Puppets provide fun challenges for ‘Avenue Q’ cast
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
From Oct. 31 to Nov. 4, the UNH Department of Theatre and Dance will be putting on a production of “Avenue Q,” a raunchy musical about coming of age and entering the world of adulthood.
Unlike most musicals, however, the show relies mostly on actors operating puppets, interacting with very few humans onstage.
“Avenue Q” tells the story of a recent college graduate named Princeton, who moves to Avenue Q (Avenues A-P were too expensive) in New York City and is looking for his purpose in life.
There, he meets a variety of characters, human and puppet, from Kate, the girl next door, to Rod the Republican and Trekkie Monster, the Internet sexpert. As he enters an anxiety-ridden post-college world, Princeton must navigate through relationships, jobs and friends as he attempts to figure out what exactly he is supposed to do with his life.
“I personally think out of the entire selection of musicals we could have done, I don’t think there’s a show that speaks to the college audience more than ‘Avenue Q,” said Dan Pelletier, one of the two puppeteers who operate Trekkie Monster in the show. “It’s directly dealing with problems we are all going to have to deal with, but in a lighthearted way.”
Katie Jordan, who plays Kate Monster, said that people should come to the show because college students can relate to the characters’ struggles.
“The show pertains to people right after college who are trying to get on their feet and find out what their purpose is in life,” she said. “So I think this show pertains to our community, but it’s also gonna be a great time.”
Though “Avenue Q” is based on the TV show “Sesame Street,” its songs and themes are far from suitable for children. One character is named “Lucy the Slut,” and the show’s song list includes “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet is for Porn” and “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love).”
“I’ve been telling people to come see this show because it’s a mixture of ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘South Park,’” said Ben Arsenault, who plays Princeton.
Jordan said that although when people think of “puppet musicals,” they think automatically about “Sesame Street,” this is definitely not a PG-rated show.
“I’d say it’s R,” she said. “There’s a little bit of nudity—puppet nudity, not people nudity.”
The actors said that using the puppets was definitely a challenge and took some getting used to. For most of the rehearsal process, the actors used “rehearsal puppets” that allowed them to get used to acting with a puppet in hand, and to build up the strength to hold up the heavy puppets.
“Believe it or not, those things are heavy, and I’ve definitely built up some muscle through the process,” said Siobhan Fogarty, who operates the other half of Trekkie Monster alongside Pelletier.
One thing the actors who played humans said they had to get used to was interacting with the puppets, not the actors operating them.
“At first, it was difficult because you have to put your focus on the puppets,” said Sara LaFlamme, who plays Christmas Eve. “A lot of times I’d be doing a scene and I’d want to look at Katie Jordan and react to her expressions, but I can’t, I have to look at the puppet, which is odd sometimes.”
Another challenge was learning to effectively sing, dance, speak and operate the puppet, all while staying in character.
“Learning to use the puppet was an interesting process because I had to spend the first time watching the puppet to make sure it was doing what I wanted it to do, and then I had to learn to try to become the puppet at the same time and do the same acting and facial features as what my puppet would be doing,” Arsenault said.
“In a musical, it’s pretty tough to coordinate singing, dancing and acting in many cases as it is, so adding in the puppets definitely proved to be a challenge,” Fogarty said.
Coordination for Fogarty and Pelletier also proved to be trying, as they each operated one-half of Trekkie Monster’s body.