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Over 14,000 People Attend 2015 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

Nearly nine out of every ten seats were filled at last month's inaugural Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, a major success that attracted a total audience of more than 14,000 to 83 different festival events, sold out more than 80 percent of its shows, and played to 87 percent capacity over the course of its 12-day run, January 14-25.

"When you go to the theatre and the collective attention of a full house of people is focused on a very small gesture made by a puppet, that tells us something about being a human being," said Blair Thomas, Artistic Director, Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. "Congratulations and thanks to all of our festival partners for making this inaugural festival such an overwhelming success, and their incredible collaborative effort to help establish Chicago as a global center for the art of contemporary puppetry."

International acts like French puppet artist Laurent Bigot's Le Petit Cirque sold out all four shows at Adventure Stage Chicago, presented in association with the Chicago Humanities Festival. Moses, the ubiquitous star of U.K.-based Blind Summit's The Table, sold out "his" 13 consecutive shows at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Moses even paid a late Tuesday night visit to join the improv set at The Second City. Likewise, lines formed early and crowds were turned away at the DCA Storefront Theatre for both of Canada's David Barrow's shows, The Thief of Mirrors.

U.S. artists played to capacity crowds. New York's Modern Toy Theater of David Commander sold out its final Saturday show at The Neo-Futurists (after Commander performed a free set at 1 a.m. the night before after Too Much Light Makes the Baby Goes Blind.) Cartooon by In the Heart of the Beast from Minneapolis played to three capacity crowds at the University of Chicago's Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

Representing Chicago, Stephanie Diaz and Company's Mariposa Nocturna: A Puppet Triptych at Free Street Theatre, Manual Cinema's Mementos Mori at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Blair Thomas & Company's The Selfish Giant at Chicago Children's Theatre, and FlipFlap Production's The Temp at the Logan Center all enjoyed sold out shows. So did Links Hall's Nasty Brutish & Shorts presents... puppet cabaret series, which went clean on all ten scheduled shows, plus three more added due to popular demand.

Family drop-in events at the Field Museum, Logan Center and the Art Institute of Chicago attracted more than 3,000 parents and children. Meanwhile, the Art Institute's standing Puppets! exhibit saw a 50% uptick in "clicks" over normal weekly attendance during the 12-day festival.

Joshua Holden, Blair Thomas & Co. and Manual Cinema each took the festival message to three CPS schools, presenting free shows and workshops to nearly 250 students at Pasteur and Peck elementary schools near Midway Airport, and Prieto Math and Science Academy in Hermosa.

The Ellen Von Volkenburg Symposium, presented with the University of Chicago's Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the Museum of Contemporary Art, saw 100 puppeteers, scholars and enthusiasts gather for high-level discussions about contemporary puppetry, art and culture.

Festival artists David Commander, Sandglass Theatre of Vermont, and Chicago's Nasty, Brutish & Shorts presented artist workshops. The League of Chicago Theatres generously hosted an artist's luncheon at The Neo-Futurists. Leading up to the festival, organizers also hosted friend-raising events at SoHo House in the West Loop and six private residences.

Not only did puppets take over Chicago for two weeks in January, Puppet Fest was a top trender on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, landing 2.5 million social media impressions.

The fest also generated extensive local media coverage, national attention including a preview in Southwest Airlines' in-flight magazine, a Reuter's national wire feature, and an international story on Spain's EFE News Service. In sum, more than 130 fest news stories combined for a circulation of 1.8 million.

"We can't thank our venue partners, our curatorial committee, the festival's funders, artists, audiences and a staff of only five part-timers enough for making the first our inaugural festival such an unqualified success," said Claire Geall Sutton, Managing Director, Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. "Now, Blair and I are in the process of surveying our audiences, meeting with our partners and funders, creating a strategic plan, and ultimately building a very strong case about how to make the second Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival even bigger and better in 2017."

Founded to establish Chicago as a center for the advancement of the art of contemporary puppetry, the 12-day, city-wide festival showcased more than 50 artists and a dozen puppet theater acts and artists from Chicago, the U.S. and around the globe. More than a dozen Chicago cultural institutions, in partnership with the festival, presented 83 performances, family drop-in events, open rehearsals, artist workshops, classroom visits and cultivation events at venues large and small all over the city.

The festival is intended to be a bi-annual event to establish Chicago as a center for the art of puppetry in the world today. Bookmark to stay abreast of puppet news and events in Chicago, and for updates about the 2017 festival. Track the official festival hashtag, #ChiPuppetFest, fan the festival on Facebook and follow the festival on Twitter at @ChiPuppetFest.

Photo Credit: Phillip Solomonson

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