The 2024 Festival has concluded—thanks to all who joined us!

Chicago Puppet Lab

Welcome Puppet Lab 3 Artists!

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. Welcome Puppet Lab 3 Artists: Laura Torres, Wendy Madrigal, Tracey Christmas, The Rev. Van Ferdinand, Myra Su, Leah Lara, Jacqueline Penrod, and Brett Swinney. Read more about them below!


Supported by the Pritzker Foundation

2023-24 Artist Bios

Myra Su (she/her)

Myra Su is a multimedia artist and puppeteer based in Chicago. She primarily works in 2D forms, often combining paper puppets with crankie, shadow and video. She has been a featured artist at the National Puppet Slam, Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, and the Baltimore Crankie Festival. In addition to her independent work, Myra is a touring puppeteer and builder with Manual Cinema, an Emmy Award-winning performance collective. She also co-curates Nasty, Brutish & Short: A Puppet Cabaret.
IG: @myra.y.su

Leah Lara (they, them)

Leah Lara (they/them) is black nonbinary puppeteer and 3-D illustrator from Dallas Tx. They received their BFA in 2023 from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where they majored in Illustration. Their work often investigates the black femme experience while drawing on dark and whimsical fairy tale archetypes and themes. A proud puppet council elder, they’ve organized puppet workshops, plays and artist talks at RISD. They love working with their hands, and attempt to stick to the commitment of writing, producing, and performing one puppet show a year.
IG: @lootie_draw
Website  |  Linkedin

Laura Torres

Laura Torres is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Chicago, IL. She has produced work in sculpture, installation, film, and performance. Her current creative focus is in training, coaching, and performing wirewalking. She holds an MFA from School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston at Tufts University.
IG: @pleatedseams
Tiktok: @laluchadeclases

Tracey Christmas (she/her)

As a poet, storyteller, and fiber artist I strive to illuminate personal and witnessed experiences of Black people, especially those with a lived experience of houselessness. As a Red Line Service artist, I work to destigmatize houselessness, correct accepted narratives, build community, and shape environments of mutual care and collaboration. The world of puppet theater allows me ample space to do all of this and more. As a newcomer, I had the opportunity to puppeteer multiple characters in, Consuewella, A Tryptic in Move, a play by Jacqueline Wade, which was developed and performed during the 2022-2023 Chicago Puppet Lab/Showcase. The exciting, impactful, sometimes chaotic, always visceral experiences during weeks of rehearsals and subsequent performances sparked my own desire to create in this medium. The first of these plays is Interiority.

Brett Swinney (he/him)

Brett Swinney is a photographer, musician, organizer, producer, videographer, curator, web developer, and podcast producer. He is the Cultural Affairs Coordinator for the Public Art Department at the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). Before joining DCASE, he worked as the Arts + Public Life’s Community Arts Engagement Manager, the Production Director for Links Hall, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and the Program Manager for the Chicago Artists Resource. He co-founded AnySquared Projects, an all-volunteer arts collective, and the Real Freedom Projects/Art Leaders of Color Network, initiatives to elevate BIPOC artists and producers. In addition to his professional responsibilities, Brett has organized and curated scores of gallery shows, performances, and community arts events over the previous 25 years. Brett has received awards from the Propeller Fund, the SAIC Enrichment Fund, and the Awesome Foundation. Brett earned an M.A. in Arts Administration & Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014 and a B.A. in Photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2004.
IG: @bswinney42

Wendy Madrigal (She/Her/Ella)

Wendy Madrigal is a graduate from The University of Illinois at Chicago with a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Design, Production, and Technology with a focus in Stage Management. She has had the opportunity to intern at Steppenwolf Theatre in their development program in 2021. Her backstage credits have been at Goodman Theatre in Sones De México Ensemble’s Zulema, American Mariachi, Nightwatch, and Good Night, Oscar. Wendy is also a member of Agitator Gallery, a collective where they uplift under-represented artists in the Logan Square/Hermosa area. She grew up dancing Mexican folk, and from then she knew she wanted to create art that represents her culture along with representing others. In her puppetry journey her goal is to represent her Mexican-American roots within her stories along with exploring the relationship of folkloric dance movements and music with the puppets and puppeteer.
IG: @itswendymadrigal

Jacqueline Penrod

Jacqueline Penrod is an award winning, Chicago area scenic designer. She has designed scenery for theatres from large regional houses to the smallest storefronts. Jacqueline is a faculty member in the Theatre Department at Columbia College Chicago, teaching and mentoring scenic design students. She has served as the Associate Chair/Artistic Director for the Theatre Department. She has been creating puppets, carving marionettes through her studies with Puppets in Prague. At Columbia she has worked with students creating toy theatres, shadow, rod and large spectacle puppets.

The Rev

My name is The Reverend Van Ferdinand and I believe in Love. The pursuit of Love is the only common thread between all humans. You cannot receive Love until someone else has already decided to give Love. I will spread these sentiments for the remainder of my days.

About the Puppet Lab

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.