Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Chicago Puppet Fest for the Next 10 days

For the next 10 days, local, national, and international puppet companies are descending on Chicago to partake in the second biannual Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival.  There are over 20 venues, over 50 performances, a symposium, a neighborhood tour, and lots lots more.

This is the second year of the festival, which runs every two years.

Here's the preview video of the festival:

2017 Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival: January 19-29 from Wickstrom Design on Vimeo.

The festival is founded and directed by Blair Thomas, a world-renowned puppeteer and designer who resides right here in Chicago. Blair has twice earned the highest international puppet honor, the UNIMA Excellence in Puppetry Award. He's taught at a number of universities, and is currently on faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His company (appropriately titled Blair Thomas & Co.) is the producer of the festival, and has created over a dozen original puppet theatre pieces.

The festival has a number of different events aimed at different audiences. I'm selecting a few for family audiences, but please go to their website and check out all of the shows available.  They have shows that are aimed at adults also.  Don't bring the kids to those, but you will be delighted!

 Here's a link to the pdf of the Map and schedule.


Italy’s Teatro dei Piedi (January 20-22) stages characters whose stories are by turns romantic, ironic, poetic and ridiculous – with their feet! Using puppetry, mime, and a little bit of contortion, Laura Kibel and Veronic González put their hands, feet and knees together to create extraordinarily articulate characters.
Please Note: This performance takes place at two different venues.
Beverly Art Center: Friday, January 20 at 7:00pm and Saturday, January 21 at 11:00am
Instituto Cervantes:Saturday, January 21 at 7:00pm and Sunday, January 22 at 11:00am

Adventure Stage Chicago presents Bulgarian theatre company Théatre Puzzle's show Plastique. (January 21-23)   The show presents a plastic bag world where the colorful plastic creatures within appear, transform, fly, get bored, fall in love, get angry, etc.   As the puppets perform, they start to resemble people (at least in their actions) This show is supposed to be very funny, and looks very fun.

Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic (January 26-29) is a visually breathtaking cinematic shadow play for all ages, created by Hamid Rahmanian in collaboration with Larry Reed. The play unfolds an action-packed magical tale of star-crossed lovers from the 10th-century Persian epic Shahnameh (The Book of Kings). Inspired by Iranian visual traditions, Rahmanian uses puppets, costumes, masks,  and digital animation to bring the story to life on a cinema-sized screen.  The show runs 70 minutes long, and is suitable for all ages.  MORE INFO

Open Eye Figure Theatre’s adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (January 27-28)  is a look at youth, aging, and the allure of power. Creator Michael Sommers uses Goethe’s 1797 poem Der Zauberlehrling as inspiration, expanding on the young apprentice’s mishaps and mistakes in this original work with a unique Open Eye approach. With its highly-designed production, original score, and masterful puppetry, the show appeals to both adults and children. MORE INFO

Manual Cinema transforms Edith Nesbit’s novel The Magic City (January 27-29) into a live, cinematic shadow puppet show in this new work commissioned by Chicago Children’s Theatre. When a young girl moves into a new home, she entertains herself by building a city using household objects. Through some magic, she finds herself inside the city, surrounded by life.  Please note: Performances January 27-29 are Previews.  The show will run at Chicago Children's Theatre through Feb. 19. MORE INFO

Make sure to find the rest of the Puppet festival shows on their website

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Featured dad of the week is Me!

I'm the featured dad on the Chicago Dad's Blog

Click the above link to read a short 5 question interview with me for the blog.

My fifteen minutes are just about over, I think.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year in Review: Downs and Ups

So I thought I'd take a little minute of self-reflection of the blog and of the year.

This has been a good year, but a hard year.  There have been more downs than ups.

I do a lot of things in the year.  I am the main caregiver to my son, I write this blog and two others, I do the finances for my wife's business and our home, and I am still trying to work as a performer when I can.  I didn't attain all of my goals this year, but I did get some of them.


