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Free Puppet Shows In City Heights Aren’t Just For Kids

A hand carved marionette with dreadlocks and a cigar hanging from its mouth h...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: A hand carved marionette with dreadlocks and a cigar hanging from its mouth hangs from its strings, Jan. 25, 2018.

A hand-carved marionette is set to star in a puppet show Saturday in City Heights. But, it's not your child’s puppet. A cigar hangs from the wooden skeleton's mouth, its hair is in dreadlocks and it isn’t afraid to demand cash from strangers.

“Gimme some money, gimme some bread,” the figurine said Thursday in a gruff tone through handler Jason Johnson.

Johnson will introduce his creation at this weekend’s 2018 launch of the City Heights Puppet Project, a free performance series in its second year that's family friendly but not limited to juvenile content.

Johnson is one of several puppeteers appearing this year at the City Heights Performing Annex to entertain the diverse community but also inspire residents to find their own artistic voice.

The annex's manager and performance artist Nigel Brookes said he hopes the inclusive artform will encourage the area’s large immigrant population to use the public space for its own productions.

“We want to be able to build relationships between the actual community and make them understand that this is a place they can learn to be creative, to think in terms of becoming a cultural producer, that they can learn to do this as a possible career path for themselves and that they can tell their own stories,” said Brookes, formerly of the city's Commission for Arts and Culture.

In its second year, an upcoming series will bring professional puppeteers to the City Heights Performing Annex.

The City Heights Puppet Project first got started as one-off events in 2016 when Brookes collaborated with Bridget Rountree and Iain Gunn, of the performance company Animal Cracker Conspiracy.

RELATED: Animal Cracker Conspiracy Challenges Expectations About Puppetry

Gunn said puppetry is an ideal storytelling tool to reach audiences of all backgrounds.

“There’s a universal language,” Gunn said. “You’ve got the most demographically diverse neighborhood in San Diego and possibly on the West Coast or even the United States right in City Heights, and each of the cultures represented there may have a history of puppetry going back even thousands of years.”

Brookes, Gunn and Rountree also connected with the San Diego Guild of Puppetry to establish the series.

The Guild’s Mindy Donner, a teaching artist, said the puppet programming isn’t focused on young children.

“I will write, ‘Not a kid’s show, yet family friendly,’” Donner said. ”I believe that families understand that it’s not designed to be a kid’s show, so if your kids are really little, maybe don’t bring them.”

That includes Johnson’s Saturday performance, which carries the language Donner referenced. His presentation, "Building Puppets in Prague," will take audiences on his Eastern European adventure to discover a marionette guru who could teach him to carve his own creation.

Other upcoming events include a workshop on puppet filmmaking, a World Day of Puppetry celebration and a performance by Animal Cracker Conspiracy's Rountree and Gunn. A version of their show was developed at the La Jolla Playhouse, the the company's website said.

City Heights Puppet Project Schedule

Jan. 27, 7:30 - 8:30 p.m. (family friendly): Building Puppets in Prague with Jason Johnson

Feb. 10, 4:30 - 6:30 p.m. (best for 14 years old and up): Introduction to DIY puppet filmmaking with Alex Griffin (Los Angeles), screening of Heather Beth Henson’s "Handmade Puppet Dreams" (RSVP: animalcrackerconspiracy@gmail.com)

Feb. 11, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (best for 14 years old and up): Continuation of DIY puppet filmmaking with Alex Griffin (RSVP: animalcrackerconspiracy@gmail.com)

Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m. (mature audience): Paper Cities by Animal Cracker Conspiracy

Mar. 16, 7: 30 p.m. (family friendly): Hans Christian Andersen one-man show with Randel McGee

Mar. 25 (kids welcome): World Day of Puppetry

Source: Mindy Donner, San Diego Guild of Puppetry

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