Jun. 13, 2012 - Issue #869: Quiet Heart
Think of it as Sesame Street for grown ups. The furry critters of Avenue Q, along with their human castmates, tell a coming-of-age story of entering adulthood through blunt and often explicit humour, as well as a few musical numbers.
The story follows recent college grad Princeton, who moves to Avenue Q, a fictional borough of New York City. He settles into his shabby abode and begins to meet the other residents of Avenue Q, realizing it's clearly not any ordinary neighbourhood.
"Avenue Q, as hilarious as it is, really deals with the question of adulthood head on," says director Linette Smith, citing the pressure to couple up as one of the obstacles dealt with by the cast.
"The puppets create an easier 'in' to tackle this and other tricky subjects like race," she continues. "It almost seems like there is a slight buffer or excuse to say what you want when you are small with oversize eyes and a ridiculously large mouth."
It's more forgiving to hear a cute and cuddly puppet utter a slew of profanity or a politically incorrect slur, and Smith adds that the production explores responsibility, relationships and change in a similar way to a children's show, but this time it's for adults.
Lauren Kneteman, who fills multiple roles as a puppeteer and cast member, including the role of the cantankerous Mrs Thistletwat and one half of the adorable-yet-downright-evil Bad Idea Bears, says in contrast to a children's show focusing on the idea of being an individual and the excitement of growing up, Avenue Q shows what happens regarding the fear of growing up and feeling less-than-special.
"The story is so honest and so human that even though they're just little characters made of foam and of felt, because the story they're telling is so relatable and so true to real life and what all of us feel ... they're puppets but they're very, very human," she adds of the range of emotions the characters experience throughout the production.
Taking on challenging subject matter was only half the battle for the small cast. Seven local actors not only had to learn their character's lines, but also bring the nine puppets to life. With the help of Andrew MacDonald Smith, who was in the Broadway production of Avenue Q, the cast learned everything from blocking the scenes properly right down to mastering hand gestures.
Kneteman, who had no prior puppeteering experience, describes learning to multi-task this way a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. On top of her roles as Mrs Thistletwat and one of the Bad Idea Bears, she joined a fellow cast member to man the puppets known as Nicky and Trekkie Monster.
"It's knowing what your entire body is doing while you're controlling this little character's body while you're singing, remembering what you have to sing and when you have to sing it, and all of the words you have to say at the same time," she says. "It uses your entire body and your entire brain."
Fri, Jun 15 – Sat, Jun 30 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Linette Smith
La Cité Theatre, $28.50
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