Tired of Putin's puppets and politics? Then come on out for some more palatable puppeteering. Here are our top picks and must see shows for adults and families at the 2nd Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. Our top picks are in red with FF for family friendly and A for adult. We highly recommend booking tickets in advance. Admission prices vary and some shows are even free. Don't miss this!
TO SHOWCASE AMAZING CONTEMPORARY PUPPET ARTISTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, THE U.S. AND CHICAGO, JANUARY 19-29
The 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, riding the wake of its inaugural success in 2015, is returning to wow the Windy City again, January 19-29, 2017.
"Chicago residents and visitors alike can look forward to an even larger, more diverse international pageant of top puppets and puppet artists convening here to celebrate the full array of contemporary puppetry and to help make Chicago, for 11 days in January, the puppetry capital of the world," said Thomas.
"For our second biannual outing, I'm proud to say we've grown from 12 to 24 presenting partners who are uniting to ignite the spirit of this citywide event by presenting contemporary puppetry unlike anything you have ever seen before. We've expanded and diversified the number of international artists coming to Chicago, increased the number of performances, deepened our behind-the-scenes engagement opportunities for practicing puppet artists, created our first free Festival Neighborhood Tour and launched our first shared online box office."
International puppet acts and artists coming to Chicago in 2017 include:
FF*: Montreal's Magali Chouinard with her silent show The White Woman, part of the Festival Neighborhood Tour.
We had the great pleasure of catching a preview at the Living room Tour fundraiser in November. Highly recommended! FREE.
Dutch artist Vincent de Rooij in Future Crash: a collision of short work by Vincent de Rooij and The Neo-Futurists, boasting a solar system of short work hidden throughout The Neo-Futurarium
7ways by South Korea's Geumhyung Jeong, who bestows bizarre and disconcerting life to inanimate objects, at Links Hall
*A: France's Plexus Polaire performing Cendres (Ashes), based on the true story of a Norwegian arsonist, at the Victory Gardens Začek McVay Theater.
I'm so stoked to be catching this at the press opening of The 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival on Friday the 20th!
*A: Silencio Blanco, via Santiago de Chile, with the North American premiere of Chiflón el Silencio del Carbón (Chiflón Silence of the Coal), a silent work about a young coal miner, at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
We'll be out to see this show on Sunday and we've heard great things.
Italy's Teatro dei Piedi (Feet Theater) performing the highly comedic Sonata for
4 Feet at Beverly Art Center and Instituto Cervantes de Chicago
*FF: Montreal's Théâtre Puzzle with their family-friendly delight Plastique (Plastic) at Adventure Stage Chicago.
They're hosting 2 family friendly puppet fest shows this year. Come early to explore the interactive, multilevel puppet parade in the lobby!
Visiting U.S. artists include:
Baltimore's Schroeder Cherry in Underground Railroad, Not A Subway, the story of a young boy who escapes slavery, also part of the Festival Neighborhood Tour
New York's Great Small Works' revisiting of the performances of radical 20th-century puppeteers Zuni Maud and Yosi Cutler in their bilingual Yiddish-English play Muntergang and Other Cheerful Downfalls, at Dance Center of Columbia College
PLAY with your food by Detroit-based Interstate Arts, the third show in the Festival Neighborhood Tour, mixing hilarious live performers with sweet, spectacular puppets to celebrate the universal human experience of eating
*A: New York pop icon Narcissister performing Narcissister LIVE!, a spectacle-rich approach to explorations of gender, racial identity and sexuality, at Cards Against Humanity Theater (mature audiences only)
We adore Cards Against Humanity and though we've never caught Narcissister this looks like a rockin' raunchy good time for an adult night out.
*FF: Open Eye Figure Theatre of Minneapolis performing The Sorcerer's Apprentice on a marionette stage at Adventure Stage Chicago
This is the 2nd family friendly puppet fest show Adventure Stage is hosting. Come early to explore the interactive, multilevel puppet parade in the lobby!
*FF: Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic, an action-packed, full-screen, cinematic shadow play by Iranian-American Hamid Rahmanian based on the 10th-century Persian epic "Shahnameh" at the Studebaker Theatre in Chicago's Fine Arts Building.
Word is this is absolutely stunning. We'll be out Sunday to catch this one and can't wait!
Representing the host city are:
*FF: Chicago Children's Theatre debuting Chicago's Manual Cinema's world premiere of Magic City, a live, cinematic shadow puppet show that builds a miniature city onstage that the audience can explore after every performance, at CCT's new West Loop home, The Station.
We'll be out for the press opening of Magic City and we're beyond excited to check out Chicago Children's Theatre's new home.
*FF: The House Theatre of Chicago's debut of Diamond Dogs, a classic deadly-maze story set in Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space Universe, at Chopin Theatre
I'll be there to review on Sunday at the press opening with the whole family. House is a long time top favorite of ours that knows how to push the envelope with creative original works. We're way beyond excited for this one! It looks to be another good bet for tweens and teens too.
