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Four Must-See Acts at the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

Forget Lamb Chop—puppets aren’t just for kids anymore. Blair Thomas, founder of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, shares his picks for the inaugural event.

Manual Cinema

Manual Cinema

Photos: Steve Delahoyde

This Humboldt Park group does precisely what its name says: creates handmade movies. “It’s all done before your eyes—puppeteers, actors, musicians, and technicians onstage making the work right in front of you,” says coartistic director Drew Dir. This month, the ensemble premieres Mementos Mori, a massive new production (it includes seven actors and over 300 hand-cut paper puppets) that follows the character of Death through Los Angeles. “By the time we finish the show,” says Dir, “it looks like someone turned a recycling bin upside down.”

 

Le Petit Cirque

Le Petit Cirque

Photo: Courtesy of artist

About 12 years ago, French sound artist Laurent Bigot decided to create a story that he says would “entertain both the eyes and ears.” The result—an experimental miniature circus in which a myriad of objects come to life as Bigot manipulates them—is funny, dark, and altogether bizarre.

 

Freeze!

Freeze!

Photo: Greg Macvean

Dutch artist Nick Steur simply balances stones—one on top of another, without the help of glue or strings. (Think geo-Jenga.) As he builds his precarious towers, the simple task takes on a mesmerizing theatricality. “The dramatic tension is absolutely real,” says Thomas. “You become invested in this seemingly simple thing that he’s doing.”

 

Mariposa Nocturna: A Puppet Triptych

Mariposa Nocturna: A Puppet Triptych

Photo: Joe Mazza

In her first feature-length foray into puppetry, Chicago actress and writer Stephanie Diaz created a trio of pieces—a mix of figurines and film—about the passage to death. “I’ve looked for the beauty in dead or dying things,” says Diaz. “They’re dead things, but they’re beautiful.”

Go The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival runs January 14 to 25 at various venues and prices. More info at chicagopuppetfest.org

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