Surprise Your Loved Ones at Home with Puppet-Grams

Just in time for Mother’s Day, this pop-up puppet show is ready to surprise families at home again with this special gift.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival’s Pop-Up Puppet Grams returns May 6 for families who want to send Pop-Up Puppet Gram puppeteer Mark Blashford to a loved one’s front porch or backyard to perform a special show.

In 2021, Blashford has created three new show options to entertain families:

  • Garden Party: A gardening marionette by a groovy chrysanthemum, Chicago’s official flower. Midwestern wildflower seeds will also be given to the recipients as a keepsake.
  • A Western Lonely Goatherd: Inspired by the marionette scene in The Sound of Music, a yodeling puppeteer showcases a performance with 18 Western-themed puppets.
  • Doorstep Marionette: A cowboy marionette paints a little picture, which he gives to the recipient during the show.

Pop-Up Puppet Grams are on sale for $75 and appointments are available May 6-Nov. 7.

How Puppet-Grams Started

Blashford used time during Chicago’s stay-at-home order in his basement workshop carving and creating six new puppets.

He also spent time noticing the many deliveries — of food, coffee and care packages — that arrived on his doorstep.

“Delivery services would zip around the neighborhoods in Chicago, especially during the height of the lockdown,” Blashford said. “I thought, ‘I wish someone could call a number and send me.'”

From that, the puppeteer and puppet creator developed Pop-Up Puppet-Gram. Using a booking system through the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, Blashford and his puppets can be delivered right to your door.

Puppeteer Mark Blashford performs a Pop-Up Puppet-Gram for a family. Photo Credit: Timo Kuhn

Blashford wears a mask and maintains a social distance as he performs, with a show of opening the case for the puppet – a cowboy – who paints a picture. The picture that Ansel paints is awarded to the celebrant, or whomever the Puppet-Gram was sent to.

Blashford and Ansel attract an audience, with neighbors stopping on the street or in apartment lobbies to see the show.

“I’m so grateful for the little audiences,” says Blashford, who carves and makes puppets at his company Rootstock Puppet Co. “It is usually more than one person and I am so grateful for the little audience moments. It brings me as much joy I think as it brings them.”

Blashford has been a professional puppeteer for five years. Ansel the cowboy was carved and created during quarantine after Blashford was shown a viral video of a puppet that could paint.

The booking website at the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival recommends that senders verify that the receiver of the Puppet-Gram will be home.

But for some recipients, Blashford’s arrival has been a surprise.

“Especially for those who don’t know it’s coming, they are shocked!” Blashford says. “Quickly they get absorbed into the little world created on their doorstep.”

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This article originally published in July 2020. It has been updated with the most recent information.

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