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

by Elizabeth Diffin

Don’t be alarmed. But Chicago is having an invasion this month.

An invasion … of puppets.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is a brand-new event celebrating the art of puppetry in its various forms–from shadow puppets to finger puppets, sock puppets to marionettes.

And despite what you might think when you hear the word “puppets,” the 10-day festival actually isn’t just for the kiddie set.

“It’s a festival that has puppetry pretty much for everybody,” says Blair Thomas, founder and artistic director. “What I’m hoping to do is redefine puppetry for people. Their perceptions of puppetry are usually very limited.”

To that end, adults can enjoy a puppet cabaret, a wordless journey into religious history and a show about dementia, among others.

For families, the options are plentiful. The festival has partnered with some of the city’s premier institutions to put together some great events for younger audiences.

From 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 17, kids can visit the Puppets! exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago before stopping by the free family festival in the Ryan Education Center, where they can create their own puppets in a workshop and put on a show. It also includes a performance of Rudyard Kipling’s short story Rikki Tikki Tavi, told using hand puppets, rod puppets and masks (11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.).

If marionettes are more your speed, head to The Field Museum to perform on the “Open Mic” stage. Professionals and amateurs are both welcome to work some puppet magic from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Jan. 17. There’s also a shadow puppet performance by the renowned Chinese Theater Works at 3 p.m. Field’s regular “Dozin’ with the Dinos” overnight program Jan. 16-17 also embraces the puppet theme, with performances, plus self-guided tours and other activities.

For Southsiders, the Logan Center for the Arts turns its regular monthly family day into a puppet extravaganza (noon-5 p.m. Jan. 24). It comes complete with a photobooth, a Make and Take puppet workshop and a “Puppet Zoo.” Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre will perform a children’s version of their live-action three-dimensional cartoon, Cartooon, at 2 p.m.

And if you’re more the type to sit in the audience, the festival’s got your back, too.

Links Hall (3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago) features SNORF! (1 p.m. Jan. 17), a variety show for all ages, as well as Stars on Strings (1 p.m. Jan. 18), so-called trick marionettes that roller skate, perform on the tight rope and trapeze, juggle and more.

The festival wraps up with Chicago Children’s Theatre’s performance of The Selfish Giant (Jan. 23-25), a musical created specifically for CCT. The show is based on Oscar Wilde’s classic story about a grumpy giant who forbids children from playing in his garden–until a few sneaky kids bring with them the rebirth of spring.

Thomas says that kids as young as 2 sit entranced through the 45-minute show–and he’s hoping that feeling spreads to audiences of all ages.

After all, his primary wish for what audiences take away from the festival?

“A magical sense of wonder.”


Elizabeth Diffin is the senior editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.

See more of Elizabeth’s stories here.

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