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No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks brings to life the story of one of Chicago’s most beloved figures. She was an icon, a poet laureate, and a Pulitzer Prize winner—but she was also a treasured educator and mentor to the countless writers and children who knew her as their very own “Miss Brooks.” Written by Eve L. Ewing & Nate Marshall Original live score by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods         [tabby title="ABOUT THE SHOW"] No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks brings to life the story of one of Chicago’s most beloved figures. She was an icon, a poet laureate, and a Pulitzer Prize winner—but she was also a treasured educator and mentor to the countless writers and children who knew her as their very own “Miss Brooks.” Weaving together poetry, storytelling, sound design, original music, and striking visuals, No Blue Memories is an exploration of Brooks’s beloved city and a story of how she navigated identity, craft, and politics over the course of one of the most remarkable careers in American literary history. The performance combines intricate paper puppetry, live actors working in shadow, and an original score for an unforgettable multi-media experience. Commissioned by the Poetry Foundation for the Brooks Centenary. Written by Eve L. Ewing & Nate Marshall Original live score by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods [ngg_images source="galleries" container_ids="32" display_type="photocrati-nextgen_basic_thumbnails" override_thumbnail_settings="1" thumbnail_width="120" thumbnail_height="90" thumbnail_crop="1" images_per_page="20" number_of_columns="0" ajax_pagination="0" show_all_in_lightbox="0" use_imagebrowser_effect="0" show_slideshow_link="0" slideshow_link_text="[Show slideshow]" order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"]     PRESS ‘No Blue Memories’ gives glimpse of Gwendolyn Brooks’ literary life, legacy Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune “You’ve Never Seen Gwendolyn Brooks Like This Before” Adam Morgan, Chicago Magazine November 2017 “Manual Cinema turns Gwendolyn Brooks into poetry magic” Aimee Levitt, Chicago Reader November 2017 Show credits and cast
 
[tabby title="ARTISTS"]
MANUAL CINEMA is a performance collective, design studio, and film/ video production company founded in 2010 by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller, and Kyle Vegter. Manual Cinema combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive visual stories for stage and screen. Using vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, multi-channel sound design, and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity, and theatricality.
 
 
[tabby title="PRESENTERS"]
The Poetry Foundation The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.  
 
The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival showcases an entertaining and eclectic array of puppet styles from around the world including marionettes, shadow puppets, Bunraku puppets, tiny toy puppets, and distinctive, innovative styles of contemporary puppetry. The festival is a mission-driven program of Chicago-based theater company Blair Thomas & Co. [tabbyending]

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By Laura Collins-Hughes

CHICAGO — A shop vacuum became a lover; suction was involved. Feet turned into faces. A great fanged creature appeared with a man inside. Ghostly villagers assembled, silent and wreathed with smoke as their buildings burned and burned.

It was a puppet invasion — all part of the 11-day Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival — and the latest proof that puppetry, a delicate and mysterious art so often restricted in this country to the children’s table, or relegated to fringe productions, has claimed a spot closer to the center. In an age when we seek relief from the relentless barrage of technology, this low-fi, handmade form provides it. 

A city where the dominant stage aesthetic for years was a kind of red-meat realism — think Steppenwolf Theater Company, which unleashed John Malkovich on the world — might not seem to be a place where puppetry would flourish. Yet the very existence of last month’s festival, and the eagerness with which dozens of institutions across Chicago have embraced it since its start in 2015, is emblematic of a development long in the making on American stages.

It’s not so much that puppetry is having an evanescent moment as that it has reached critical mass and settled in, cherished by grown-up audiences raised on “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” who have had their hunger stoked by landmark puppet productions on Broadway: “The Lion King,” “Avenue Q,” “War Horse,” with its magnificent steeds. 

If, in theater — as in opera and dance, where it has also been making inroads — puppetry most often plays a supporting rather than starring role, it has a much greater presence than it once did.

“Infiltration is welcome,” said the puppeteer Blair Thomas, the festival’s founder and artistic director, who made a dog puppet for Patti LuPone’s character in the Broadway-bound musical “War Paint” when it ran in Chicago last summer. “The doors have been opened.”

