more incredible stories will be told through the unique lens of contemporary puppets, incredible puppet artists and cutting edge puppetry companies from around the world during the 6th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, January 18-28, 2024.
Wakka Wakka’s The Immortal Jellyfish Girl (New York/Norway) opens the 6th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival with incredible animal adventures, January 18-21 at Steppenwolf. Photo: Wakka Wakka Productions
“Deep in the heart of winter, we gather in dark theaters, set aside our homosapien centrism and allow the material world of surrogate humans, animals and spirits to stand before us,” says Blair Thomas, Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.
“These puppets have stories to tell. The treat for you, dear viewer, lies with the storytellers themselves: the puppets. They will speak to us in their own rare language, beyond mere words or the physical world, offering us entry into our own transcendent experience.”
Warm up to a wide range of classic and contemporary puppetry styles from around the world, created by puppet artists from Belgium, Chile, Norway, Germany, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Poland, the U.S. and Chicago.
La Liga Teatro Elástico (Mexico) celebrates the role of wild predators using spectacle and community interaction in The Beast Dance, one show only, Saturday, January 20 at 2 p.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Photo: Pablo Frederico
In 2024, the Chicago Puppet Fest will span 11 days and dozens of Chicago venues, featuring an international pageant of puppet artists sharing more than 100 puppetry activities including all ages spectacle shows, intimate works on small stages, even an adults-only, late night puppet cabaret.
Back in 2024 is The Puppet Hub, a popular meet-up spot throughout the festival on the fourth floor of Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building, home to The Spoke & Bird Pop-up Cafe, a new Pop-Up Puppet Shop, plus two new puppetry exhibits.
The Puppet Hub is on the fourth floor of Chicago's historic Fine Arts Building
Also back are the Ellen Van Volkenburg Symposium spanning both weekends, workshops with visiting puppet artists, the Catapult Artist Intensive, a new series of Book Talks, and more.
Now presented annually, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is the largest event dedicated to the art form in North America. Past festivals have attracted over 14,000 audience members, ranging from Chicago residents to international guests who travel to Chicago every January to enjoy world-class puppetry from here and abroad.
2024 festival tickets are now on sale at chicagopuppetfest.org. Don’t wait, for despite Chicago’s winter reputation, tickets to the Chicago Puppet Festival are a hot commodity.
Sign up for the festival’s e-newsletter to receive first notice on special events, exclusive offers, and behind-the-strings scoop. Visit chicagopuppetfest.org for tickets and information about the 6th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, and sign up for the festival’s e-news. Follow the festival on Facebook, Instagram or Vimeo, hashtag #ChiPuppetFest.
There’s even an Official Hotel of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, the Warwick Allerton Hotel, 701 N. Michigan Avenue, offering a discounted rate during festival dates with the promo code Puppetfest24. Visit warwickhotels.com/warwick-allerton-chicago or call (312) 440-1500 to reserve.
International productions from Belgium, Chile, Norway, Germany, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico and Poland coming to astonish and delight audiences at the 6th Chicago Puppet Festival:
Wakka Wakka’s Animalia Trilogy (The Immortal Jellyfish Girl, Animal R.I.O.T. and the world premiere of Dead as a Dodo) via Wakka Wakka Productions (New York and Norway), opens the festival January 18-21 with incredible animal characters and adventures at three locations: Steppenwolf's Downstairs Mainstage Theatre (The Immortal Jellyfish Girl), Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theater (Animal R.I.O.T.) and The Biograph’s Začek-McVay Mainstage (Dead as a Dodo).
(Note: Festival Opening Night is Thursday, January 18, starting with a Prelude Reception fundraiser in Steppenwolf's Balcony Bar at 5:15 p.m., before Wakka Wakka’s The Immortal Jellyfish Girl, and a Post Show Party fundraiser in Steppenwolf’s Tab Bar & Circle Theater Lobby.)
