Monday, January 23, 2023

REVIEW: Theodora Skipitares' Grand Panorama Via The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival January 22-24th, 2023

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Theodora Skipitares' Grand Panorama

Family Friendly - 9 and up


By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

It was my great pleasure to catch the Chicago opening of Theodora Skipitares' Grand Panorama. We are so fortunate to have world class offerings right here in town, and free for CPS students (as space allows). Grand Panorama is a mini history lesson, but so entertaining and engaging, you'll hardly realize you're learning something, not only about Frederick Douglass, but about photography and human nature itself. Through cello, song, spoken word, projections, and an incredible array of puppetry styles, this production brings history to life on stage with state of the art storytelling. As an avid photographer, I enjoyed this foray into the early days of the art form. Far from dry history though, this show takes the concept and evolution of photography all the way up to present day selfies and the dark side of social media and our collective loss of privacy.

Photos by B. Kenaz-Mara

Directed and designed by Greek artist, Theodora Skipitares, using her trademark larger-than-life size puppets, artforms blend with panorama, magic lantern, shadow theater and crankies to articulate Douglass’s belief that “Rightly viewed, the whole soul of man is a sort of picture gallery, a grand panorama.” Featuring music by Mazz Swift, performed by Brittany Harris, and puppetry direction by Jane Catherine Shaw.

Photo by B. Kenaz-Mara

Extra bonus for location. It's always a treat to see the interesting architecture at Harold Washington Library, and the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium is a great venue. It's a short walk from here to the Studebaker Theatre building's 4th floor, where the pop-up puppet cafe and puppet HUB are located for the duration of the fest. Check it out and catch some world class puppet shows before they're gone. Highly recommended. Don't miss this! 

Photo by B. Kenaz-Mara

Bonnie is a Chicago based writer, theatre critic, photographer, artist, and Mama to 2 amazing adults. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly).

Grand Panorama
Theodora Skipitares (U.S./New York)
Presented by Harold Washington Library and the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival
Harold Washington Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, 400 S. State St., Chicago (Plymouth Court entrance )
January 22-24
Three performances: Sunday, January 22 at 2 p.m.; Monday January 23 at 
5 p.m.; Tuesday, January 24 at 6 p.m. 
Tickets: $30/$20 seniors, CPS students free, limited availability
Family Friendly - 9 and up
ADA accessible
52 minutes

Frederick Douglass is widely recognized as the most photographed person in the 19th century. In Grand Panorama, his obsession with photography takes center stage illuminating the power of image to “tell the truth” about humanity and the African-American experience during slavery. 

Theodora Skipitares is a visual artist and theater director. Born in San Francisco of Greek parents, she moved to New York in 1970. She began creating personal solo performances in the mid 1970s. She began to examine social and historical themes using realistic, life-size puppet figures, as well as miniature ones, that became the “performers” in large-scale works including live music, film, video, and documentary texts. She has collaborated with prominent composers such as Virgil Moorefield, Bobby Previte, Scott Johnson, and most recently, Sxip Shirey. These works included The Age of Invention, an examination of three centuries of American invention featuring 300 puppets, Defenders of the Code, a history of eugenics, and The Radiant City, a music-theater work based on the life of Robert Moses. More recent projects include Under the Knife, a site-specific story of medicine which took an audience to twelve different theater environments, and Body of Crime, a history of women in prison.


Visit for tickets and information about the 5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, and sign up for the festival’s e-news.

Follow the festival on FacebookInstagramVimeo or Twitter, hashtag #ChiPuppetFest.

Always a joy to see Blair Thomas, the Founder and Artistic Director of The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. Photos by B. Kenaz-Mara

Seeing Double:
On a playful note, many puppeteers have a doppelgänger or double in puppet form, but this puppeteer has a doppelgänger in publicist form! Every year, many Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival attendees see both Blair Thomas and Jay Kelly, fest publicist, attending many of the puppet productions, and mistake them for each other. I thought this year would be different, with Blair's new green hairdo, but 2 people have already told me personally that they though Jay was Blair and one actually said to Jay, "Oh, you washed the green out!"
How many others have made the same mistake? Fess up...

Want to learn more about Frederick Douglass? Check out The American Writers Museum in downtown Chicago. 

Now available, the Frederick Douglass Tours introduce you to all of our exhibits with a focus on Douglass's work and impact. This 15-minute tour highlights writers who influenced Douglass, as well as the writers who carried the torch after him. The focal point is our current special exhibit Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers, in which Douglass is prominently featured. Tours are included with museum admission.

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