Modern puppets take spotlight at Chicago global festival

Wed Jan 14, 2015 8:39am EST
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By Mark Guarino

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Puppets aren't just about Muppets, kids and circuses.

Indeed, an international puppetry festival in Chicago aims to redefine the art form and promises theatergoers an experience that, unlike so many in our digital age, can't be swiped, streamed, downloaded, or tweeted.

The first annual Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, which opens on Wednesday and runs through Jan. 25, is about the many forms of contemporary puppetry - from marionettes, masking and shadow puppets to tabletop puppets and larger-than-life installation characters that tell stories that are both epic and innately intimate.

Puppet theater is thought to have been around in some form for more than 3,000 years, with recent award-winning stage shows like "War Horse" and "The Lion King" taking the art to new, emotional levels and huge global audiences.

Festival founder Blair Thomas says the low-tech nature of puppetry is what makes it so enduring, especially when people are now inundated with technology in their daily lives.

"Live puppet theater is really just this sculptured object being performed in front of you by someone who has ability to endow it with life," Thomas said.

"That's in such sharp contrast to our media culture where we are inundated with how fast things are edited in film. Our cinematic eye is very sophisticated but also oversaturated. So there's something very real about being in the presence of an animated puppet that is a breath of fresh air," he said.

The 12-day festival takes place throughout Chicago, from storefront theaters to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Field Museum. It will feature about 50 puppeteers from around the world including New York, London, Montreal, the Netherlands, and France.   Continued...

A Puppet Cabaret performance is shown in this image released on January 13, 2015 by Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. REUTERS/Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival/Handout via Reuters