A Bucket of Beetles, inspired by the nature drawings of a four-year-old, imbued with the exquisite puppetry of Indonesia's Papermoon Puppet Theatre, January 19-21 at Chopin Theatre.
Spleen, a kaleidoscope of pictures, songs and miniatures inspired by Baudelaire’s poems “Le Spleen de Paris” from Figurentheater Wilde & Vogel (Germany), January 19-21 at The Biograph’s Richard Christiansen Theater.
The Beast Dance (or The Secret Spell of the Wild) by La Liga Teatro Elástico (Mexico), a free traditional spectacle performance celebrating the wolf featuring Chicagoans young and old, who will build the puppets over the week prior, assembling the production right in front of the audience then releasing it into the world one show only, Saturday, January 20 at 2 p.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art.
Krabat, the tale of a boy facing hard times, human falls and the power of first love, in a co-production by Figurentheater Wilde & Vogel (Germany) and Grupa Coincidentia (Poland) January 25-28 at The Biograph’s Začek-McVay Mainstage.
Chayka, the story of an aging actress performing Chekov for her last time, via Belova-Iacobelli Theatre Company (Belgium and Chile), January 26-28 at Chopin Theatre.
In addition, Tears by the River by Kenya’s Krystal Puppeteers is the featured attraction for this year’s Free Neighborhood Tour. It’s the largest in festival history, bringing traditional Kenyan puppetry, artistry and vocals to nine sites across the city for 10 free performances, with support from Navy Pier, the Chicago Park District Night Out in the Parks program and UChicago.
National artists performing at the 6th Chicago Puppet Festival:
The Hip Hopera of 5P1N0K10 (pronounced “Spin-oh-kio”) by Tarish “Jeghetto” Pipkins (North Carolina), a science fiction tale set in an Afro-futuristic post-apocalyptic realm, January 19-21 at eta Creative Arts Foundation.
Song of the North by Hamid Rahmanian (New York/Persia), returning for his second Chicago Puppet Festival with his visually breathtaking, large-scale, cinematic epic of shadow puppetry and projected animation, based on a classic Persian love story, January 19-20 at the Studebaker Theater.
MAROONED! A Space Comedy by Alex and Olmsted (Maryland), about an astronaut traveling 87,000 light years into space who crash-lands on an uncharted planet, where she resorts to emergency measures to seek rescue, January 22-24 at Chopin Theatre.
Lunch with Sonia by Loco7 Dance Puppet Theater (New York/Colombia), a work of incredible intimacy about a larger-than-life, unapologetic aunt’s late-in-life, auspicious invitation to lunch, January 25-27 at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.
Book of Mountain and Seas by internationally celebrated puppeteer Basil Twist (New York) brings four Chinese fables centered around the creation and destruction of the earth, uniquely told by a company of 12 singers, two percussionists, and six puppeteers, presented with Chicago Opera Theater at the Studebaker Theater, January 26-28.
Representing the host city, Chicago, in 2024 are:
Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: A Toy Theater Atlas by Matthew Gawryk and Dan Kerr-Hobert, a toy theater adaptation of Calvino's novel that compresses 18 cities into a menagerie of objects using puppetry, object theater, paper mechanics and living sculpture, January 18-21 at Instituto Cervantes of Chicago.
Nasty, Brutish & Short, a late-night, adults only puppet cabaret featuring dark, humorous and experimental work by local and international artists, presented by Rough House Theatre Co., both weekends, Friday and Saturday, January 19 and 20 at 10:30 p.m. at Links Hall, and Friday and Saturday, January 26 and 27 at 10:30 pm at UChicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About A Terrible Monster, Manual Cinema’s acclaimed adaptation of Mo Willems’ popular children stories about a monster who tries to be scary but just…isn’t…and his friendship with the most scaredy-cat kid in the world, January 26-28 at The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center.
Little Carl, Theatre Y’s Youth Ensemble grapples with gun violence using puppets, masks, and poetry, making beautiful imagery as an antidote to despair, guided by artist and North Lawndale native Marvin Tate, puppetry artisan Michael Montenegro and the Firehouse Community Arts Center, January 26-28 at the Biograph's Richard Christiansen Theatre.
The full list of venues and partners for the 6th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival includes Art on Sedgwick/Marshall Field Garden Apartments, Berger Park, The Biograph Theater, Chicago Opera Theater, Chicago Park District Night Out in the Parks Program, Chopin Theatre, Columbia College Chicago, Dance Center Columbia College Chicago, DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, eta Creative Arts Foundation, the Fine Arts Building, 345 Art Gallery, Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, Links Hall, Mandrake Park, Manual Cinema, National Museum of Mexican Art, Navy Pier, One Lawndale Youth Advisory Council, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at UChicago, Rough House Theater Co., Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, South Shore Cultural Center, The Spoke & Bird Cafe, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Theater and Performance Studies at The University of Chicago, Theatre Y, UNIMA-USA and Warwick Allerton Hotel Chicago.
“These puppets have stories to tell. The treat for you, dear viewer, lies with the storytellers themselves: the puppets." - Blair Thomas, Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival Credit: Saverio Truglia
Pulling strings: the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival
Originally founded in 2015 as a project of Blair Thomas & Co., the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival has highlighted artists from nations including Iran, Korea, Japan, Chile, South Africa as well as from Europe, Chicago and across the U.S. with the goal of promoting peace, equality, and justice on a global scale.
Already, the Chicago Puppet Festival is the largest of its kind in North America, attracting more than 14,000 audience members every edition to dozens of Chicago venues large and small to enjoy an entertaining and eclectic array of puppet styles from around the world.
In 2022, the Festival moved from a biennial to an annual event, while tripling its footprint in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building. The organization relocated into an expanded office suite, opened the Chicago Puppet Studio, which designs and fabricates puppets for theaters and special events around the U.S., launched online and in-person education programs, and inaugurated the new Chicago Puppet Lab, an education space and developmental residency and incubator for Chicago artists creating new, original puppetry work.
It’s fitting that the Fine Arts Building is home again to one of the most influential puppetry organizations in the world. In 1912, Ellen Van Volkenburg famously founded the Little Theater of Chicago in the Fine Arts Building. Legend has it she needed a name for the actors she had trained to manipulate marionettes while performing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So she credited them in the program with a new word, “puppeteer.” Many agree this marked the initial intersection of traditional puppetry with contemporary theater still practiced today, and now flourishing around the world.
Today, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival’s expanded operations are being overseen by Artistic Director and Festival Founder Blair Thomas, Executive Director Sandy Smith Gerding, with Tom Lee, Co-Director, Chicago Puppet Lab and Studio; Grace Needlman, Co-Director, Chicago Puppet Lab; Cameron Heinze, Business Manager; Taylor Bibat, Festival and Education Coordinator; Zachary Sun, Chicago Puppet Studio Coordinator; Averly Sheltraw, Chicago Puppet Studio Assistant; and Lucy Wirtz, Administrative Support.
Festival funders include the American Indonesian Cultural Exchange Foundation, Chicago Park District Night Out in the Parks Program, Chicago DCASE CityArts Program, Ferdi Foundation, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Travel and Tourism Program, Illinois Arts Council Agency, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity B2B Arts Program, Jentes Family Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Manaaki Foundation, Marshall Frankel Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, Pritzker Foundation, Reva and David Logan Foundation, Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and Walder Foundation. Individuals include Ginger Farley and Robert Shapiro, Justine Jentes and Dan Karuna, Elizabeth Liebman, Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Kerry James Marshall, Julie Moller, Kristy and Brandon Moran, Nina and Steven Schroeder, David and Beatrice Pritzker and Cheryl Henson.
For more information, visit chicagopuppetfest.org.