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Animal Cracker Conspiracy's 'The Collector'

The toy theater from Animal Cracker Conspiracy's production of "The Collector."
Animal Cracker Conspiracy
The toy theater from Animal Cracker Conspiracy's production of "The Collector."

Pushing The Conventions Of Puppetry

Animal Cracker Conspiracy: "The Collector"
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando goes backstage with Animal Cracker Conspiracy for their puppet show, "The Collector."

ANCHOR INTRO: Animal Cracker Conspiracy is pushing the boundaries of puppetry with their new production, "The Collector" at 3rd Space in University Heights. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando went behind the scenes to see what it takes to create puppet theater. PUPPETS (ba).wav 3:55 TAG: Animal Cracker Conspiracy will open "The Collector" at University Heights' 3rd Space on June 6. =========================================================== TZPUPPETS.wav If you think puppet shows are just for kids, think again. Iain Gunn: Don't expect a regular puppet show if you are coming to an Animal Cracker Conspiracy show. Iain Gunn is one half of a University Height puppet team that is opening a new show. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando goes backstage with the artists, that's coming up next on Morning Edition. Animal Cracker Conspiracy is putting on a puppet show. But if you're thinking Bert and Ernie, think again. Iain Gunn: Don't expect a regular puppet show if you are coming to an Animal Cracker Conspiracy show. Iain Gunn and Bridget Rountree are the co-conspirators behind the puppet theater production of "The Collector." Iain Gunn: We're trying to create a world, a world that has elements of the Victorian, elements of kind of Edgar Allan Poe, 1984. It's a dystopian world where there should be some connections to our reality but a lot of it is just something that allows you to go in with your imagination opened up and on. Bridget Rountree: We definitely try and change people's idea about what puppetry is. Animal Cracker Conspiracy challenges expectations with its productions. It might use the sharp clean lines of shadow puppets or giant caterpillars that employ multiple operators and can be seen from blocks away or small rod puppets made from trash. Iain Gunn: And these heads we sculpted out of Styrofoam covered with masking tape and then papier-mached and then their eyes are just plastic beads. Bridget Rountree: And hot glue. High tech right? Maybe not high tech but high concept. In part, Animal Cracker Conspiracy draws on a rich history of puppetry from around the globe says Gunn. Iain Gunn: In Czechoslovakia they had groups of puppeteers who would bring the news to the underground, to the suppressed people during Nazi occupation, and the shows were called Daisies. So puppetry has this like subversive element to maybe poke fun at the powers that be or to get out the word of the street. Bridget Rountree: So puppets have kind of historically been for the people and by the people. So it's quite appropriate that Rountree and Gunn will be performing their show right in their University Heights neighborhood at 3rd Space. Owner Peter McConnell says he literally ran into Gunn on the street and thought the artist could benefit from what 3rd Space had to offer. Peter McConnell: We really just wanted to create a community for creatives. I mean the neighborhood loves it. It seems to be a good asset for the neighborhood. So I think we're doing things that really support the arts. Animal Conspiracy pushes the notion of what puppetry can be says Gunn. Iain Gunn: If you can use it and you tell a message and it's something outside of your body then you are entering that kind of fabulous gray area that modern or contemporary puppetry is. Bridget Rountree: To me it's like taking the material which is an object and animating that, animus, to give something life. And there's a bit of alchemy involved in bringing inanimate objects to life. Bridget Rountree: Okay I have this puppet that has one flat expression how do I convey that he's scared or she is excited so what do you do physically with your hands with your movement with your head; to do it yourself embody it and then go back and pick up the puppet and put that movement into the puppet. And when done right, it's magical. For "The Collector," the artists use puppets without moving mouths because they can be more eloquent on stage. Then the puppeteers try to step into the shadows. Bridget Rountree: We wear all black costumes and we're gloved so you wouldn't see our hands so the idea is for us to disappear. But disappear only in the sense that we are unaware of their presence as we become entranced by their artistry. Iain Gunn: We wanted to explore table top puppetry, we wanted to figure out how we could combine video projection, tabletop puppetry, and a giant toy theater, and create a compelling narrative. Bridget Rountree: What is our relationship to objects? And to really look at the relationship between humans and their stuff. "The Collector" pushes boundaries in the hopes of delivering a very theatrical experience. Iain Gunn: We'd like to see it treated more on a level with theater that you are going to see a play yes it is going to be shorter... however it should have every nuance and depth of a play that you might see at a local theater. Bridget Rountree: I think people will love it and be surprised. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Animal Cracker Conspiracy is pushing the boundaries of puppetry with their new production, "The Collector" at 3rd Space in University Heights. I went behind the scenes to see what it takes to create puppet theater. Watch the video or listen to the radio feature.