While I've mostly kept politics off of my blog, I've made no secret on social media of my disdain for Herr Drumpf, and my sorrow/depression/anger over his election.  I won't get into it here, but suffice to say that he is unqualified, unprepared, and unctuous, and my personal feeling about the direction of our country under his "leadership" is dark.  Perhaps this is how the other side felt about Obama's election 8 years ago, but of course my angst is worth more!  At least then we had a guy with some experience and some political savvy and not a guy who is clearly dishonest and intent on raiding the US for his own personal gain.  Not to mention the uncomfortably close comparisons that one can make to Hitler.  This has colored ALL  of the last 6 months or so for me and my family, and I really have felt depressed.  But I digress.


In addition to the celebrity deaths of some of my artistic heroes (David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, to name a few) I had some personal friends and relatives die.  My Aunt Irma, who lived a long good life, and my friends Pat Cashin and David Greene, who basically died suddenly and quickly and far far too soon.  In particular, Pat, who was a blogger, a father, and a clown.  There but for the grace of God go I.

This has made me feel my mortality in ways that I have been working up to.  I'm 52.  My son is 8.  I've got another 25 years if I'm statistically average, but I'm overweight, I have high blood pressure and both of my parents died  young.  (Although I did have one grandmother who lived until 103, and a grandfather who lived to 88.  And my mother died of cancer from Hepatitis that she had gotten 25 years ago from a blood transfusion. And my father was killed in a car crash.  So there is hope for a long life.


I've had some health issues, including gum surgery, skin cancer on my nose that required surgery, my first ever colonoscopy the day before the election, and other assorted issues.  Just adds to my feelings of mortality.


Despite my weight and the aforementioned issues, I'm still alive!  I've maintained/lost a little weight, and I've accomplished several challenges on a fitness level, including using my recumbent bicycle everyday for a month, biking over 300 miles on the recumbent bike in an 8 week period, and doing a pushup challenge and getting up to 50 pushups a day.  (Of course, I then injured myself, and have lost most of that strength)  Still I feel good about it, and hope to continue that into the New Year.

I did a few very well-received performances of my flea circus, and took a clown workshop that made me remember how much I like attending workshops. Hope to do more performing during the upcoming year.  I have an idea for a new show, and I'd like to get that out the door, if I can.

I've written over 70 posts this year on my blog, and looking back, most of them have been reviews of theatre and music. (And I didn't even write about every play or show I saw!) I've really upped my game on critical writing, and would like to continue to do that while writing more posts about parenting.  Most of my draft posts this year were about parenting issues and conundrums, and I never finished those posts.  My work this year is to finish these posts and continue my work as a critic and reviewer.

My social media has also expanded-- I've gained something like 500 twitter followers in the last year.  I hope to keep expanding that as well.

Wishing all of my readers a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Die Fledermaus in Evanston Dec 26-Jan1

Light Opera Works (the Evanston based music theatre group that will soon be changing their name to Theater Music Works) is presenting a great light opera to celebrate the ending of their name/beginning of their new name.  They are presenting Strauss's classic light opera Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

Michael Cavalieri as Eisenstein and
 Alicia Berneche as Rosalinda
Set on New Year's Eve, the play centers around a ballroom, mistaken identity, vengeance, and drinking.  If it were a play it would be a farce (in fact, that's what it was originally, before it got adapted into an opera!)    Plus, there are plenty of classic recognizable songs. (and a 30 piece orchestra!)

As always, Light Opera Works presents some great local and national talent, including Saturday Night Live alum Tim Kazurinsky in the very comic role of the jailer Frosch.  Other performers include Kelly Britt (Adele), Michael Cavalieri (Eisenstein), Alicia Berneche (Rosalinda), William Roberts (Dr. Falke), and Billy Dwyer (Prince Orlofsky).

Tim Kazurinsky as Frosch, the drunken jailer.
Kazurinsky is a standout comic performer in his role as the drunken jailer.  I haven't seen the opera before, but he did some very funny bits which I assume were improvisations.  One particularly funny moment is when he is trying to silence the singing of one of the jailbirds ( who he calls The bluebird of Happiness)  He brings out a gun, he goes off stage, we hear a bang.  He comes back very somberly, and says with his drunken lilt , "I have some terrible news to report... I missed."  He also addresses the conductor, saying that he would leave the gun where he could find it, as he was rehearsing the viola's tomorrow.

