Join us for the next Festival: January 15-26, 2025

Chicago Puppet Lab Showcase Program

May 30 – June 2, 2024
No Intermission
Runtime: 85 minutes

The Chicago Puppet Lab is a developmental lab for Chicago artists creating new, original puppet theater work. This cohort of artists from a variety of creative backgrounds and with a range of puppetry experience has been meeting weekly with Co-directors Tom Lee and Grace Needlman since October. Thank you for joining us to celebrate their growth and discoveries at this showing of works-in-progress.

Ticket prices: Regular ($20); Student/Senior ($15)

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Program A:

Featuring works by Laura Torres, Tracey Christmas, Wendy Madrigal, The Reverend Van Ferdinand

Thursday, May 30, 2024 7:30pm 
Saturday, June 1, 2024 7:30pm
Sunday, June 2, 2024 2:00pm 


Laura Torres
Costume: Jacky Kelsey
Puppeteers: Laura Torres and Pietre Valbuena

Estrange is a costume-driven and puppet-inspired “body horror” tightwire act. After a long day of alienating office work, you come home, begin the process of winding down, slowly connecting back into your true self.


Reverend Punchfizz and the Congregation
The Reverend Van Ferdinand

Puppet design and fabrication: Eric Mercure
Puppeteers: Eric Mercure, Twan Heller, Candice Conner, Chops, J LaForte, Jonny Stax, LK Fierce
Musicians: Chops, Charlie Malave, and J LaForte
Music by: Reverend Punchfizz and The Congregation

Reverend Punchfizz and The Congregation is a rock band that has played all over the world and inspired some of music’s biggest names. Rumor has it the Reverend has also played off-planet. Reverend Punchfizz has an unstoppable drive to spread Love through Rock & Roll, and when he meets the extremely talented singer, Andrina Siren, they fall in performance Love and The Congregation is born.


Tracey Christmas

Puppeteers: Efren Paderes, Lacey Harris, Amandatron5000,  Shay Jones, The Reverend Van Ferdinand

Interiority is a new work inspired by the artist’s personal experiences of houselessness and those of others. It snapshots the social isolation, food insecurity, and daily indignities which are part and parcel of life on the street. Interiority also provides a glimpse into a realm of fantasy, a refuge for some, if only for a little while. Using masks and shadow puppetry our goal is to uplift the humanity, imagination, and tenacity of marginalized women and to affirm housing as a human right.

Many of the artists working on this project are members of Red Line Service, a community of artists with a lived experience of homelessness working together with professionals in the arts.


Amor Eterno
Wendy Madrigal

Puppeteers: Wendy Madrigal, Alonso Galue, Stephanie Munoz, Vic Mallari, Alex Tornez, Aileen Moreno
Puppet design and fabrication: Wendy Madrigal, Alonso Galue, Brianna Consalvo

Amor Eterno (Eternal Love) is a new work that explores the relationship we hold with family members, specifically siblings, and how we honor someone when they pass away. Maria y Lola have lost their sister Elena and they enter a new colorful world, El Mundo de Los Muertos. There the sisters are tasked to collect tokens in exchange for spending time with their long gone sister. During their journey they go through dance obstacles with the Sugar Skulls that live there.The Sugar Skulls will help the girls complete their altar in order to connect with their sister once again.

Program B:

Featuring works by Jacqueline Penrod, Myra Su, Brett Swinney, Leah Lara

Friday, May 31, 2024 7:30pm
Saturday, June 1, 2024 2:00pm 
Sunday, June 2, 2024 7:30pm

Coneward Bound
Brett Swinney

Puppeteers: Hanna Swartz, August Boyne, Jo Schaffer, Marcey Abramovitz, Shelly Post, Alea Hennessy, and Sam Lewis III
Musicians: Kamran Khan, Brant Hewelt, Russ Calderwood, Brett Swinney
Puppet Construction: Shelly Post, Russ Calderwood, Brett Swinney
Video: Brett Swinney

When three traffic cones fall from the back of a city truck, they must go on an incredible journey up Milwaukee Avenue to find their way home. Along the way, they encounter a series of characters and challenges that teach them valuable lessons about themselves and the world around them. Through their travels and trials, the cones discover the rhythm they need to move forward together and ultimately realize their true potential. Coneward Bound is a sonic celebration about following your heart to what feels like home for you.


Cotton Dragon
Jacqueline Penrod

Puppeteers: Gretchen Hasse, Rose Johnson, Jo Schaffer 
Puppet Costumes: Elly Burke 
Assistant: Rick Penrod
Consultation: Sam Lewis III

The textile industry, its technology and violence, tie together the United States of America and England, where Penrod was raised. Using marionettes, this piece explores the literal and figurative threads of harm that crisscrossed the Atlantic in the 19th century. In the machinery used in the preparation of the cotton in the American south, and the machinery used in the weaving mills of England the form of a dragon begins to appear: a dragon that devoured children – the children of enslaved people in the American south and the children of the poor in the industrial north of England.


Fish Sermon
Leah Lara

Puppeteers: Dare Wedgeworth, Lindsey Ball, Asante Marie Owusu-Brafi, August Boyne

Travel into the mystical and aquatic world of reimagined reverse mermaids, (fishes with legs), as a mermaid pastor preaches a riveting sermon to a congregation of sea creatures. Follow the exploration of the archetype of the mermaid through blackness, as well as religious imagery and ritual. Using a larger than life backpack puppet, miniatures, and shadow puppetry, Fish Sermon investigates movement and faith, in the form of a puppet ballet.


Myra Su

Music: Mike Wydrzynski

How can a puppet sense the world around it? How can the audience see what the puppet sees? How does the binary visual language of shadow puppetry (light and shadow) connect with binary computer code (1s and 0s)? In Stripes, tabletop puppets built around barcode readers and light sensors, navigate, process, and understand their environment. Become immersed in a world where the sensorial experience of puppets comes to life through music and light.


Production Management: Anastar Alvarez
Lighting Designer: Quinn Chisenhall
Sound Designer: Matt Reich
Technical Director: Erik Tylkowski
Video Operator: Ruby Que

Puppet Festival Staff

Blair Thomas, Artistic Director, Festival Founder, Chicago Puppet Studio Co-Director; Sandy Smith Gerding, Executive Director; Cameron Heinze, Business Manager; Taylor Bibat, Director of Education/Festival Coordinator; Lucy Wirtz, Events & Engagement Coordinator; Zach Sun, Studio Coordinator; Tom Lee, Chicago Puppet Studio & Puppet Lab Co-Director; Grace Needlman, Chicago Puppet Lab Co-Director & Catapult Facilitator; Caitlin McLeod, Chicago Puppet Studio Project Manager; Jess Mott Wickstrom, Graphic Design + Website; Jay Kelly, Press Relations; Deidre Huckabay, Grant Management Consulting; Nic Barnum, Festival Production Manager; Margaret Nelson, Festival Production Manager; Frank Rose, Festival Production Manager; Dr. Paulette Richards, Symposium Co-Director; Samuel J. Lewis II, Catapult Facilitator; Andy Wickstrom, Video production; Veronica Timble, Administrative Support

Special Thanks

Sam Lewis, Mike Oleon, Agnotti Cowie, Lindsey Noel Whiting, Caitlin McLeod, Chris Knowlton, Rough House’s House of The Exquisite Corpse, Theatre Y

The Chicago Puppet Lab is a program of The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. The Lab was created with special leadership funding from: Kristy & Brandon Moran, the Pritzker Foundation, and thePaul M. Angell Foundation