And the puppets are marching right through.

 

Catching Up With the World

You can see the shift in The New York Times, with mention of puppets now commonplace in theater reviews. But then, New York is the puppetry capital of America, where boundary-pushing directors like Lee Breuer and Julie Taymor have spent decades harnessing that hybrid art — part visual, part performance — to create fantastical worlds heavily influenced by foreign traditions.

The best shows I saw over a weekend at the Chicago festival did come from other countries. One was the Norwegian director Yngvild Aspeli’s “Cendres,” a haunted, mesmerizing piece about arson and internal torment, full of life-size puppets and miniature blazing buildings, from the French-Norwegian company Plexus Polaire. Unfortunately for American audiences, it has already headed back to Europe.

The other was “Chiflón, El Silencio del Carbón” (“Chiflón, Silence of the Coal”), by the Chilean collective Silencio Blanco, whose artists manipulate sublimely crude-looking puppets with tender precision to tell a wordless story of coal mining, set partly deep beneath the earth. That production, which continues its United States tour through early March, will stop in New York this month.

But the abundant homegrown puppetry in “Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth,” a nouveau-Victorian play by Doug Hara at Lookingglass Theater Company, was on par with those imports — both the shadow puppetry by the young Chicago collective Manual Cinema, which has won raves in its recent forays to New York, and a menagerie of gorgeous beasts (a cuddly pig, a shaggy wolf, an enormous boar) by Mr. Thomas, who built them all in his Wisconsin barn.

Exposing Chicago artists to international work is part of the impetus for the festival. Mr. Thomas, 54, intends to fill some of the void left by the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater, which ran in New York from 1992 to 2000, and the International Theater Festival of Chicago, which in the late 1980s ignited his love of puppetry with a visit from a Barcelona company. That event changed Chicago, Mr. Thomas said, by showing artists and audiences what the standard was elsewhere.

He laments the advantage that European puppet artists have in the sheer opportunities for their productions to be staged. But Cheryl Henson — a daughter of the Muppets’ creator, Jim Henson, and the president of the Jim Henson Foundation, a major force in contemporary puppet theater — said that American puppeteers had caught up to the European standard of the craft.

“They’re not second-class anymore,” she said from Britain, where she was attending the London International Mime Festival, which routinely also includes puppetry.

 

The Muppet Effect

On my Sunday morning in Chicago, I went to the Instituto Cervantes for a children’s show by the Italian company Teatro dei Piedi and watched Veronica Gonzalez, a virtuoso of the form, create a succession of joyous vignettes starring puppets made from her own costumed feet. It is astonishing how expressive toes can be.

I was the age of the children in that audience when my own love of puppetry was nurtured by “Sesame Street,” though I hadn’t thought much about it until an exhibition of the show’s Muppets two years ago at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. I was surprised at how moved I was to see the Count. And when, in a corner at the back of the gallery, I spotted the bashful Mr. Snuffleupagus, it was like coming upon a mythical creature.

Still, my enduring fondness is nothing compared with the childhood fandom that Sarah Fornace, one of the artistic directors of Manual Cinema, described: a devotion to the Muppets — and to Jim Henson movies like “The Dark Crystal” (1982) and “Labyrinth” (1986) — so impassioned that in eighth grade she wrote a report about her ambition to be a Muppeteer.

“All of that was really important to my cultural identity growing up,” she said.

Now 31, she has worked at Redmoon Theater, which Mr. Thomas co-founded, and has been a member of his troupe Blair Thomas & Co. She extolled the Chicago scene, noting “a plethora of young companies who either explicitly do puppetry” or use puppetry and object work “to create moments of spectacle” and effects that aren’t possible to achieve onstage with human bodies.

That defiance of realism, of course, is part of puppets’ potency. The figures embrace metaphor, and we fill in the blanks with our willingness to believe.

