Chicago will be the puppetry capital of the world for ten days in January, when the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival returns with live performances, January 20-30, 2022.
In only its fourth outing, the Chicago Puppet Festival is already the largest of its kind in the country, presenting over 100 performances and events that astonish and delight at dozens of venues, neighborhoods and with community collaborators all around Chicago. From bunraku, to shadow, to crankie scroll, pageant-style puppets and more, puppets will take over for ten amazing days and nights of inspiration and invention.
Past festivals have attracted over 14,000 audience members, including Chicago residents enjoying a puppet-filled staycation, to national and international guests who travel to Chicago in the middle of winter to enjoy world-class puppetry from here and abroad.
Blair Thomas, Artistic Director and Founder, Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, in the Fine Arts Building's Venetian Garden, located directly outside the newly expanded Chicago Puppet Studio.
Artistic Director and Festival Founder Blair Thomas and Executive Director Sandy Gerding have built a diverse roster of top contemporary puppets acts and artists from Chicago and the U.S. to be presented at locations large and small throughout the city in January.
“See the puppet there, standing just on the periphery of our human world. There in its spot, though surrounded by our world of turmoil and uncertainty, the puppet has been waiting. Waiting for us, its audience. The time is now. Welcome back to the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival!” said Thomas. ”From The Plastic Bag Store, an immersive installation on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile open throughout the festival, to rare and amazing works by diverse puppet artists from Chicago and beyond, please join us this winter for a return to the warmth of connection, of insight, of humor, of astonishment and...delight!”
While travel restrictions are preventing the participation of international artists in 2022, Chicago won’t have to wait two more years to welcome back puppeteers from abroad. This year, Thomas and Gerding also confirmed the festival will go annual in 2022, moving away from every other year, marking a new era for Chicago as an international destination for the art and study of puppetry.
Tickets to the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival are on sale now at chicagopuppetfest.org. Reserve tickets from a deep roster of contemporary and traditional puppetry experiences. Sign up for the festival’s e-newsletter to receive news on special events, exclusive offers, and behind-the-strings scoop. Or, follow the festival on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, hashtag #ChiPuppetFest.
4th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival:
A summary of shows
(Click here for the festival backgrounder with full show descriptions)
The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival “anchor attraction” is The Plastic Bag Store, open for the duration of the festival in a street-level storefront in Chicago’s Wrigley Building. New York artist Robin Frohardt’s tragi-comic ode to the foreverness of plastic appears to be a storefront grocery, but it’s actually stocked with hundreds of hand-made items -- fruits, vegetables, sushi, deli meats and more -- all crafted from organic NYC trash. Several times a day, the Store transforms from an installation into a micro-cinema for an immersive puppet film that transports the audience from the distant past into a dystopian future. With her distinct sense of humor, Frohardt challenges us to think about how future generations will misinterpret us by the waste we leave behind.
More out-of-town artists (in alpha order by show title) include:
Bill’s 44th, by Andy Manjuck and Dorothy James (US/New York), the comic, poignant tale of one very worried protagonist waiting for his birthday guests to arrive, January 25-27 at Chopin Theatre.
The Bluest Eye, co-created by Margaret Laurena Kemp and Janni Younge (US/California and South Africa), adapted by Lydia Diamond from Toni Morrison’s book, January 28-30 at The DuSable Museum of African American History.
Chimpanzee by Nick Lehane (US/New York), a heartfelt, stranger-than-fiction portrayal of stories of experimental studies on chimpanzees, January 22-24 at Instituto Cervantes of Chicago.
New Mony! by Maria Camia (MARICAMA) (US/New York), a spiritual, sci-fi puppet experience exploring duality and ancestry, January 21-22 at Chopin Theatre.
Object of Her Affection by Marsian De Lellis (US/Los Angeles), part puppetry, part performance art, a visual narrative about objectsexuals, or humans who form intimate relationships with inanimate objects, January 27-29 at Links Hall.
The Persians, by Bread & Puppet Theater (US/Vermont), an amazing spectacle by Elka and Peter Schumann, famed originators of 1960s-era US, large-scale protest puppet pageants, January 28-29 at the Epiphany Center for the Arts.
Skeleton Canoe, Ty Defoe (US/NY/Wisconsin), a work-in-progress by the co-creator of the Chicago Puppet Fest’s 2019 opener, Ajijaak on Turtle Island, presented for free, January 29-30 at the American Indian Center.
Representing Chicago’s vibrant puppet scene:
I OBJECT! 30 Neo-Futurist Puppet Plays by The Neo-Futurists. The celebrated Chicago company that made 30 plays in 60 minutes famous brings the same energy, intellect, craft and humor, this time with puppetry at the core, January 21-23 and January 28-30 at The Neo-Futurarium.
