Adult Puppet Cabaret
Pushing The Boundaries Of Puppetry
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Puppet theater is usually for the kids but when it is not as with the hit Broadway show Avenue Q adult puppet theater can be a bit racy. Then there is a third option puppetry for programs that explore some options and thought through movement and shadow. That is the kind of puppet theater the artist behind animal cracker conspiracy are presenting at the Museum of photographic arts this Friday. It is part of what's being billed as a night of adult public cabaret? I'd like to introduce my guests puppeteers Iain Gunn and Bridget Rountree. Welcome to you both BOTH: Thank you very much Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You call the presentation puppet performances for a fearless audience. Bridget, what do you mean by that? BRIDGET ROUNTREE: We present what we call experimental adult baptistery so we foster networks of puppetry in San Diego and we invite those puppet artists to come and present the work at the adult puppet cabaret. So it's unexpected and new and the audience that comes will see that type of work. And it stretches the boundaries of what puppetry normally is. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Iain, tell us about something fearless in your puppet performances? IAIN GUNN: The piece that we are going to be performing, Maureen is called breakfast with boys, it's an homage to (inaudible), the sort of modern artist who survived to post verification and crashing his plane in Siberia and he wanted to open an open University where anyone could be educated for free and he was a pedagogue of great determination. So we wanted to take some of the things we got as artist from his oath, and sort of re-create that and we are going to be performing an improv puppetry session with a local improv music ensemble called nice world. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now that is fearless. Right? Improv puppetry? How did the two of you get interested in making puppets let me start with you, Iain. IAIN GUNN: I could go back all the way to elementary school where we would have roofing performing groups coming into the school gymnasium and do shows and I was fascinated that and as I grew up, I played a lot by myself was let go and play mobile and things like that and I was always creating stories and scenario. And then you know I was good and sign so I decided I was going to become a dentist and after a year of attempting I switched back to arts and at that point I met a group of activists who are starting to use giant puppetry to protest in the streets, so that and also moving to San Diego and meeting up with the San Diego Guild of puppetry and learning about puppetry for children and performing shows like that actually has kind of snowballed into a life of puppetry for me. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bridget, when did the fascination, for you? BRIDGET ROUNTREE: I really started, I was doing an artist residency in South Africa and I had the opportunity to go and meet the Handspring puppet company. They live in Cape Town and it was the first time I'd seen puppetry at that level. I was doing fine arts painting drawing sculpture mixed-media and I had never really considered puppetry to be for adults. I was kind of like your average person who considers it to the four children. So I was in their studio and they were speaking to us about the production they were doing at that time was called the tall horse. And it was the first time that I have realized it was such a sophisticated art form. And I was pretty much hooked from then on. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Iain seeing a puppet theater production that is for grown-ups it has an effect that is so intrinsically interesting, that is so mesmerizing, really that I'm wondering if you thought about how that happens, why is it so interesting to see people who you can see? I mean, you can see the hands moving the puppets and you can see the people behind the screen so to speak why is that so riveting? IAIN GUNN: I think it is sort of the opposite of the Wizard of Oz. And with modern cinema and computer graphics and things like that, you don't see the hand that is making this, or in fact the team of animators in Korea and China working around-the-clock to create these incredible effects. We are really interested in the do-it-yourself movement, the idea of crafting and making that is happening as a Renaissance now that people want to be hands-on, they want to touch something and create it outside of the museum. And so for us allowing that to be part of the process of being able to see the manipulators manipulating and knowing that they meet it by their hand there is a quality to that and also the quality you are referring to, Mari that there is something also uncanny about seeing this small character be manipulated in a lifelike fashion. You know we talk about it a lot but one of the things that's really interesting is that you have less hangups about accepting the emotional communication of a figure, or a creature or character that small. It is just something that humans drop their guard around. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bridget, what do your puppets look like? BRIDGET ROUNTREE: We have many kinds of puppets from really just 12 inches high to a theater puppets to giant puppets, street and festival puppets. We also built and pretty much everything in between we are interested in all different types of puppetry I like to call it American E maybe 2 feet high maybe once we are using at the Cabaret we also to shadow puppetry, and MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm just wondering, how do you learn how to become a puppeteer? IAIN GUNN: That is a good question. The costume programming at Cal arts is in threat of being sort of dismantle but that was one of the places you could learn to be a puppeteer. BRIDGET ROUNTREE: One of the few places in North America. IAIN GUNN: There's a school of puppetry at the University of connected in Connecticut to Rabbi Burke rock a burden for many years other than that you need to go to the University of Québec at Montréal which has a puppetry program. BRIDGET ROUNTREE: there's University in Hawaii that also has a puppetry program but there are not very many places. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is sort of one of these things where you have to learn by doing? Apprenticeships? IAIN GUNN: With YouTube there are many tutorials on there and quite a few puppet groups who put patterns online that you can buy for $10 and download and copy the pattern to make your own puppeteers BRIDGET ROUNTREE: Another great thing about puppetry also that we found is that people are really open and kind about sharing.The lineage of puppetry. And it is one fantastic thing we have gone and worked with multiple puppeteers in Los Angeles and Orange County and around the world. IAIN GUNN: Calgary BRIDGET ROUNTREE: Calgary, South Africa but they are generous with their knowledge which is really nice and not necessarily true of all artistic mediums. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: On Friday night at the Museum of photographic arts besides the presentation that you are making there will also be a film as I understand it by Heather Hansen. She is the daughter of Jim Henson. Tell us about her collection of films celebrating handmade puppets. IAIN GUNN: Yes, Heather Hansen is the youngest child of quite a few I think there are four children in the Hansen family and they are all involved in puppetry still to this day including the Hansen Studios which is the old Chaplin Studios in Hollywood. That is the West Coast endeavor. But Heather has always been interested in this sort of do it yourself, she's very oriented toward animal rights and habitat and stuff like that so she's been doing beautiful puppetry herself since she was probably about, with the lineage like that, but she bolstered the puppet slam network which is part of what the puppet cabaret is part of and it's part of the network all over the USA where puppet cabarets and puppet slams are happening monthly from Rhode Island to San Diego. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I love the name puppet slam, it's like poetry slam. IAIN GUNN: That's what they were inspired by puppet artists and artists in general to make little short pieces that were fun, touching, sexy, weird whatever and produces so Bridget and I visited a few puppet slims in different cities and performed in a few Seattle and Phoenix and Los Angeles. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Bridget, do you have any interest in making a film of your puppet performances? BRIDGET ROUNTREE: We've actually been in dialogue about that this year and it's something we are considering looking into avenues of funding to actually create one of our first films of puppetry. Right now we are focused on life puppetry, but it's a discussion. This is the fourth year that we've, this will be only four of the handmade puppet series that we've screened at the Museum of photographic arts and it is what he was saying, Heather. So serious and she works with independent artists who do not normally have a venue or Avenue to have the films be seen, so she is really bringing a spotlight on small artists from all over North America, so it is really a fantastic collection and something that you do not normally see. IAIN GUNN: There is nowhere else to see this and Heather whenever they could've only together and now it is sort of funny yearly cycle and there are also volumes of handmade puppet for family audiences as well but this is the adult series and we saw this film, it premiered last year the Newport film Festival and it was really exciting to actually see that because one of the think she's dedicated to is not only collected these films but making sure that artists are seen around the globe so they send it to a lot of sci-fi and (inaudible) and kind of comi-con film festivals and things that are devoted to experimental shorts and puppetry and animation. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What venues to find to perform in with the live puppet shows? IAIN GUNN: That is a great question we've performed a few times for the director who killed the electric car, and the revenge of the electric car, we performed at his birthday parties. He is a fan, he saw that lightning in a bottle a few years ago. We recently performed at Cal state San Marcos for the arts and lecture series and also for heart power at UCSD in the loft. And also the Waldorf school San Diego they are quite keen on puppets, so we performed the last two years at their yearly gala fundraiser. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah, pretty much from museums to the streets and in between. It is that kind of amazing art form that because it is not something that is super mainstream you kind of have access to a lot of different venues. And so street festivals and puppet festivals are really fantastic and one of our favorite places to perform we will be going to the national puppet Festival in Pennsylvania this coming summer which we are really excited about. IAIN GUNN: We performed at the New Orleans Fringe last November, a converted fire hall that had been used for the last 10 years as kind of a local film studio BRIDGET ROUNTREE: San Diego is having the very first fringe Festival also this summer so we will have a puppet show their called the collector that we are doing. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are out of time. I want to mention with the little video that I saw that there is no reason not to make a puppet because of money. Because you are using recycled materials. IAIN GUNN: We love to use recycled materials, that is one of the cool things that comes up with puppets is that you have stuff and you can make a story out of the stuff, so we constantly are collecting things and stringing them together. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. Puppeteers will be beginning Friday night at seven at the Museum of photographic arts in Balboa Park thank you both. BOTH: Thank you so much, Maureen.
Adult Puppet Cabaret (Friday, February 22 at the Museum of Photographic Arts) serves up live performances and independent films all involving puppets. The San Diego-based hybrid puppet company Animal Cracker Conspiracy is pushing the boundaries of puppetry with what they are calling “fearless puppet performances for a fearless audience.”
Animal Cracker Conspiracy's Iain Gunn and Bridget Rountree will hold their first Adult Puppet Cabaret of 2013 on Friday.
"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 and a lot of the puppets we are making out of garbage, recycled objects, found objects, vintage castaways, and things that we have found," says Gunn.
"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 but we definitely work really 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 where we are really pushing boundaries in what's expected in puppetry. We are asking people to come and make a leap and maybe be a little bit uncomfortable and yeah experience something different and new."
Last year, Animal Cracker Conspiracy presented "The Collector," another show for adults. Here's a behind the scenes look at that production.
The event includes a screening of Heather Henson’s "Handmade Puppet Dreams Vol.4," a collection of films celebrating handmade puppetry. Also screening is the award winning puppet short film, "Yamasong," presented by filmmaker and Handmade Puppet Dreams representative Sam Koji Hale. Handmade Puppet Dreams is a touring festival of independent artist films exploring their handmade craft specifically for the camera. These films have allowed artists to build their vision, then breathe life into their dreams. Henson is the daughter of Muppet creator Jim Henson.