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

Chicago Puppet Studio

Chicago Puppet Studio

The Chicago Puppet Studio is the design and manufacturing arm of The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival organization creating original puppetry elements for theaters and theater artists nationally. Under the leadership of studio co-founders Blair Thomas and Tom Lee, a small team of highly-skilled builders and designers create, manufacture and implement puppetry designs into productions for theater, opera, tv, film, etc. Services range from the design and creation of a suite of puppets, to creation of integrated theater concepts featuring object manipulation, to building unique puppet set design for film work to assisting with the rehearsal and performance process to assure the puppets are manipulated to greatest effect. The Chicago Puppet Studio works in all puppetry styles (shadow, bunraku, marionette, plush, large scale spectacle, etc.) and materials (latex, foam, wood, metal, etc.) to bring artistic clients’ ideas into full creative fruition.

Recent Projects

Little Amal

CIPTF Project, Chicago (2023)

A large scale public spectacle welcoming Little Amal to Chicago in her trek across the U.S. raising awareness of the plight of refugees during summer 2023.

The 14-foot girl puppet (built by Handspring Puppet Theater) invited collaborators to welcome her and Chicago Puppet Studio did so at scale—conceiving of and designing a new narrative spectacle from the ground up designing the puppets, managing the project build, engaging community partners, directing rehearsals, and ultimately presenting the show in Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park and drawing an audience of ~1800. Chicago Puppet Studio created dozens of spectacle sized puppets replete with native flora, fauna and challenges including deer, fish, rats, stormy weather, passage by boat, urban traffic and more.

Conceiver, Co-direction and Production Design: Blair Thomas
Co-direction: Jerrell L. Henderon

Rehearsal and Performance

Plan and Build Process

Florencia en el Amazonas

The Metropolitan Opera, New York (2023)

Design and manufacture of full theater production’s puppet and stage elements for Florencia en el Amazonas, a production of The Metropolitan Opera staged in NY in November 2023 and presented nationally at theaters across the U.S.

At the invitation of acclaimed Director Mary Zimmerman, Chicago Puppet Studio designed and built numerous stage and object elements for this opera set at sea including dolphins, alligators, monkeys, iguanas, and fish puppets, as well as sourcing talent for rehearsal and performance.

Design: Tom Lee and Blair Thomas
Performer and Puppet Captain/Direction: Tom Lee

Monkey: A Kung Fu Puppet Parable

Whitesnake Productions, Paramount Theater, Boston (2023)

Designed and fabricated objects and stage elements for Boston-based opera company Whitesnake Productions’ Monkey: A Kung Fu Puppet Parable in 2023.

Chicago Puppet Studio designed and fabricated three puppets for this opera performance: a Bunraku-style puppet monkey, a Mask style head and hands set and a full body pig puppet.

Puppet Designer: Tom Lee

Cyclops

Cyclops: Lycée Français de Chicago, Chicago (2022-23)

The design, manufacturing and rehearsal support for a school-wide project set at Chicago high school: Lycée Français de Chicago.

Designers created a giant backpack puppet of Ulysses for this puppet film production inspired by Georges Méliès film A Trip to the Moon. Additional objects included dioramas, sea life, toy theater pieces, props and costumes. CPS also provided rehearsal support and this multi-grade art project culminated in a student presentation.

Puppet Design and Direction: Tom Lee

The Mortification of Fovea Munson

The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (2022-23)

The design and creation of three heads, which are stage elements for The Mortification of Fovea Munson, a TYA Musical about a middle schooler and cadaver lab.

Lead Builder: Caitlin McLeod

Christmas Carol

Alliance Theatre Atlanta, Atlanta (2022-23)

Designed, build and rehearsal support for Alliance Theater’s production of Christmas Carol premiered in 2022 and subsequently remounted annually in Atlanta.

Creation and rehearsal of the Marley Door, flying Ghost of Christmas past, and other elements, which Chicago Puppet Studio created for the original production.

Lead Artist: Tom Lee

Cymbeline

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Oregon (2022-23)

Design, filming and edit of web production for Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Creation of one theater episode from the play Cymbeline, which appeared on the website of Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The project began streaming November 2022.

Design, Fabrication and Editors: Jaerin Son and Myra Su

META | MOR | PHOS (Bauhaus project)

Hedwig Dances, Chicago/Berlin (2022-23)

Design and creation of costumes and objects for Hedwig Dances’ bauhaus styled dancework. This project involved the conception, creation and building of numerous structural dance costumes and objects created from foam and fabric for the dance production, which premiered in Berlin in 2023.

Lead Designer/Builder: Jacky Kelsey

Imagination Circus

The Galaxie, Chicago (2022)

Creation of a large-scale elephant for The Galaxie’s (cruelty-free) Imagination Circus production at Chopin Theatre in Chicago.

Lead Designer: Tom Lee

Vancouver with Ma-Yi Theater

Collaboration with Ma-Yi Theater, New York (2020)

Award-winning puppet film collaboration initiated by the Ma-Yi Theater. Chicago Puppet Studio in collaboration with Ma-Yi Theater created this made-for-film puppet theater production including storyboard, full cast of puppet characters, fully furnished animated puppet scenes designed for filming, sound integration and full production arrangements.

The Great Zodiac Animal Race

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago (2020)

Concept, design, and manufacture of a new work by Tom Lee celebrating the Chinese New Year commissioned by and originally presented at the Art Institute of Chicago, and subsequently remounted there.

Lead Designer: Tom Lee

The Steadfast Tin Soldier

Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago (2018-19): Jeff Award Winner

Chicago Puppet Studio completes integrated design and manufacture of numerous puppet and stage elements for Chicago’s celebrated Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Puppets include the notable large scale baby puppet head among others.

Lead Designers: Tom Lee and Blair Thomas

Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth

Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago (2016-17): Jeff Award Winner

Design and creation of original, key puppets in a variety of forms (shadow, bunraku, etc.) for Lookinglass Theatre Company’s full theater production of Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth including a large-scale wearable boar, as well as wolf, human, and pig puppets.

Lead Designer: Blair Thomas

More Coming Soon!

Christmas Carol (2022)

The Chicago Puppet Studio is engaged by The Alliance Theater in Atlanta to work on Christmas Carol—designing, mechanizing and animating the Ghost of Christmas Past (images coming soon).

Vancouver (2020)

Chicago Puppet Studio in collaboration with Ma-Yi Theater creates this made-for-film puppet theater production including storyboard, cast of puppet characters, fully furnished animated puppet scenes, sound integration and full production arrangements. Photo: The Ma-Yi and CPS team prep at the Tiny Tempest farm.

Candide (2020)

Chicago Puppet Studio builds14 custom puppets for Director/Designer James Ortiz’s production of “Candide” at Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater.

Pinnochio (2019)

Chicago Puppet Studio designs and builds this Jeff Award nominated Pinnochio for the The House Theatre’s production. Photo: Pinocchio’s life-like eyes complement the wood layering effect achieved by Designer KT Shivak.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2018)

Chicago Puppet Studio builds the epic squid for Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier (2018-19)

Chicago Puppet Studio builds The Steadfast Tin Soldier – Lookingglass Theatre Company.

Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth (2016-17)

The Puppet Studio builds numerous puppets for Jeff nominated Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth. Photo Liz Lauren.