 

Pure Puppetry

The night before I flew to Chicago, I went to Wakka Wakka’s “Made in China” at 59E59 Theaters. It’s a puppet show aimed at grown-ups (there’s puppet nudity almost immediately), but I was surprised anyway as I looked at the crowd. Nearly everyone was middle-aged or older, normal for a Midtown Manhattan theater but still surprising for a production of pure puppetry: no actors, just puppets and puppeteers.

[Puppeteers with “Made in China” joined us for a chat on Facebook Live]

Pure puppetry is the ideal for people in the puppet world. That is the sticking point in any argument about the art form being on the rise because, however many gains it makes inside other disciplines, puppets are rarely the point of the show. One exception on the horizon: “Top Puppet,” a reality competition special that NBC recently ordered from the Jim Henson Company and a producer of “The Voice.”

Ms. Henson did point out, though, that more artists are working in the form these days, and that, thanks to “Avenue Q” and “War Horse,” many actors have gained experience as puppeteers. (She also named the top American cities for puppet theater after New York: Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis.)

Last year, when the Henson Foundation raised its grant levels, applications rose about 80 percent. Meanwhile, Ms. Henson said, puppeteers have a better shot at getting financial support from general arts funders and at being included in performance festivals than they used to.

All of that suggests a heightened respect and a sturdier infrastructure, as does the 2015 MacArthur Fellowship for the puppeteer Basil Twist — who, Ms. Henson noted, “is doing the Oompa-Loompas” for this spring’s Broadway production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

  Beyond the Periphery

Back in New York, I called Mr. Twist, who runs the Dream Music Puppetry program at Here, where “Chiflón” will be performed. He regards the prominence of puppetry in theater today as temporary.

But he did acknowledge “a cumulative effect” of “The Lion King,” “Avenue Q,” “War Horse” and the Henson festival in shaping public perception — persuading adults that puppetry isn’t just kid stuff. “‘Made in China’ could not have played in the same way 25 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Twist, 47, talked about his preference for pure puppetry — a mismatch, he knows, with his many collaborative forays into theater and dance. Then he told me there was an exhibition I needed to see: “The Theater of Robert Anton,” running until Saturday, Feb. 11, at an Upper East Side gallery called Broadway 1602.

When I went there, I ran into Mr. Twist, who cheerfully showed me around, filling me in on Mr. Anton, an avant-garde puppeteer who died in 1984. Mr. Anton’s puppets, some of which Mr. Twist lent to the show, are tiny objects with minutely detailed faces — one evidently modeled on Ellen Stewart, the founder of La MaMa, where Mr. Anton did much of his work.

Mr. Anton performed his puppet plays for no more than 18 people at once and did not allow them to be filmed or photographed. His art is the purest of pure, and there is something sacred and beautiful about it. But also, in its hermeticism, a tinge of sadness.

Because in Mr. Anton’s time, in America, puppetry for grown-ups wasn’t on the margins entirely by choice. There wasn’t much call for it center stage.

“Puppetry’s kind of an underdog,” Mr. Thomas told me. “We’ve always existed on the periphery of the dominant culture. In some ways that’s our strength.”

Is it, though? Not everything has to be a popular art. Not everything can be. But sophisticated puppetry appears to be moving swiftly in that direction. So far, it’s gaining power as it goes.

A version of this article appears in print on February 5, 2017, on Page AR7 of the New York edition with the headline: Puppetry Has Its Moment at Hand. Order Reprints  I  View Online

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The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival runs through Jan. 29 and includes a wide assortment of performances and workshops in the field of puppetry.