*A: Ubu The King, Rough House's absurd, grotesque adaptation of Alfred Jarry's seminal satire Ubu Roi, at Link's Hall
I've been entranced by Jarry's works since I first read them back in college in the late 80s so I can't wait to see this on stage in puppet form. I even named my dog Ubu after his infamous character. Back then I lived for theatre, but didn't have a TV, so I was surprised when numerous people started saying "Sit Ubu sit. Good dog." and I discovered it was the tag line of a production company of the same name and common on TV shows of the time.
*FF: Lookingglass Theatre Company's world premiere of Doug Hara's Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth, about traveling storytellers who must journey to save our beloved stories, with puppets by Blair Thomas.
We caught opening night back in December and were awed and amazed. This stellar show was a huge hit with the whole family, even the tough to entertain teen demographic. This show has live action, shadow & paper mache puppets, Norse fables, and macabre twists on classic fairy tales. This is an absolute must see and highly recommended. (Recommended for ages 10+.)
Mandala South Asian Performing Arts of Chicago presenting I Gusti Ngurah Kertayuda and the Mandala Ensemble, who bring Hindu mythology to life using intricate Balinese shadow puppetry in Conversations with Devi, at the Auditorium Theatre's Katten-Landau Studio
A: Michael Montenegro in Kick the Klown Presents a Kakafination of Kafka, a series of pieces co-created by Greg Allen inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka, at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater
I'm so stoked to be catching this at the press opening of The 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival on Friday the 20th!
A drop-in, open studio showing of Portmanteau's T(w)O MARIAS, a work-in-progress from local collaborators Stephanie Diaz and Jessica Mondres, presented at the Chicago Cultural Center by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
Theater and Performance Studies and the Logan Center present Puppet Quartet: UChicago Performance Lab residencies with Liz Joyce, Jesse Mooney-Bullock, Molly Ross and Michael Summers.
*FF: New in 2017 is a first-ever, free Festival Neighborhood Tour, presented by Blair Thomas & Co., the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Chicago Park District's Night Out in the Parks series and Navy Pier. This unique tour will help foster an appreciation of puppetry in every corner of the city by presenting three festival artists - Schroeder Cherry, Magali Chouinard and Interstate Arts - for a total of 18 performances in six neighborhood locations: Navy Pier, the Chicago Cultural Center, Garfield Park Conservatory, Calumet Park, Marquette Park and Hamilton Park.
FREE family friendly fun all over town for 18 shows in 6 locations. What more could you ask for? Go already.
*A: Back in 2017 is Nasty, Brutish & Short: A Puppet Cabaret, the popular late-night, weekend showcases at Links Hall, co-presented by Rough House, featuring at least two mainstage festival artists performing raucous, raunchy, dark, sassy, sad and hilarious secondary short works, plus at least two local Nasty, Brutish & Short contributors.
This ever changing showcase was one of our favorites at the first puppet fest and the best news is you can go at 11pm multiple times and it'll always be a different show. Be there. They also perform in Chicago year round so you don't have to wait another 2 years to see them again once the fest ends.
*A: Also at Links Hall, in association with Rough House, four respected local innovators will present medium-length puppet productions in Immaculate, Poignant & Medium Length: Vanessa Valliere in The Life and Times of Terry, Myra Su's An Inter-Dimensional Love Story, Christopher Knowlton's Hay in Hard Times and Liz Schachterle performing Music Box.
We're looking forward to this one too! Links Hall is a great space and these shorter multi show collaborations tend to be something to see.
In sum, the 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival boasts 24 presenting partners, 22 venues, more than 25 artists from seven countries presenting 20 different shows and more than 90 total performances.
The festival website, is your online gateway to learn about, and with its new, shared online box office, purchase your tickets to this world pageant of top puppet artists and shows.
Sign up via the website to receive important festival updates. Track the festival hashtag, #ChiPuppetFest, like the festival on Facebook, or follow the festival on Twitter at @ChiPuppetFest or on Instagram.
For information (only) during the festival, call the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival box office, (312) 554-9800.
Did you know? Chicago is the birthplace of contemporary puppetry
Many consider Chicago the birthplace of the contemporary art of puppetry. In fact, before 1912 the term "puppeteer" did not even exist in the English language. That was the year the Little Theater of Chicago was founded in the historic Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, and is widely cited as the start of the "Little Theater" movement in the U.S.
Ellen Van Volkenburg, a director with the Little Theatre of Chicago, needed a program credit for the actors she had trained to manipulate marionettes while speaking the text of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Back then puppet artists were called "showmen," as the art form was mostly associated with sideshows and circuses. Van Volkenburg coined the word "puppeteer" at the dawn of the movement that has brought us to the rich art form now practiced around the world.
