If you are – or have been – a casual theatergoer, you know that puppetry is very important in Chicago.
Every two years, the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival brings together talented locals with artists from around the world. With the festival postponed until next year, one of its puppeteers takes his show on the road. Instead of sending flowers, he thinks you should “Say it with the puppets”.
Mark Blashford: I am Mark Blashford. I work for the Chicago Puppet Studio as part of the Chicago Puppet Theater Festival.
Marc Vitali: Blashford saw so many deliveries made during quarantine that it gave him an idea.
Blashford: I want to be Grubhub but for puppets. The public cannot come to me. What if you could send me to the public? Keep them small and I could play a good distance while doing what I love to do, which is to play for people live.
Vitali: He invented door puppets – portable puppets.
Blashford: It is a wonderful form. It’s an excellent storytelling technique, delivering often wordless storytelling, married to music.
Vitali: It aims to please everyone.
Blashford: It’s not just for kids. I have a lot of birthdays and a lot of them are for 50’s, 60’s. I’m having an 85-year-old’s birthday party. It’s a good thing to send if you don’t want to send something that someone is going to throw away or, or if you don’t know if they like peanuts or can eat them or not. Send a puppet!
Vitali: He’s also a woodcarver, and he does all his cast of characters.
Blashford: I went to school for the puppets. I have an MFA in puppets, in puppets. I studied in Prague and Germany and Iceland with different masters.
Vitali: Her original inspiration came from a star at her local PBS station.
Blashford: My whole family is from Pittsburgh, so we know WQED studios and Mr. Rogers well, and I grew up watching it. He has a huge influence on me. I actually wanted to become a children’s TV host.
Vitali: We asked his audience for a critical appraisal.
Olivier : The puppets had so many emotions and they looked so real and the stories were so creative. It was really beautiful and amazing.
Orla: It was a good idea to be able to send someone a puppet show, to give them a little bit of happiness during this difficult time, and it was fun.
Blashford: The idea is just to spread the joy, promote puppetry across the city, and bring theater to people, especially people who love theater and can’t go there right now.
Vitali: He calls him Puppet-Gram. Home performances last approximately 5 minutes and cost $ 75.
Follow Marc Vitali on Twitter: @MarcVitaliArts
Note: This story first appeared on July 16, 2020. It has been updated.