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 Goes to Sleep

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.

The Walk Productions in association with HandSpring Puppet Company

Concept and Production Design: Blair Thomas
Co-directors: Blair Thomas and Jerrell L. Henderson
Puppet Design: Tom Lee

Plan and Build Process

Rehearsal and Performance

Florencia en el Amazonas

The Metropolitan Opera, New York (2023)

Design and fabrication of puppets for Mary Zimmerman’s production of Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas at The Metropolitan Opera.

Chicago Puppet Studio designed animals of the Amazon including life size alligators, pink dolphins, a monkey, iguana and fish for the first Spanish language opera to appear on the Met Opera stage in almost 100 years.

Puppet Design: Tom Lee and Blair Thomas
Puppet Direction & Puppet Captain: 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 adaptation of the Chinese epic Journey to The West, including Sun Wukong (the Monkey King), Sha (a sand demon) and Zhu ( a gluttonous human trapped in a pig’s body). Directed by Roxanna Myhrum.

Puppet Design: Tom Lee


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

The design, fabrication and puppet direction for a school wide film project based on Homer’s Odyssey at Lycée Français de Chicago, involving kindergarteners to high school students.

Chicago Puppet Studio’s Tom Lee collaborated with Lookingglass teaching artists Phil Smith and Louise Lamson on this puppet film inspired by Georges Méliès film A Trip to the Moon. Miniatures, dioramas, sea life, toy theater pieces, props, costumes and puppets including a giant Cyclops and cardboard Odyesseus were created via a year-long project in art classes across the curriculum. . CPS provided rehearsal support for this multi-grade, bi-lingual art project culminating in a sold out film presentation at the historic Davis Theater in Ravenswood.

Puppet Design and Direction: Tom Lee
Associate Puppet Design: Emily Helene Rebecca Wingate

The Mortification of Fovea Munson

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

Design and fabrication of three articulated severed heads, for The Mortification of Fovea Munson, a TYA Musical about a middle schooler and cadaver lab.

Puppet Design: Caitlin McCleod

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.

Puppet Design: Tom Lee


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.

Puppet Design: Jaerin Son and Myra Su
Additional video editing: 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.

Wearable sculpture design and fabrication: 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.

Puppet Design: Tom Lee


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

Award-winning puppet film collaboration with Ma-Yi Theater of New York. Chicago Puppet Studio created and executed the production design of this made-for-film puppet theater production from Ralph Peña’s original script. 3 main puppet characters, a dog, fully realized set and props were designed in a process that included storyboarding, sound integration and puppetry. Filmed at the height of the pandemic in rural Wisconsin at Tiny Tempest Farm.

Puppetry Direction: Tom Lee
Production Design: Jaerin Son
Puppet Design: KT Shivak and Mark Blashford

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.

Concept & Direction: Tom Lee
Shadow Puppet Design: Jaerin Son
Puppet Design: KT Shivak & Mark Blashford

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.

Puppet Design: Tom Lee & 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 Lookingglass 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.

Puppet Design: 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.