Invitation to a Beheading by Rough House Theater Co. (US/Chicago), based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, brought to life through puppetry, masks, and surprising twists and turns, January 27-29 at Chopin Theatre.
Nasty, Brutish & Short: A Puppet Cabaret will bring together out of town artists with local legends for late night, experimental, adults-only puppet theater revelry, January 21-22 and 28-29, presented by Rough House Puppet Co. and Links Hall.
Sea Change, Cabinet of Curiosity’s celebrated outdoor exploration of the power of the sea and the feminine divine, will be transformed for indoor performances, January 20-22 at the MCA Chicago.
TIMBER! by Rootstock Puppet Co., in which artistic director Mark Blashford brings his special brand of delightful to this poetic new work starring Paul Bunyan, Bigfoot, and the forest itself, January 29-30 at Instituto Cervantes de Chicago.
(from left) Ty Defoe, Jerrell L. Henderson and Joshua Holden
In addition, the Festival Neighborhood Tour is back, bringing free, family-friendly performances to areas in the city where residents may not have the chance to see puppetry very often. This year, three nationally acclaimed puppet artists - Ty Defoe, Jerrell L. Henderson and Joshua Holden - will present short works at five community sites around the city: the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, Art on Sedgwick, Navy Pier and 345 Art Gallery. Performances are free, all ages and open to the public.
Continuing education and community building always play big roles at the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. The Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium will hold court in the School of the Art Institute Ballroom both weekends, presenting a series of free discussions, open to the public, around the intersection of puppetry with other disciplines and ideas. The Catapult Artist Intensive also returns both weekends, offering practicing artists of all disciplines an opportunity to join an intimate cohort for a guided experience including eight performances in three days, discussions, workshops, backstage access and more.
Presenting partners for the 4th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival include 345 Gallery, the American Indian Center, Art on Sedgwick, Chopin Theatre, DuSable Museum of African-American History, Epiphany Center for the Arts, Instituto Cervantes of Chicago, Links Hall, MCA Chicago, Navy Pier, The Neo-Futurists, the School of the Art Institute, Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, Studebaker Theater and Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
The Warwick Allerton Hotel Chicago, 701 N. Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago, is the official hotel of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. The Allerton will serve as home base for all visiting artists, and offer a discounted rate for the fest’s growing base of out-of-town fans and area residents looking to book a Chicago Puppet Festival “Staycation.” Visit warwickhotels.com/warwick-allerton-chicago or call (312) 440-1500 to inquire.
Visit chicagopuppetfest.org for tickets and information about the 4th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. Stay tuned for details about opening night, a public art exhibition centered around puppetry, plus free open houses and public workshops in the festival’s newly expanded Chicago Puppet Lab in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building
Pulling strings: Behind the scenes at the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival
Originally founded as a project of Blair Thomas & Co., the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival has evolved to become an organization in its own right, presenting three biennial, multi-week, citywide festivals in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Already, the Chicago Puppet Festival has grown to be the largest of its kind in North America, attracting more than 14,000 audience members every iteration to dozens of Chicago venues large and small to enjoy an entertaining and eclectic array of puppet styles from around the world.
It’s been surprisingly busy the past 18 months at the festival, as organizers retackled festival planning, piloting new programs and making major expansion plans a reality after a year-long strategic planning process. This fall, the festival tripled its footprint in Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building, moved 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.
Puppetry fans know it’s only fitting that the Fine Arts Building is home again to one of the most influential puppetry organizations in the world. In 1912, after 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 show 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.
Expanded operations are being overseen by Artistic Director and Festival Founder Blair Thomas, Executive Director Sandy Gerding, and new staff members Dominique Atwood, Taylor Bibat and Mark Blashford. In addition, Tom Lee has joined Thomas as Co-Director of the Puppet Lab, while Grace Needlman is coordinating pursuit of the Chicago Puppet Lab’s mission: incubating more works of boundary-breaking puppetry in Chicago, expanding equity in the field of puppetry, and encouraging interdisciplinary experimentation in puppet theater.
Festival sponsors and donors include Walder Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Moller Family Foundation, The Reva and David Logan Foundation, The Jentes Family Foundation, Justine Jentes and Dan Kuruna, Chicago Community Trust SMART Growth Program, Kristy and Brandon Moran. Paul M. Angell Family Foundation, MacArthur Fund for Culture, Equity, and the Arts at Prince, Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Kerry James Marshall, Julie and John Guida Family Foundation. Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Illinois Arts Council Agency, Alphawood Foundation, Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development, Pritzker Pucker Foundation, Illinois Department of Human Services Healing Illinois Program, MAP Fund, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, JKW Foundation, Manaaki Foundation, Bank of America Private Bank, Marshall Frankel Foundation, The Saints and Service Club of Chicago.
For more information, visit chicagopuppetfest.org.