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

Intensive with Blair Thomas

The Double

Puppet Performance Workshop with Blair Thomas

July 17th - July 22nd, 2023


9:30am: Warm Up
10am – 5 pm CST with an hour lunch break
36 contact hours over the course of 6 days

Cost: $600*
*Limited scholarships available upon request, BIPOC encouraged to apply. To request email with a statement of interest/need

Participant Requirements: Performing and visual arts professionals: directors, puppeteers, actors, dancers, circus artists, singers, musicians, visual artists… Professional experience in the performing arts and committed attendance for the full duration of the course is required.

Course Objectives

The appearance of the döppelganger, other, replica, or double finds a natural home in the puppet theater. In this week-long intensive artists explore this theme and puppetry techniques and practices conducive to bringing this force to the stage.

The puppet theater is an intersection between the material object world and the human. The puppet’s role as a simulacrum, existing outside of what it means to be human, allows it the latitude to embody multiple planes of existence. Operating with its native language of materiality, kinesthetic movement, and inanimate consciousness, the puppet can absorb what humans are incapable of embodying. As the puppet’s lineage exists between the sacred and secular, how can the puppet embody the other? What is the relationship between the human performer and their material replica?

During the week-long workshop, participants will learn solo performance techniques that explore the theme of the double. The replica doll is introduced as a duality operating outside of the human with the capacity to be an ally or an antagonist, an opposite or an extension, a force that exteriorizes an inner experience. Also each participant will make a simple life mask for the head of a ghost puppet, exploring parallel performance/dances between puppet and human that are both aware or unaware or only sense the other. Finally the inclusion of simple 2-dimensional images generated on either banners, drops or short scrolls, will be introduced as design elements that contextualize the puppet performances.

Exercises will be built around responding to text fragments and autobiographical writing prompts. Rehearsal puppets and props will be provided for workshop use. Participants should be comfortable with physical movement and performance.

Instructor Bio

BLAIR THOMAS is a puppeteer, director/designer & festival curator active in Chicago since 1985. Currently he is the artistic director of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival which he founded in 2015. Additionally he co-directs the Chicago Puppet Studio, the design and fabrication wing of the Festival with Tom Lee, awarded a Jeff award for their design of puppets for Lookingglass’s Steadfast Tin Soldier, but additionally they have built puppets for NYC’s My-Yi Theater, Milwaukees’ Skylight Music Theater and Atlanta’s Alliance Theater and are currently working a new production for the Metropolitan Opera directed by Mary Zimmerman. From 2002-2018 Blair produced touring productions as Blair Thomas & Company, such as: Pierrot Lunaire (2005), The Selfish Giant (2007), The Ox-Herder’s Tale (2008), Hard Headed Heart (2009), The Vinegar Works (2014), Moby-Dick (2016) and Buried Alive With Edgar Allan Poe(2018). He has performed in festivals in France, Spain, Slovenija and Mexico and across the US. Before that he started Redmoon Theater in 1989, where he served as the artistic director and co-artistic director until 1998, during which time he was principal in the creation of all its productions, parades and pageants, such as The Annual Winter Pageant (1992-1998), The Halloween Parade & Spectacle (1995-1998), Frankie and Johnny (1997), Frankenstein (1996), and You Hold My Heart Between Your Teeth (1989). Twice Blair has received the international UNIMA-USA awards for excellence in the art of puppetry and twice awarded the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship awards. He was the first artist to fill the Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence position at the University of Maryland and currently as an Adjunct Associate Professor, teaches puppetry at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is a graduate of Oberlin College (1985), with a dharma teacher ordination from the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary (2009) and an MA in Art History from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2023).