Citywide puppet festival comes to life at UChicago

The University of Chicago has a major hand in the inaugural Chicago International Puppet Festival, which begins Jan. 14 and includes performances by alumni artists, events at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts and a University-sponsored symposium at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The citywide festival, led by Chicago-based puppet theater Blair Thomas & Co., features an eclectic mix of puppetry from groups around the world in some 50 performances presented by more than a dozen puppet theaters. According to its organizers, the festival aims to establish Chicago as a prominent center for the art of puppetry.

In partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry will present a symposium on contemporary puppetry. The discussion will bring together puppet artists and scholars from UChicago, Northwestern University and Brown University.

Shadow puppetry company Manual Cinema—which features Drew Dir, AB’07, lecturer in Theater and Performance Studies, Sarah Fornace, AB’07, and Ben Kauffman, AB’09—will present Mementos Mori, a new piece commissioned by the MCA. With overhead projectors and a combination of live-action performance and handmade shadow puppets, the group creates cinematic animated pieces in real time. Mementos Mori was developed with support from the Theater and Performance Studies’ summer residency program, the Chicago Performance Lab (formerly Summer Inc.).

The Logan Center will serve as the South Side hub for the festival, presenting productions by Chicago-based FlipFlap Productions and Minneapolis’ In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. The Gray Center will host a “Puppet Slam” at the Logan Center, allowing puppeteers to experiment with their craft in an informal setting.

For FlipFlap Productions, the Logan Center performances are a homecoming of sorts—like Mementos Mori, their darkly comic musical The Temp was developed in part at the Chicago Performance Lab. Heart of the Beast’s Mortal City will examine city life on one cold winter night.

The Jan. 24 Logan Family Saturdays Festival will include a make-and-take puppet workshop for kids, a puppet “zoo” that allows kids to get up close and personal with puppets from Heart of the Beast and FlipFlap, and a family-friendly performance by Heart of The Beast’s Cartoon.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival runs Jan. 14-25. A complete listing of events is available on the festival website. Read more about UChicago Arts involvement in the festival here.