All of the voices are great, but a special shoutout must go to Alicia Berneche who played Rosalinda.  She was funny, charming, and had a beautiful voice.  I also really enjoyed the comic stylings of Billy Dwyer as the disaffected and nihilistic Prince Orlofsky. Despite being kind of a nihilist, he was a delight to watch on stage.

One of my companions had seen a version at the Lyric a couple of years ago, and insisted that this production was much funnier and the translation was better.

The show runs approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions.

For more information,including a copy of the program visit:

If you are feeling adventurous, or don't have New Year's Eve plans, there's a program to have dinner with the director and the composer on New Year's Eve, which will include a 4 course gourmet meal.  You can attend the dinner even if you don't have tickets for that evening's show.

Monday, December 26, 2016 at 2 pm
Wednesday, December 28 at 2 pm
Thursday, December 29 at 8 pm
Friday, December 30 at 8 pm
Saturday, December 31 at 8 pm
  (New Year's Eve)
Sunday, January 1, 2017 at 2 pm

Tickets start at $34
Age 25 and younger: 1/2 price
(suitable for 12 and older)

Tickets also by phone:
(847) 920-5360

Cahn Auditorium
600 Emerson, Evanston, IL

As mentioned above, the theatre is changing its name from Light Opera Works to Theater Music Works to better reflect the diversity of their programming.  That change will take place January 2, 2017.  You can read an article about the name change here.

BOOK REPORT: The Lego Animation Book

See The Lego Animation Book on Amazon the recent Chicago Toy and Game Expo, I ended up chatting with one of the authors of a new book that can change a kid's ability to think, create, and imagine.

 It's a book called The LEGO Animation Book, and it teaches kids (in a book format, obviously) ALMOST everything they need to know about creating LEGO Movies.

The authors, David Pagano and David Pickett have impressive LEGO resumes. Together they run a LEGO animation blog THE SET BUMP  Pagano has his own LEGO production studio Paganomation, and his work has appeared in places like the Wall Street Journal, BrickJournal, and of course, Youtube.  His co-author is the filmmaker behind Brick 101 and Nightly News at Nine.

Here's a sample of each of their works (Pagano first, then Pickett)

Really fun right?

In the book, they've gathered together some of their best tricks, secrets, and best practices to be a LEGO Animator.  Some of the topics they cover are

  • Building a set so that it is modular and easy to re-use
  • How to work in different scales
  • Best ways to light a tiny set
  • How to storyboard
  • shot selection and composition.
  • What to look for in software and hardware for recording
  • Post-production

Sample page on building a one room set.
The book is full color, 200+ pages, and while suitable for kids, has enough quality information that adult/parent LEGO hobbyists will learn something as well.  There's a lot of technical detail, including a brick-by-brick instruction to build a larger scale puppet that you can reuse again and again, and instructions on how to use spreadsheets to plan out your animations.

More than being easy to read, well-written, and filled with good intel (all of it true), what I really like about this book is the clear zeal that the authors have and communicate about their art form.  Their passion and love of both creating stuff and the tools with which they create stuff is evident on just about every page.

Sample page on animating a walk
 The book doesn't dwell too much on how to get ideas for your creations, although it does talk about brainstorming and improvising/playing as methods.  It also details the incredible amount of work that goes into creating a couple of minutes of very good animation.

 Let's be clear, this book is not going to suddenly make your kid a genius animator.  The only thing that will do that is working his or her tail off, and failing a bunch of times before coming up with something amazing.

What the book will do is give him/her the tools and information to make them a better writer and animator, a bunch of tricks and ideas so they don't make easy mistakes and get discouraged before they can get good at it, and most importantly, show them examples of what is possible if they dedicate themselves to their work.

And really, what more can you ask for in a book like this?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

REVIEW: Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time.