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Why Would Chicago Host an International Festival of Puppet Theater?
Before 1912, the term “Puppeteer” did not exist in the English language.  Ellen von Volkenburg a director with the Chicago Little Theatre housed in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, needed a program credit for the actors she had trained to manipulate marionettes while speaking the text of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. Puppet artists to that day were called “showmen”, as the art form was mostly associated with sideshows and circuses. Von Volkenberg coined this word at the dawn of the movement in puppetry that has brought us to the rich art form that is practiced today. Chicago is unique in that has a substantial local theater audience that not only attends performances but supports innovative and new theater. Puppetry is active in American theater today, frequently employed in musicals and dramas as a sign of the renaissance for the art of puppetry. Chicago is ripe to be positioned as a leader in this renaissance. We have seen the cultivation of such companies as the nationally unique Redmoon, whose language of spectacle is born out of puppetry as well as the intimate Manual Cinema, whose shadow puppet innovations have earned them top awards at national puppetry festivals. Chicago’s History as the Home of Festivals of Dramatic and Puppet Theater The new Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is a direct descendent of three previous festivals from our recent past. First, the Chicago International Theatre Festival presented a decade of performances and transformed the landscape of the Chicago theater scene  from 1986–1994. Chicago audiences have felt its absence for 20 years now, and our Festival aims to fill this void. Second, a four-day international puppet festival was hosted by The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Performing Arts Chicago in 2000 and co-curated by Susan Lipmann and Blair Thomas. Third and most significant, Puppetropolis—presented by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Special Events—spanned 10 days and many venues throughout the city in 2001. Puppetropolis brought together 30 companies and reached 500,000 audience members, benefiting from the immense support of local presenters including the Chicago Park District, The Field Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Performing Arts Chicago, Redmoon Theater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Lookingglass Theatre Company, The Actors Gymnasium, and Sears on State. Puppetropolis proved a puppet festival’s viability through sponsorship from United Airlines, the Illinois Office of Tourism and the National Endowment for the Arts. Claire Geall Sutton, our 2015 Managing Director, was integrally involved in the programming for Puppetropolis, and Blair Thomas curated special programming as well.

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by Mark Vitali For the next 10 days, Chicago will be the puppetry capital of the world. Artists from South Korea, Canada, France, Chile and other countries join local puppeteers to stage visually rich theatrical art. Much of it is for families – some is strictly for adults. Chicago Tonight goes behind the scenes at the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival to find out who is pulling the strings. Watch on WTTW. Transcript: Phil Ponce: At the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chilean theater group “Silencio Blanco” rehearses the true story of a miner who provides for his family by doing dangerous work. The story comes from the headlines – and the puppets are made from newspaper. Consuelo Miranda, “Silencio Blanco”: It’s material that you can find anyplace. It’s newspaper with a little glue and masking tape. And that’s all. Ponce: It is the company’s first visit to the United States, where they are participating in the second Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. Miranda: We’re happy to share in this festival with other puppetries of the world and different kind of puppets, and different shows, so we’re excited to … it’s an honor to be here. Ponce: At the Fine Arts Building, final preparations are being made for a citywide pageant of puppets. Blair Thomas, Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival: What I look towards in drawing the performances into this festival is, ones that are telling stories, because story is a very strong tradition in the Chicago theater and so I’m bringing the puppetry arts to theater audiences here in ways that they can access. There are pieces that are more abstract, because puppetry is a theatrical language in and of itself, so it’s not entirely tied to story. This year’s festival has more international acts and more acts in it. We have work from seven different countries being presented, and over 90 performances in our 10 days this year. Another thing that’s distinctive this year is we have a thing called the festival neighborhood tour, and the idea of it was that a small collection of works – three shows – this is one of them here – will tour to these public places, Park District venues, and the idea is almost this notion of, for one day the circus comes to town and people can come and see free performances during the course of three hours there. Ponce: The venues range from Andersonville to Beverly to Garfield Park – and most do require an admission fee. The city holds an unusual distinction in this handheld theatrical art. Thomas: Chicago holds a unique position because this is the town where an artist working 100 years ago coined the term “puppeteer,” in fact in this building that we’re here in now – and it was the first time the word was used. Ponce: Back at the MCA, the Chilean puppeteers see themselves as silent players. Miranda: We try to be like ninjas, so we are all in black, because we gave all the importance to the thing that is the puppet. We are three persons behind one puppet. Ponce: Other festival productions include adaptations of Franz Kafka, science-fiction, and even performances of a more adult nature. Presenting theaters include Lookingglass, Victory Gardens and the House Theatre of Chicago. This biennial festival is committed to providing an ancient form in modern ways.