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind and puppetry. Next stop... Animal Cracker Conspiracy.

"Don't expect a regular puppet show if you are coming to an Animal Cracker Conspiracy show," says visual artist and performer Iain Gunn.

Animal Cracker Conspiracy: 'The Collector'

Iain Gunn and Bridget Rountree are the co-conspirators behind the puppet theater production of "The Collector."

"We're trying to create a world," says Gunn, "a world that has elements of Victorian, elements of kind of Edgar Allan Poe, 1984, it's a dystopian world where there should be some connections to our reality but a lot of it is just something that allows you to go in with your imagination opened up and on."

Bridget Rountree says, "We definitely try and change people's ideas about what puppetry is. I think most people assume puppetry is for kids or it has something to do with the Muppets."

Shadow puppets.
Animal Cracker Conspiracy
Shadow puppets.

And the work of Animal Cracker Conspiracy does challenge expectations be it with shadow puppets made of cardboard and packing tape.

A large dragon puppet.
Animal Cracker Conspiracy
A large dragon puppet.

Giant creations like dragons and caterpillars that take multiple puppeteers and can be seen from blocks away and are perfect for drawing crowds.

Puppets made from recycled objects and trash.
Animal Cracker Conspiracy
Puppets made from recycled objects and trash.

Or puppets created from trash like a puppet calling himself Gary San Diego.

"[He has] shopping bags cut into little strips so you can see his elbow there. Why you looking at my elbow and cardboard, rolled up newspaper, and masking tape that has been painted with acrylic. And these heads we sculpted out of Styrofoam covered with masking tape and then papier-mâchéd and painted. And then their eyes are just plastic beads."

"And hot glue," adds Rountree, "High tech right?"

Maybe not high tech but high concept. Animal Cracker Conspiracy is pushing the notion of what puppetry can be.

"If you can use it and tell a message and it's something outside of your body then you are entering that kind of fabulous gray area that modern or contemporary puppetry," explains Gunn.

But for Rountree, "It's like taking the material which is an object and animating that, animus, to give something life."

And there's a bit of alchemy involved in bringing inanimate objects to life.

"I have this puppet that has one flat expression," says Rountree, "How do I convey that he's scared or she is excited so what do you do physically with your hands with your movement with your head with your eyes with anything to do it yourself embody it and then go back and pick up the puppet and put that movement into the puppet."

"The Collector"
Animal Cracker Conspiracy
"The Collector"

And when done right, it's magical. For "The Collector," the artists use puppets without moving mouths because they can be more eloquent on stage.

"We won't be hooded completely but we wear all black costumes and we're gloved so you wouldn't see our hands so the footage that I gave you most of it it is in that vein so we are really subdued. The idea is for us to disappear," Rountree says.

"We wanted to explore table top puppetry, we wanted to figure out how we could combine video projection, tabletop puppetry, and a giant toy theater and create a compelling narrative," states Gunn.

Rountree adds, "It really feels to me like we're living in an age of hyper-materialism and that objects and things are very important to who we are as people and our self worth and so with 'The Collector' I became really interested in too what happens when these objects also go away. So kind of looking psychologically at the need to collect."

A show that pushes boundaries needs a space that aspires to similar goals. Gunn and Roundtree found that venue literally around the corner from their University Heights home at Peter McConnell's 3rd Space.

"It's a very different concept, it's what I call a private club for the creative," says McConnell.

In other words the perfect place for an experiment with puppetry.

"We'd like to see it treated more on a level with theater that you are going to see a play yes it is going to be shorter... however it should have every nuance and depth of a play that you might see at a local theater," says Gunn.

"I think people will love it and be surprised by it," states Rountree.

Animal Cracker Conspiracy will have preview performances of "The Collector" at University Heights' 3rd Space this coming Wednesday and Thursday. The show officially opens on June 6 with performances Wednesday through Sunday for two weeks.