Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

Animal Cracker Conspiracy Challenges Expectations About Puppetry

Adult Puppet Cabaret Moves To Space 4 Art

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando explains what Adult Puppet Cabaret is all about.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando explains what you'll find at an Adult Puppet Cabaret.


Adult Puppet Cabaret challenges expectations about what puppetry is. It does this through both the content of the show and the types of puppets it uses.

“Hey how's it going San Diego, I'm Gary, Gary San Diego.”

Okay, Gary San Diego – with his leopard skin underwear, open shirt, and chugging a beer -- might not be the kind of puppet character you’d use for a kid’s show but he’s perfect for an Adult Puppet Cabaret.

“Well don't expect a regular puppet show if you are coming to an Animal Cracker Conspiracy show,” says puppeteer Iain Gunn, “We are dragging everything out and the kitchen sink and a lot of the puppets we are making out of garbage, recycled objects, found objects, vintage castaways, and things that we have found.”

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Katie Euphrat

Puppet character Gary San Diego and puppeteer Iain Gunn.

Puppeteers Iain Gunn and Bridget Rountree founded Animal Cracker Conspiracy. They regularly stage what they call Adult Puppet Cabarets that bring artists together for a night of puppetry that tackles mature themes.

“We definitely try and change people's ideas about what puppetry is,” says Rountree, “I think most people assume puppetry is for kids or it has something to do with the Muppets, which is great also. But we definitely work hard to broaden people's perspective on what it can be, and we both come from a fine art background and so it definitely has that element to it. Also we’re really pushing boundaries in what's expected in puppetry.”

Gunn adds, “Another thing that's really interesting to us is that in the former Czechoslovakia, which has a strong tradition of puppetry, they had groups of puppeteers would bring the news to the underground, the suppressed people, during the Nazi occupation and the shows were called Daisies. And eventually many of the puppeteers were caught and killed by the Nazis. So puppetry has this like subversive element to maybe poke fun at the powers that be or to get out the word on the street.”

Rountree agrees, “Puppets have kind of historically been for the people and by the people, which is always something that we really love.”

And Adult Puppet Cabaret is one way of spreading that love.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Beth Accomando

Iain Gunn and Bridget Rountree at the last Adult Puppet Cabaret that took place at the Museum of Photographic Arts.

This past February, Rountree and Gunn staged an Adult Puppet Cabaret for a packed house at the Museum of Photographic Arts. When Rountree asked the crowd how many were first timers at an Adult Puppet Cabaret, at least a third of the people raised their hands. This month the event moves to a new venue -- an outdoor stage at Space 4 Art in San Diego’s East Village. But you can expect many of the same things, like a puppet making station.

Krystin Railing explained the process to attendees at the MoPA: “So for the sock puppet you take a sock for the base, and then you take usually longer fur so you can make hair with it, [or a]moustache. You can do a scarf, then you take the googly eyes or you can use buttons or these little pompoms as eyes and a nose. And then you can use this kind of fabric as the tongue. And then you have a sock puppet.”

Gunn is big on using recycled objects for puppets.

Using Gary San Diego as an example, Gunn explains, “[There’s a] shopping bag cut into little strips so you can see his elbow there, cardboard, rolled up newspaper, and masking tape that has been painted with acrylic.”

Gunn and Rountree will be performing at the next Adult Puppet Cabaret and trying once again to broaden people’s perspectives about what puppetry is.

“It is anything that can be moved by manipulator or actor to communicate an idea or message,” says Gunn, “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 is exploring right now. And there is a bit of a renaissance so there are people doing all sorts of things.”

“To me it's like taking the material object and animating that, animus, to give something life,” adds Rountree, “So we realize we are swimming upstream a bit by working in this medium, but we love it because it mixes so many different things. I think people will love it and be surprised.”

If you’d like to be a co-conspirator, just head out for the next Adult Puppet Cabaret and join the Animal Cracker Conspiracy.

The next Adult Puppet Cabaret is Friday, May 17 at Space 4 Art in San Diego’s East Village.

Companion viewing: "Being Elmo," "Strings," "Legend of the Sacred Stone," "Team America: World Police"


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Your curated weekly guide to local arts and culture in San Diego, from Arts Calendar Editor Julia Dixon Evans, delivered to your inbox every Thursday afternoon.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.