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by Tony Adler Spring 1988. The Spanish puppet company Comediants is onstage at Park West and a 26-year-old Blair Thomas is in the audience having a revelation. "I saw that show and I was like—I had never seen anything like that in my life," he remembers. "It just cracked open a window for me as a young artist." Thomas climbed through that window to start the late, great Redmoon Theater and, more recently, Blair Thomas & Co. Puppet Theater. He's also working to open more windows as artistic director of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, having its second biennial run 1/19-1/29 at various sites around Chicago. There are thrills on the other side, he claims: "When I create" a puppet or performance "it leads me to a place that I could not have even predicted. And that, to me, is really exciting. I love to grab its coattail and follow it to a place that I've never been." Among the festival's foreign guests are Chile's Silencio Blanco, telling a miner's tale in Chiflón, el Silencio del Carbón; Norway's Plexus Polare, probing an arsonist's psyche in Cendres; and South Korea's Geumhyung Jeong, using dance and puppetry to find the "boundary between the body and the machine" in 7 Ways. The array of featured locals includes Michael Montenegro, applying his extraordinary sensibility to the genius of Prague in Kick the Klown Presents a Konkatenation of Kafka. The estimable Stephanie Diaz and Jessica Mondres are at the Cultural Center with an "object- and film-based" installation called Portmanteau. Rough House is bringing back one of my favorite shows of 2016, Ubu the King. And Chicago-based stars Manual Cinema are applying their unique style of visual storytelling to an adaptation of Edith Nesbit's 1910 children's fantasy The Magic City.

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Each week global citizen Nari Safavi usually helps listeners plan their international weekend. This week, we look ahead to the Chicago Puppet Festival, which begins next week. One of the biggest attractions is an Iranian puppet show based on the Persian Book of Kings called Feathers of Fire. The book was translated by our guest Ahmad Sadri, a professor at Lake Forest College. Plus, we talk about a concert of Ukrainian winter songs accompanied by the bandura at the Old Town School of Folk music with organizer and former Worldview intern Julian Hayda. Listen Now

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by Jessi Virtusio The "delight" of puppetry is that audiences understand the characters on stage are not real and yet they behave in a way that appears to be alive, said Blair Thomas, founder and artistic director of Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. "What I like about puppetry," Thomas said, "is it's a language outside of our human language. It employs this marvelous mixture of movement and visual design to speak to us in a way that bypasses our intellectual thinking and can surprise and delight."
That is expected to be the case when Beverly Arts Center hosts Teatro dei Piedi's "Sonata for 4 Feet" Jan. 20-21 as part of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival's 11-day event featuring performers from Canada, Chile, France, Italy, Korea, the Netherlands and the United States in 20 different shows and more than 90 total performances.
Beverly Art Center, Blair Thomas & Co. and Istituto Italiano di Cultura/Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago in association with Instituto Cervantes in Chicago present Veronica Gonzalez and Laura Kibel from Italy's Teatro dei Piedi in a production that features stories ranging from romantic to ridiculous told through the actors' feet.
 
"(The show is) an amalgamation of mime and puppetry with the performers using their own human bodies to create these very unique characters where their own feet become the heads of these puppets," Thomas said. "It's a surprising mixture of physical comedy and dexterity to create a very engaging performance that uses no spoken word." During its inaugural year, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival featured 12 presenting partners. In year two, that number has doubled, with the inclusion of the Southland stop among its 22 venues. "One of my experiences as a young theater artist in Chicago was that I got very influenced by the International Theatre Festival of Chicago that took place in the 1980s and 1990s in Chicago," Thomas said via phone from the festival's office in Chicago. "There was one production by a company that really changed the way I look at theater entirely and it set me on a path that led me to start the Redmoon Theater, which was a company I ran back then. There is no major city with an international puppet theater festival. "There had been one in New York for a decade and it discontinued in 2000. I really felt like I wanted to build on the receptive environment in Chicago for theater and for contemporary work to establish Chicago as a place where we can have a festival of national prominence." Thomas said it was the reception from Beverly Arts Center when he staged "The Selfish Giant" there in 2015 that made him partner with the venue. "This is an incredible venue and a very receptive audience. We wanted to figure out how to bring something to Beverly Arts Center. They were very rooted in their community and so that's a valuable thing," he said. "There's an audience there and they're interested in having positive experiences in theater and, in this case, it works for family audiences. It's a totally great space in terms of artists working. There's a really broad stage that's an excellent facility to perform in." Thomas started his first puppet company, the Palace Puppeteers, at the age of 10 and has been immersed in puppet theater since the founding of Blair Thomas & Co. in 2002. Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

