Chicago Puppet Lab Application

Welcome to The Chicago Puppet Lab!

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is excited to announce the 2nd year of The Chicago Puppet Lab, a developmental lab for Chicago artists creating new, original puppet theater work. Co-directors Tom Lee and Grace Needlman will mentor a cohort of 6-8 artists/artist groups over a 8-month period culminating in a mini-festival of works-in-progress. Applications are now closed for the 2022-23 cohort. We will announce this year's Lab artists shortly!

Program Description

The Chicago Puppet Lab is a puppet theater incubator and residency program that supports artists in bringing to life new works of puppet theater. The Chicago Puppet Lab has 3 major goals:  

  • Incubating more works of inspiring, boundary-breaking puppetry in Chicago
  • Expanding equity in the field of puppetry and,
  • Encouraging interdisciplinary experimentation in puppet theater.

The program accepts 6-8 artists or artist groups for a 8-month, in person laboratory process led by Puppet Lab Co-Directors: Tom Lee and Grace Needlman.  Lab artists participate in weekly meetings where artists share, discuss, meet deadlines, and learn from one-another’s work as well as from expert guest artists.  Together all contribute to the advancement of the cohort’s work. The program culminates with a mini-festival of live works-in-progress ~15-20 minutes in length in Chicago.  The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival provides participants with video and photo documentation of their work, technical support, stage management, and marketing support for the final showing, and each project receives a stipend of $350.

Equity and Inclusion Commitment

The Chicago Puppet Lab is committed to addressing inequities in the field by working to increase BIPOC, queer, and disabled artists with expanded access to resources, training, and opportunities. American puppetry has suffered from and perpetuated systemic racism, and we are continually working to deepen our understanding and take meaningful action. Our aim is for this program to reflect Chicago’s diversity and advance The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival’s diversity, equity and inclusion priorities.

Who Should Apply?

Chicago-based artists or artist groups who are not enrolled as full-time students. Established artists; BIPOC, queer, and disabled artists; and artists working puppetry or in other forms, such as dance, drag, comics, video, sculpture, game-design, robotics, music, and more are encouraged to apply with projects in any stage of development. Artists need not have experience in puppet theater or puppetry, but must show in their application how puppetry, puppet-manipulation or object-manipulation (i.e. moving an object through space in live performance) is an essential component of the proposed project. Chicago Puppet Lab is a collaborative environment where artists create work. Artists interested in supporting one-another’s work through conversation and critique should apply.


Eligible Projects

Artists may apply with projects in any stage of development.  This program is intended for the development of live works for theatrical presentation. Puppetry is inherently interdisciplinary, and we are especially excited to support projects that push the boundaries of puppetry.  Proposed projects can include pre-recorded elements, but should be primarily live performances. Artists are encouraged to apply with original scripts or devised projects rather than restaging existing scripts. Proposed works should be designed for the stage rather than community-based, promenade, spectacle, or classroom settings.


Commitment from Artists

Accepted artists commit to attending weekly sessions of the laboratory in Chicago, to presenting their work in progress within the cohort, and presenting their work as part of a final showing open to the public. 

Weekly sessions will take place in-person at the Fine Arts Building (410 S Michigan Ave, Suite 433) in downtown Chicago on Monday evenings from 6pm-9pm. Select sessions may be held virtually or at other locations around the city. 

Works-In-Progress showings will take place on May 31, June 1, 2, 3, 4, 2023 in Chicago, venue and times TBD. Artists and any collaborators (puppeteers, musicians, etc.) should expect to participate in technical rehearsals and meetings in advance of the showings. 

Health and Safety

Vaccination for COVID-19 is a requirement for participants of the program with the exception of individual health circumstances.  Activities will be in person in Chicago, barring future public-health restrictions.  Local mandates at the time of activities will be followed.  Virtual connection will be used as needed to respond to health and safety.

Important Dates for 2022-23

Application opens: July 25


Accepted artists notified: mid-September

First session: October 24

Fall sessions: every Monday, October 24 – Dec 19 

Winter Break: Dec 26

Winter sessions:  Jan 2 + 9

MLK Break: Jan 16

Festival sessions: Jan 23 + 30

Spring sessions: every Monday, Feb 6 – May 15

Works-in-Progress Rehearsal: May 21 – May 26

Works-in-Progress Tech: May 27 – 30

Works-in-Progress Showings: between May 31-June 4

Selection Criteria and Process

Artists will be selected to participate in the puppet lab based on the strength of their proposed project. The selection committee, comprised of outside leaders in the field of puppetry, will evaluate each application, looking for projects that have the potential to expand contemporary puppetry through the artist’s unique voice, urgent subject-matter, formal experimentation, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

How to Apply

Applications are now closes for the 2022-23 cohort. We will announce this year’s Lab artists shortly!



The form will ask you to fill out basic contact info, link to work samples, and upload a resume, written project proposal, and image of your proposed project. Here is a pdf preview of the application form. In order to submit your application, you will need: 

Written project proposal (500 words, pdf or word doc)

Briefly describe the project you intend to complete during the program. Tell us if this is a new project or the development of existing work. Describe how you hope to grow as an artist by developing this project in the program. Describe the puppetry style or styles you hope to incorporate into the performance of this piece.  Live puppetry is an essential part of every application project.

Images of your proposed project (1-2 pages, .jpg or .pdf format)

Give us a visual sense of your proposed project. You can include sketches, in-progress designs, production documentation, or images of other projects that you have completed that communicate the vision for your proposed project. We encourage you to show images that you drew, even if they’re stick figures. The strongest images are those made in the artist’s hand that show the form of the proposed puppets, rather than inspiration photos or images from outside sources.

Contact with questions or if you have trouble submitting your application.