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KPBS Evening Edition

Animal Cracker Conspiracy Challenges Expectations About Puppetry

Puppet character Gary San Diego and puppeteer Iain Gunn.
Katie Euphrat
Puppet character Gary San Diego and puppeteer Iain Gunn.

Adult Puppet Cabaret Moves To Space 4 Art

ANimal Cracker Conspiracy's Adult Puppet Theater
Animal Cracker Conspiracy's Adult Puppet Cabaret
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando explains what you'll find at an Adult Puppet Cabaret.

ANCHOR INTRO: When you think of puppets, the first thing that comes to mind might be something you’d find on Sesame Street. Adult Puppet Cabaret challenges those expectations about what puppetry is. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says it does this through both the content of the show and the types of puppets it uses. ADULTPUPPET (ba).wav 3:58 TAG: The Adult Puppet Cabaret is tomorrow at Space 4 Art in San Diego’s East Village. TZADULTPUPPET.wav BRIDGET ROUNTREE: 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, Music: Sesame Street theme A lot of people grew up with puppets on kids shows like Sesame Street. CLIP Elmo wants to know more about exercise. But your idea of what puppets are and can be might change considerably after you see what Wet Willy Puppet Company, Twisted Heart Puppet Works, and Animal Cracker Conspiracy have in store for you. IAIN GUNN: Well don't expect a regular puppet show if you are coming to an Animal Conspiracy show. We are dragging everything out and the kitchen sink. That’s puppeteer Iain Gunn. He 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 challenges expectations. BRIDGET ROUNTREE: We definitely try and 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, where we are really pushing boundaries in what's expected in puppetry. Animal Cracker Conspiracy pushes boundaries with both the artistry and the content of its shows. At the last Adult Puppet Cabaret in February, Gunn and Rountree performed a kind of puppet pantomime in which a faceless wooden puppet is pulled out of a lunchbox and engages in a journey that employs found objects, an eerie soundscape, and complex themes about the way information is transmitted. But Gunn says they’re just calling on a long tradition of puppetry intended for adults and sometimes for social change. IAIN GUNN: In the former Czech republic, they had groups of puppeteers would bring the news to the underground the suppressed people during Nazi occupation and the shows were called Daisies. So puppetry also has this like subversive element to maybe poke fun at the powers that be or to get out the word of the street. At the upcoming Adult Puppet Cabaret there will be subversive elements but also adult fun. Wet Willy Puppet Company will explain how babies are made from the point of view of one of Mister’s best little swimmers, while Rude Rabbit Productions will show us how Oscar Otter educates himself about one of the most taboo words in the English language. Earlier this year, Rountree and Gunn staged an Adult Puppet Cabaret for a packed house at the Museum of Photographic Arts. BRIDGET ROUNTREE: I have one initial question, will you please raise your hands if this is the first Adult Puppet Cabaret you have attended. A good third of the audience were new to the concept. This month Animal Cracker Conspiracy hopes to find even more converts as it moves to 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 with helpful puppet makers like Krystin Railing.. KRYSTIN RAILING: So for the sock puppet you take a sock for the base and then you take the googley eyes or you can use buttons or thee little pompoms as eyes and a nose. Gunn is big on using recycled objects for puppets. IAIN GUNN: We have used everything from converted stuff animals to flat paper puppets, the biggest puppet I ever made was a 65-foot long, 11-puppeteer red serpent. There won’t be anything quite that big at the upcoming Adult Puppet Cabaret on Friday. But Gunn and Rountree will be trying once again to broaden people’s perspectives about what puppetry is. IAIN GUNN: It is anything that can be moved by a manipulator or actor to communicate an idea or message... 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 bit of a renaissance so there are people doing all sorts of things. Again Bridget Rountree. BRIDGET ROUNTREE: So we realize that we’re 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 become a co-conspirator in the Animal Cracker Conspiracy, all you need to do is open your mind and attend the upcoming Adult Puppet Cabaret. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

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.”

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.

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