Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre stages first Fringe show
The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre has been operating in Balboa Park since 1947. For the past three years, it has been a San Diego International Fringe Festival venue. But this marks the first year it will stage it’s own Fringe show, "Kiddables Anonymous."
The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre has been a favorite venue for children's shows, but it will be trying something new for this year's Fringe.
"'Kiddables Anonymous' is an improv puppet show," explained Heather Whitney, who plays Flower in the show. "My role is ... (being) the moderator, therapist of the group."
Flower instructs the Easter Bunny, The Giant, Snowball and Huckleberry Gator to "not bite other members" and to remember, "kids are friends, not food."
But these iconic animal characters are in no mood to heed her instructions because they have all gone bad, and have been forced to attend group therapy to address their addiction to eating children.
Snowball, the Yeti from a famous theme park ride, confesses "One day me got hungry, so me pulled kids out of bobsled and ate 'em."
But you might not hear that confession every night since the performers improvise the show.
"I start the show as my character, and I end the show ... everything else in between is kind of up for grabs," Whitney said.
Valerie Broesch, who plays the Easter Bunny inside a big, white mascot costume, said, "It's exciting. It's a little scary because you don't know what's going to happen, but that's part of the fun. It's a surprise, and you just adapt to whatever happens, and most of the time it comes out pretty funny. So we enjoy it."
Broesch especially enjoys picking fights with other group members and throwing Easter eggs at them.
"I'm a disgruntled bunny who doesn't like kids and bites them," Broesch said. "I've been having a lot of fun with the character, and been able to channel some of my frustrations and getting them out. It's been a lot of fun. So, I'm really glad I've had this opportunity."
Steven Ryan Fletcher plays two roles from The Giant and Snowball, the Yeti.
"I enjoy improvising and just playing off the other performers," Fletcher said. "Especially when I use a totally different voice and get to hide my true self. For the Yeti, I decided to just do my Cookie Monster."
The show uses costumed performers, and Whitney suggested: "to leave any expectations at the door of what you think a puppet show is supposed to look like and be like."
The show may not be the kind of performance the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre is best known for. But its creative director Max Daily said, "Generally, they say there's five forms of puppetry: Hand puppet, string, shadow, rod, and then the fifth would be mask or costume, which is what they're doing. So a lot of people don't know that puppetry encompasses a lot of different forms of theater, and one of them being mask and costume."
Broesch usually works with hand puppets and can only express herself through her fingers.
"But with a full body, I've got everything. So, that makes it a little bit easier to be expressive," Broesch said.
Carlos Herrera plays Huckleberry Gator.
"While you're in the mascot costume, you're basically like a puppet cartoon character," Herrera said. "You can run around, jump around, act like a goofball, stuff you can kind of get away with in the gator costume."
But sitting may be challenging, and Herrera often improvs gags with his gator tail.
Andrea Zinko is president of the San Diego Balboa Park Puppet Guild, which operates the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre.
"This show came together fast, and this group of people is really fantastic," Zinko said. "And this has been a wonderful experiment, and they work really well together."
The idea for the show came from Julie Otto, one of the resident puppeteers at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre. She recently got sick and has not yet been able to join the show.
"It was a concept she had come up with years ago," Daily said. "And (this group) wanted to be in Fringe, so this crew put it together and worked really hard, and they did it. They pulled it off."
"Kiddables Anonymous" has shows for the next three nights; because it is improv, each one will be unique. So sign up for a group session, but maybe leave any tasty children safely at home.