Fittingly, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival recently opened its new administrative office in the same Fine Arts Building, more than 100 years later.
The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival: Behind the scenes
Intent on establishing Chicago as a center for the advancement of the art of puppetry, the 11-day, city-wide Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival showcases an entertaining and eclectic array of puppet styles from around the world.
Marionettes, shadow puppets, Bunraku puppets, tiny toy puppets, and distinctive, innovative styles of contemporary puppetry are just a few.
The festival was founded by Chicago puppeteer Blair Thomas to celebrate and cultivate the city's reputation as a leader in the art of contemporary puppetry, and because there was no major international festival of its kind offered in any U.S. city.
The festival is a direct descendent of three previous local festivals, starting with the Chicago International Theatre Festival from 1986-1994. In 2000, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Performing Arts Chicago presented a four-day international puppet theater festival co-curated by Susan Lipman and Blair Thomas. The third was Puppetropolis, a ten-day citywide festival sponsored in 2001 by the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor's Office of Special Events.
Fast forward more than a dozen years, and Chicago-based Blair Thomas & Co. successfully spearheaded the first-ever Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival in January 2015, forming a coalition of 12 presenting partners who presented artists and events in sync with their programming. The inaugural festival was an unqualified success, capturing the hearts and minds of more than 14,000peoplewho attended more than 70 different festival events presented by 50 artists. It generated local, national and international attention for the art of contemporary puppetry, and underscored that Chicago has an indigenous theater audience that supports new works and champions new art forms.
Chicago master puppeteer Blair Thomas is Founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, returning for its second outing January 19-29, 2017. Photo credit: Saverio Truglia
Blair Thomas, Founder and Artistic Director of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, started his first puppet company The Palace Puppeteers when he was 10 years old and for three years toured churches and schools in his hometown of Jacksonville, Alabama.
The second company he started was Redmoon Theater in 1989, where he served as the artistic director and co-artistic director until 1998, during which time he was principal in the creation of all its productions, parades and pageants.
He has now full heartedly returned to the puppet theater with the founding of his current company Blair Thomas & Co. in 2002. Twice he has received the international UNIMA awards for excellence in the art of puppetry and twice awarded the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship awards. He was the first artist to fill the Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence position at the University of Maryland and currently teaches puppetry at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a drop out from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music but a graduate of Oberlin College. Recent accomplishments include creating the dragon for Lyric Opera's production of The Magic Flute, creating the principal puppet for Lookingglass Theatre's world premiere of Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth, being appointed to the Board of Directors of The Henson Foundation, being appointed one of the delegates that represents North America on the eight-member International Festivals Commission of UNIMA (Union International de la Marionette Association), and receiving a Leadership Award from the national puppetry organization Puppeteers of America for starting the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.
In 2017, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival has grown from 12 to 24 presenting partners, each participating by presenting or supporting the presentation of local, national and international puppet artists including Adventure Stage Chicago, Beverly Art Center, Calumet Park, Cards Against Humanity, the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College, Chicago Children's Theatre, the Chicago Park District, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Garfield Park Conservatory, Goodman Theatre, Hamilton Park, The House Theatre of Chicago, Instituto Cervantes de Chicago, Istituto Italiano di Cultura/Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, League of Chicago Theatres, Links Hall, Lookingglass Theatre, Mandala South Asian Performing Arts of Chicago, Marquette Park, MCA Stage - Museum of Contemporary Art, Multilingual Chicago, Navy Pier, The Neo-Futurists, Pasfarda Arts & Culture Exchange, University of Chicago's Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago's Richard and Mary L. Grey Center for Arts and Inquiry, Victory Gardens Theater and Warwick Allerton Hotel Chicago.
In addition to coordinating the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, Blair Thomas & Co. is presenting three 2017 festival entries - Plexus Polaire and Michael Montenegro at Victory Gardens, and Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic at the Studebaker - and co-presenting five more events: the Festival Neighborhood Tour with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Chicago Park District and Navy Pier, Open Eye Figure Theatre with Adventure Stage, Teatro dei Piedi (Feet Theater) with Beverly Art Center, the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago and Istituto Italiano di Cultura/Instituto Cervantes de Chicago, Narcissister LIVE! with Cards Against Humanity and Geumhyung Jeong in 7ways withLinks Hall.
The 2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is supported in part by the Alphawood Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Jentes Family Foundation, Reva and David Logan Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, MacArthur Funds for Arts and Culture at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, National Performance Network and the Pritzker-Pucker Family Foundation.
The Blair Thomas & Co. Board of Directors includes Claire Rice (Chair), Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Andrea Saenz, Colleen Sims, Asheley Smith, Rick Stoneham, Blair Thomas, Chuck Thurow and Angel Ysaguirre. Blair Thomas is Artistic Director. Sandy Gerding is Managing Director