6 min 28 sec

Marketing Professional Produces Giant Puppet Performances for Extra Cash

By day, she works at a museum in Berkeley, California. The rest of the time, she builds giant puppets and produces performances for eager audiences.
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What It's About

A marketer finds creative freedom in a little silk and paint.

Business Model
Arts & Crafts
Skills Required
Creativity & Design
Profit Potential

Words of Wisdom

In yesterday’s episode, I talked about freedom being the greatest motivation and reward for a side hustler, and I also mentioned that there are lots of different kinds of freedoms. Creative expression is its own kind of freedom, and although you don't have to make a living from your art, wouldn't it be great to get paid for doing something that you already love doing and having others appreciate your work?

Fun Fact

Toni’s puppets range from the more realistic to the completely fantastical! There’s an enormous dog named Dogody, flying Cedar Waxwing songbirds with eight-foot wingspans, a giant monarch caterpillar named Kafka, two monarch butterflies, a walking talking compost pile, a lime green snake, and a dancing tree of life… to name a few.

Notes from Chris

Episode 343

By day Toni Mikulka works in marketing and fundraising for a nonprofit children’s museum in Berkeley, California. On evenings and weekends she has a related, but way more artistic side hustle: puppets. We’re not talking sock puppets. We’re talking about huge, hand-crafted puppets held up by multiple sticks as she walks underneath them. How does one get into puppets? It was a circuitous journey that took her all across the country, from Brooklyn to Vermont to Seattle and back to New York.

But let’s rewind a bit to when Toni was in college and she organized three seasons of the Vagina Monologues. During this time her college friends would often go to this place called Bread and Puppet Theatre—a place that offered good old fashioned sourdough rye bread in combination with a variety of interesting puppet shows—but she would only ever see snippets of the place in the photos her roommates brought home. To her, it seemed like this magical, mysterious club, but as much as she was intrigued, she never managed to make the trip to Vermont.

After college Toni got into marketing and fundraising for a large nonprofit in Brooklyn. While she appreciated that it was a mission-driven organization, she eventually became unhappy in her job, as she had a passion for performance art that wasn’t being fulfilled behind a desk. She would find herself staring out her office window that looked out on the Brooklyn Bridge for an hour at a time, thinking about how she never pursued a life as an artist. She began missing deadlines and taking longer lunches.

Finally, it just got to be too much, so in 2010 she quit her job with dreams of checking out that Bread and Puppet place she always heard about in college. As it turned out they had an apprenticeship, which she applied for and got.During the apprenticeship, she learned how to build and repair puppets, walk on stilts, and design posters, in addition to the band practice and vocal training.

But at the end of the program, she still wasn’t sure what to do or where to go afterwards with her skills. Where did she go? To the only obvious destination: she went to Burning Man.

At Burning Man, she finally found her tribe, made connections, and found the courage to launch her own puppet company, Giant Puppets Save the World.

She now makes a fairly consistent $800 a month on her puppetry side hustle, with her job at the children’s museum providing her full-time salary. While the extra cash is great, Toni also shared that, “You can’t put a price on the creative expressions and the feeling that comes from making something entirely original and magical for other people to enjoy.”


  • Giant Puppets Save the World: See what Toni and her giant puppets are up to on her website!
  • Bread and Puppet: The unique outdoor theatre that Toni interned at that specializes in giant puppets
  • Wordpress: Toni used Wordpress to create Giant Puppets Save the World, and here you can learn how to install your own Wordpress site in 5 minutes

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,


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Quote of the Day
"You can’t put a price on the creative expressions and the feeling that comes from making something entirely original and magical for other people to enjoy."
—Toni Mikulka #SideHustleSchool

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Chris Guillebeau