'Sonata for 4 Feet'

When: 7 p.m. Jan. 20; 11 a.m. Jan. 21

Where: Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., Chicago

Tickets: $20 adults; $12 students

Information: 773-445-3838, 312-977-9483, www.beverlyartcenter.org or www.chicagopuppetfest.org

Etc.: presented by Teatro dei Piedi; part of Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

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by Hedy Weiss Puppet theater is an ancient art form that some sources date back to the 5th century B.C. in Greece. But in recent decades it has been reborn as an intensely modern element in all things theatrical.
THE CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL PUPPET THEATER FESTIVAL When: Jan. 19 – 29 Where: Multiple sites throughout Chicago Tickets: $10 – $40 (vary with show) Info: www.ChicagoPuppetFest.org
During the past few seasons alone, a slew of Chicago shows have used puppets to drive or enhance their storytelling, employing a wide range of both classic and hi-tech techniques in the process. Puppets of every variety were a presence in Paramount Theater’s “The Little Mermaid,” the Joffrey Ballet’s new version of “The Nutcracker,” Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Das Rheingold,” Blind Summit’s “The Table,” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Victory Gardens’ Chicago premiere of the Broadway hit, “Hand to God,” PigPen’s “The Hunter and the Bear” at Writers Theater, and Lookingglass Theatre’s “Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth.” Beyond Chicago, there is, of course, “The Lion King,” Julie Taymor’s puppetry masterwork, as well as “War Horse,” developed by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, and “Avenue Q” (notable for its puppets’ sexual antics). Clearly, this is an art form that has long since transcended its role as a popular children’s entertainment. During the past few seasons alone, a slew of Chicago shows have used puppets to drive or enhance their storytelling, employing a wide range of both classic and hi-tech techniques in the process. Puppets of every variety were a presence in Paramount Theater’s “The Little Mermaid,” the Joffrey Ballet’s new version of “The Nutcracker,” Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Das Rheingold,” Blind Summit’s “The Table,” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Victory Gardens’ Chicago premiere of the Broadway hit, “Hand to God,” PigPen’s “The Hunter and the Bear” at Writers Theater, and Lookingglass Theatre’s “Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth.” Beyond Chicago, there is, of course, “The Lion King,” Julie Taymor’s puppetry masterwork, as well as “War Horse,” developed by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, and “Avenue Q” (notable for its puppets’ sexual antics). Clearly, this is an art form that has long since transcended its role as a popular children’s entertainment. “The puppetry renaissance began in the late 1970s, and then Julie Taymor’s work moved it into the mainstream,” said Thomas, whose extraordinary puppet creations are a vivid presence in “Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth.” “In recent years many styles of puppetry have infiltrated the ballet, opera and theater —and not in a small way. Yet puppetry also remains a form all its own, and one still unique for most audiences. Of course all along there have been puppetry festivals in Europe, where the art is still more advanced than it is here — something that infuriates me. One example [of Europe’s expertise] is ‘Cendres (‘Ashes’), a work by the French-Norwegian company Plexus Polaire [to be performed Jan. 20- 2 at Victory Gardens Theater]. A disturbing thriller that straddles fiction and reality, it tells the true story of a Norwegian arsonist, and what the company describes as ‘the mad fire at the bottom of every human being.’ What ‘Cendres’ does is not language-based — although it is based on a book — but it has an extraordinary level of dramaturgy.” Another visiting company, Silencio Blanco of Chile, takes a more earthy approach to its work as it draws on a story by author Baldomero Lillo for “Chiflon, Silence of the Coal,” the story of a young miner who must travel to one of the most dangerous mines in his country in order to keep working. The show (making its North American debut Jan. 19-22 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago), is performed in silence, and uses white marionettes constructed of recycled newspaper to tell a tale that “captures the violence of the global economy.” According to Miranda Díaz, an actress with the company, the piece was created before the highly publicized 2010 mining accident in Copiapo, Chile, where 33 miners were rescued after a long ordeal underground. “‘Chiflon’ started as an idea designed