International Puppet Theater Festival

So I’m taking a small break from all the talk of travel to talk about Chicago. In addition to the travel, all sorts of marvelous things have happened here in the past few weeks.

 First, I’m going to talk about the International Puppet Theater Festival that was in the middle of January. Yes, there was an International Puppet Theater Festival in Chicago and it was super. I did miss the first week of the festival while I was in Africa. But I managed to make two performances that blew my mind away.
The first was part of Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Puppet Cabaret Part B. It showcased 7 different puppet stories in very different styles. Some were funny and weird, others were brilliant and weird. It was an incredible show of skill. For me the stars of the show were Vanessa Valliere and Meredith Miller. Vanessa Valliere started off the show as the puppet herself; her head on top of baby doll body. The story was about a woman attending one of those self help seminars but keeps falling asleep and has strange and wondrous dreams. It worked really well. She did another piece in the show where she was a child who was putting on shows with her dolls while being reprimanded by a baby doll. It was truly delightfully bizarre. Someone understood my sense of humor.
Meredith Miller’s puppet shows were a different end of the spectrum. They were some of the most unique puppet shows I’ve ever seen. For her first (and my favorite) piece, she came on stage wearing three stacked boxes. Each box was a little stage with red velvet curtains. She could open each curtain with a little string, like a proper stage. Her face even had a light to represent the moon. It was a beautiful piece about love and heartbreak where characters jumped between the middle and bottom stages. So utterly beautiful that it made my heart break. She did another piece where she wore a beautiful old fashioned masted ship on her head. A simple but incredible piece about tragedy. Truly magnificent.
The final of the show had the play the Hubrist  by Joe Mazza where a puppet conducted a monologue on life, love, and pride. It had a wonderful ring of Shakespeare to it. I can’t wait to see more shows from this cabaret.
The second puppet show that we saw was Modern Toy Theater of David Commander at the Neo-Futurium. He built small worlds from toys, cardboard (an aesthetic I can get behind), and many positioned cameras. It’s quite impressive. David Commander wore a shirt that said invisible as he manipulated his worlds. He put on two shows. The first was about a plane that was about to crash where the crew is trying to distract the audience. They serve drinks,and show inane commercials for Sky Mall or some Oprah Ellen talk show. The timing was impeccable; Sky Mall had just filed for bankruptcy protection that day. Some characters fretted about the fire while others focused on high school reunions. The piece seemed to be about how we are so easily distracted from things of importance with our own petty concerns. Very interesting.
Airplane by David Commander
 The second piece was sort of a meditation on animal treatment and food. It was a little bit about factory farming but a lot more about respecting our food. It jumped from teh farm to the restaurant where the food was served. It was ridiculous as you followed the animals’ transformations from living to meat to meals. Overall, he did wonderful things with perspective, using crazy camera angles. And often times, he was just using his camera phone!
Restaurant by David Commander
Restaurant by David Commander
Two great shows. I hope there will be a second festival next year!
That’s all for now!

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