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A Quick Guide to Puppet Festivals Around the World

Puppetry festivals aren't just for kids and families anymore!

Even though they might not want to admit it, adults enjoy puppetry as much as kids do.

Puppetry gives responsible, overburdened adults a reason to feel a childlike wonder again.

It's amazing to see a person's eyes light up when they experience the wonder of puppetry. I've seen it.

There are many, many puppetry festivals that happen all around the world every year.

This is just a few of the puppet festivals that I have been to, or know people who have attended and would recommend.

skirball puppet festival
The Skirball Puppet Festival in Los Angeles

Puppet Festivals in the USA

The National Puppetry Festival

The National Puppetry Festival happens every other year in different locations around the US. It is produced by Puppeteers of America - the national organization for puppeteers in the United States.

The National Puppetry Festival is a week-long festival that includes a ton of different workshops on puppetry technique, puppet building, business, and everything else.

There are workshop intensives too, and many, many puppet shows in all sorts of styles of puppetry. I've discovered some amazing artists at the National Festivals.

It also involves a playful show called Puppet Potpourri which is a beloved puppetry open mic. Also, you can catch the always fun and diverse National Puppet Slam.

national puppet festival
An image for the 2017 National Puppetry Festival

The National Puppet Slam

Speaking of the National Puppet Slam!

The National Puppet Slam is the largest puppet slam in the world.

What the heck is a puppet slam? You are probably asking.

A puppet slam is an evening of short form puppetry acts intended for adult audiences. Puppet slams happen all over the US and abroad now too! I should know because I used to work for Heather Henson as the puppet slam network coordinator.

The National Puppet Slam happens every year but it switches its location. It is either at Dragon Con  —  a massive pop-culture convention in Atlanta  —  or at the National Puppetry Festival.

Performers have to be either invited or nominated to perform in the National Puppet Slam. It is the crème de la crème of short-form, non-kid puppetry,

Chicago International Puppetry Festival

I haven’t attended this festival myself, but I have many friends that both attend and perform and have only heard very good things about it.

It is an annual puppet festival in Chicago, as the name might imply. They bring in puppeteers from around the country and have performances at multiple venues.

There are also a few workshops mixed in. It is worth checking out!

International Puppet Fringe NYC

Puppet Fringe NYC is a fairly new puppetry festival that happens each year in NYC and features puppeteers from around the world. I believe there is also a night of short form acts and that the shows happen all over New York City.

They also put out a call for acts every year, so you can submit your performance to be a part of it!

Dragon Con

Dragon Con is one of the largest pop culture conventions in the country, and certainly the largest in the South. It happens every summer in Atlanta, GA and they host a very strong puppetry track.

There are workshops to take, shows to see, and even a show called Puppet Ninja Warrior, where two groups of puppeteers compete to see who can get their tabletop puppet to finish an obstacle course first. Pretty brilliant stuff.

puppet festival caroll spinney pam severns
Confessing my love to Caroll Spinney at Dragon Con in 2018

I performed in the National Puppet Slam in 2018 when it was at Dragon Con.

It is really something to behold, and puppet celebs like Caroll Spinney (the beloved Big Bird puppeteer), Emilio Delgado (from Sesame Street), Brian Henson and Heather Henson, and Kirk Thatcher (Muppets director) were there too.

O'Neill National Puppetry Conference

The O'Neill Puppetry Conference is technically not a puppet festival but a puppetry conference, and it's worth mentioning if you want to go somewhere to really geek out on puppetry and learn a lot.

But you can't just attend - you have to apply.

Should you apply and get in, you would do an intense week of studying something of your choosing like playwriting for puppetry, marionette construction and performance, shadow puppetry technique, and much more. The subjects change each year.

There are lots of puppet performances and master classes and there's an open mic in the pub – yes, an on-campus pub – every night.

national puppetry conference, pam severns, richard termine
Performing at the O'Neill Puppetry Conference. Photo by Richard Termine.

It's an intense week, but you will cram your brain with more puppetry knowledge than you thought was possible.

It's quite an experience. I cried honest tears of joy after my first O'Neill in 2016.

It takes place every June in Waterford, Connecticut on a beautiful campus.

Skirball Puppet Festival

The Skirball Puppet Festival is an annual weekend puppetry festival in the Los Angeles Area. They usually have it in the Spring.

They bring in lots of amazing shows, host activities and puppet making for kids, and have an outdoor stage complete with live music and walk-around puppetry.

There is also a puppet films element to the Skirball. I've been to this one a few times and it is great.

Festivals in Canada and Europe

Festival de Casteliers

WP Puppet Power

Festival of Animated Objects

World Puppet Theater Festival

Manipulate Festival

Bristol Puppet Festival

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