to bring back the old trades that have been forgotten by our society — a fast world where everything disappears and nobody cares,” said Diaz. “We wanted to show that for us our own story is important, and it is part of both our history and global history. The case of those 33 miners — it is an accident that happens in mines all over the world. We used Lillo’s story because he was the son in a mining family — a man who shows the reality from his own eyes and experiences. We used newspaper for our puppets because we wanted to do something unique with recycled material. … In our work we try to show the old trades, with anonymous characters who are at the same time known to everyone but have been  silenced by our society.” “Puppets force us to watch ourselves. We create an illusion, but everything is also real.” The New York-based Great Small Works company also delves into history in the form of a bilingual Yiddish-English play, “Muntergang and Other Cheerful Downfalls” (performed Jan. 26-28 at the Dance Center of Columbia College). The work revisits the performances of the radical 20th century puppeteers Zuni Maud and Yosi Cutler, two Jewish immigrants from what is now Poland and Lithuania, who met in New York, became involved in the Yiddish theater and leftist politics, and traveled the world with their shows in the 1920s and ’30s. “We’ve drawn on some of their existing graphics and satirical scripts, which referenced everything from Mae West to ‘The Dybbuk’,” said Jenny Romaine, a company member. “But we’ve also created something of a biopic about these two men who became such sophisticated, modernist artists at a moment when there was a huge population of Yiddish speakers.” Among the other highlights of the Festival are works by Chicago artists, including: The masterful Michael Montenegro, who uses puppets and masks in “A Konkatenation of Kafka,” a work inspired by the writings of Kafka; Rough House’s take on “Ubu the King,” Alfred Jarry’s play about a tyrant; Manual Cinema’s “Magic City,” a live cinematic shadow puppet show inspired by an Edith Nesbit book and commissioned by the Chicago Children’s Theatre; “Diamond Dogs,” a sci-fi piece by The House Theatre of Chicago that draws on notions of body modification; and Stephanie Diaz’s “T(W)O Marias,” an immersive work inspired by the surreal beauty of the American southwest. So just what is it that sets puppetry apart from other forms of theater and makes it so appealing to modern audiences? As Blair Thomas explained: “I think it’s the amalgamation of aesthetics —  the organic rawness of the older techniques that are now blended with new technology in ways that maintain the quality of human grit. There is something about puppets that connect us to another world. They have a hypnotic quality that gives credence to the irrational, which is such a necessary part of the human condition. They’re not alive, but they appear to be.”

The post Chicago stages await international puppet invasion appeared first on Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

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After twelve years of bouncing around from place to place, the Chicago Children's Theater has a permanent home at the former 12th District Police Station in Chicago's West Loop.
"This is a pretty neat area, there's a tremendous amount of diversity, there's a lot of energy here and it feels like a neighborhood," said Jacqueline Russell of Chicago Children's Theater. After 12 seasons with no permanent home, the company is settling into what they're calling "the district," located at 100 South Racine Ave.
Watch Video   The space is a work in progress, but there are already 149 seats and a flexible black box theater where jail cells once stood. The police district's basement, which was once a gun range, has been turned into a costume shop. On the top level of the building there are five classrooms for educational programs and community engagement. "Part of our hope with this new home is that we can develop a school that offers students very unique theatrical experiences, musical experiences, everything someone would need to know for stage," said Frank Maugeri of the Chicago Children's Theater. The ribbon cutting is set to take place on Tuesday. After that, the next project will be completing a 299 seat main stage in the districts parking lot, set to open in three years. "We're here to serve the children of Chicago and to encourage and inspire them to be greater citizens and we know that through the arts, this is how we do it, this is how we create community," said Russell.

The post Chicago Children’s Theater Finds Home in Former Police District appeared first on Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.

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