Preview: Get Ready for 12 Straight Days of Puppetry From Chicago and the World at the 5th Annual International Puppet Festival

The 5th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, the largest of its kind in North America, begins next Wednesday, January 18, and runs through Sunday, January 29, at venues large and small throughout the city. More than 100 performances and events around the city will feature all forms of puppetry from bunraku to shadow, to crankie scroll, pageant-style puppets and more. Chicago will be the puppetry capital of the world for 12 days and nights.

For tickets and information, visit

Performers include a diverse roster of contemporary puppets and artists from Chicago, New York, Boston and nine countries including Brazil, Canada, Czechia, Finland, France, Norway, Japan, South Africa and Spain. Blair Thomas, festival founder and artistic director, and executive director Sandy Smith Gerding have built a program of top contemporary puppet acts. Venues around the city will include the newly renovated Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chopin Theatre Basement, the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library, and the Chicago Children’s Theater.

The opening night performance on Wednesday, January 18, will be Moby Dick by Plexus Polaire (Norway/France), continuing through January 21 at the Studebaker Theater. Herman Melville’s monster work of literature is also a monster in puppetry in this Chicago premiere. Seven actors, 50 puppets, video projections on smoke, an octobass, and a whale-sized whale all play a part in this production about the mysteries of life.

Little Uprisings of Boston will present My Night in the Planetarium, a free neighborhood tour. This all-ages show, based on the award-winning book by Innosanto Nagara, is a child’s view introduction to Indonesia, a story about colonialism, and a message about the power of creativity. Performances will be January 19-21 at several locations.

Hamlet by Janni Younge (South Africa). Image courtesy Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

The festival and the Fine Arts Building are partnering to create a “Puppet Hub” with a slate of site-specific puppet events and exhibits. Multiple spaces on the 4th floor of the Fine Arts Building will be activated, expanding beyond the Chicago Puppet Festival’s current footprint of office, education, fabrication and performance spaces in the historic building. The Spoke & Bird Café will be located on the 4th floor, along with exhibits by photographer Richard Termine who has documented American puppet theater for over 30 years. The two exhibits are The Jim Henson Foundation presents American Puppet Theater Today: The Photography of Richard Termine and The Art of Basil Twist.

Originally founded as a project of Blair Thomas & Co., the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival has become an organization in its own right, presenting four biennial, multi-week, citywide festivals in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2022. 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 to enjoy an eclectic array of puppet styles from around the world. 

See the complete schedule of performances at For tickets, visit this page. Sign up for the festival’s e-newsletter to receive first notice on special events, exclusive offers, and behind-the-strings scoops. Follow the festival on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, using the hashtag #ChiPuppetFest.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.