by Jessi Virtusio
The “delight” of puppetry is that audiences understand the characters on stage are not real and yet they behave in a way that appears to be alive, said Blair Thomas, founder and artistic director of Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival.
“What I like about puppetry,” Thomas said, “is it’s a language outside of our human language. It employs this marvelous mixture of movement and visual design to speak to us in a way that bypasses our intellectual thinking and can surprise and delight.”
Beverly Art Center, Blair Thomas & Co. and Istituto Italiano di Cultura/Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago in association with Instituto Cervantes in Chicago present Veronica Gonzalez and Laura Kibel from Italy’s Teatro dei Piedi in a production that features stories ranging from romantic to ridiculous told through the actors’ feet.
“(The show is) an amalgamation of mime and puppetry with the performers using their own human bodies to create these very unique characters where their own feet become the heads of these puppets,” Thomas said.
“It’s a surprising mixture of physical comedy and dexterity to create a very engaging performance that uses no spoken word.”
During its inaugural year, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival featured 12 presenting partners. In year two, that number has doubled, with the inclusion of the Southland stop among its 22 venues.
“One of my experiences as a young theater artist in Chicago was that I got very influenced by the International Theatre Festival of Chicago that took place in the 1980s and 1990s in Chicago,” Thomas said via phone from the festival’s office in Chicago.
“There was one production by a company that really changed the way I look at theater entirely and it set me on a path that led me to start the Redmoon Theater, which was a company I ran back then. There is no major city with an international puppet theater festival.
“There had been one in New York for a decade and it discontinued in 2000. I really felt like I wanted to build on the receptive environment in Chicago for theater and for contemporary work to establish Chicago as a place where we can have a festival of national prominence.”
Thomas said it was the reception from Beverly Arts Center when he staged “The Selfish Giant” there in 2015 that made him partner with the venue.
“This is an incredible venue and a very receptive audience. We wanted to figure out how to bring something to Beverly Arts Center. They were very rooted in their community and so that’s a valuable thing,” he said.
“There’s an audience there and they’re interested in having positive experiences in theater and, in this case, it works for family audiences. It’s a totally great space in terms of artists working. There’s a really broad stage that’s an excellent facility to perform in.”
Thomas started his first puppet company, the Palace Puppeteers, at the age of 10 and has been immersed in puppet theater since the founding of Blair Thomas & Co. in 2002.
Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.
‘Sonata for 4 Feet’
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 20; 11 a.m. Jan. 21
Where: Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., Chicago
Tickets: $20 adults; $12 students
Etc.: presented by Teatro dei Piedi; part of Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival