Preview: Count Down the Days (6!) to the 6th Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival
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 amazing 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. The 100+ performances and events will be shown at venues all over Chicago. And yes, these are puppets of all types and all manner of puppetry technology, with stories grim and scary, joyous and fanciful. The festival is the largest of its kind in North America.
No matter how many times I’ve reviewed such puppet productions and told friends about the marvels of puppet theater, I still find many people who think puppets are sweet, funny little critters performing for children. Nothing could be further from the actuality of this puppet theater festival. Yes, there are a few inventive puppet shows suitable for children, but for the most part, the productions are quite adult with sophisticated themes and productions
Blair Thomas, founder and artistic director of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, describes this event: “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. 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.”
The festival schedule features a wide range of classic and contemporary puppetry styles from around the world, created by puppet artists from Belgium, Chile, Norway, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Mexico, Poland, the U.S. and Chicago.
The opening night production this Thursday, January 18, is Wakka Wakka's Immortal Jellyfish Girl, at Steppenwolf Theatre’s Downstairs mainstage. The production is part of Wakka Wakka’s Animalia Trilogy. The Closing Night Cabaret on Sunday, January 28, will feature the world-celebrated vocalist, actor, puppeteer, director Yael Rasooly with accordionist Iliya Magalnyk. Closing Night will be at the Rhapsody Theatre
The festival includes the Free Neighborhood Tour, a Puppet Hub open throughout the festival on the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Building, a symposium, the Catapult Artist Intensive, workshops, and more.
You can see all details of this year's performances (in chronological order), special events and exhibits, including venues, dates, times, ticket prices, estimated run times, show descriptions and artist bios. Visit chicagopuppetfest.org for this information and to purchase tickets. You can also follow the festival on Facebook, Instagram or Vimeo, using hashtag #ChiPuppetFest.
In this video, Blair Thomas welcomes us to the festival with some details about what we can expect.
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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 nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.