We saw The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time last night at the Oriental Theatre.  It was great, and I highly recommend it.

I'd read the book a 100 years long time ago, and remember loving it.  The story, about a brilliant boy on the autism spectrum, details the mystery surrounding the suspicious death of a dog, and the aftermath as the main character Christopher solves the problem.

The acting was superb all the way around , and the guy who played the boy was really pretty phenomenal. He's kind of a Youtube star, and he's really quite good and convincing.  Most of the ensemble players had worked on the national tour of War Horse. They were a really good ensemble. It makes sense, it's produced in part by the National Theatre of Britain (same as War Horse)

 The set and sound design were also amazing. The set, which was like a square grid, had LED lights all over it, and often when he got lost, he could follow his path like his pet rat. And the grid was on the floor as well as the backdrop, and they did all kinds of cool projections.

Here's a video/introduction to the show and some of the technical elements from the creators.  (The actor playing Christopher on tour is different than the boy in the video.)

The sound/projection design, when he got lost on his way to the train station was also so good-- a barrage of information and loudness. You got the sense of overwhelming that he felt.  There's also a harrowing moment when he is in the train tunnel with the Underground zooming on.  The set design was so brilliant for that as well.

I thought the ending of the show was weird-- it kind of didn't end as much as wound down-- but as I recall the book was kind of similar.

I would have loved to have seen this in a small black box theatre-- it would have been much more powerful than seeing it from the top of the giant and ornate Oriental Theatre. Not that we couldn't see, but I feel like the immersive nature of the show would have been so much more powerful. But alas, alack, Broadway touring economics favors giant theaters.

I highly recommend the show (but it ends tonight in Chicago) If you have a chance to see it elsewhere, you should. (Hartford, Pittsburgh, Dallas are the next three stops. Full touring schedule here:

Buy the book on Amazon
We took our 8-year-old son, as we couldn't find a babysitter and we had 3 tickets. It was recommended for age 10 and over, but we figured it would have to work.

For the most part it was fine, although the first line is "Oh fucking shit!"  Repeated a bunch of times.

I turned to my wife and said, "Oh no!"

But the language calmed down some.  There were still lots of swear words, and some talk of sex. But there was also a lot of comedy and a lot of kindness.

The death of the dog was not shown on stage (although the set does start with a puppet dog with a large fork in it) , and SPOILER ALERT there was a very cute live dog in the show.

 Overall, my son liked it and it kept his interest, Hopefully the swearing and the sex-talk went over his head. #badparents.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Live #Ham4Ham Show in Chicago Sat Dec 17!


 Got this press release today, and thought it was cool enough to mention here!

Good luck, all my Hamilton fans!

 CHICAGO (Dec. 15, 2016) – Producer Jeffrey Seller and Broadway In Chicago announce HAMILTON’s LIVE lottery and special #Ham4Ham holiday show with cast members in Chicago on Saturday, December 17.

 HAMILTON will conduct a day-of-show LIVE lottery for the 2:00 PM matinee performance, making 30 tickets available for $10 each. The digital day-of-show lottery will resume for the evening performance that day.  TO ENTER THAT LOTTERY, CLICK HERE.

 Lottery entries will be will be accepted at The PrivateBank Theatre (18 W. Monroe) beginning at 11:30 AMon Saturday, December 17. Those names drawn will be entitled to purchase one or two $10.00 tickets (1 or 2) in cash. The names will be drawn at random at noon, 12:00 PM. Only one entry is allowed per person. Entries are checked for duplication prior to drawing. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show valid ID to purchase tickets.

 Prior to the 12:00 PM drawing, a special #Ham4Ham holiday show will feature cast members from the Chicago Company of HAMILTON performing for the crowd. What originally started on Broadway as a fun way for the HAMILTON cast to entertain the crowds of people waiting outside the theatre to enter the ticket lottery has turned into a platform to celebrate the talent and community of Broadway with fans worldwide.

 HAMILTON is currently playing at The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago (18 W. Monroe). For more information, visit