This Week’s Creature Feature ... Thespians of Another Species
The human actors who’ll bring Avenue Q to the stage of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre from July 5 to 29 are already hard at work. They’ll invest over 100 hours in the production before the high intensity of tech week begins June 28, according to Theatre president Carolyn Kirby. But, she says, you’ll hardly have eyes for them.
Your eyes will be on actors of another species. Despite their striking resemblance to the species whose trademark is held by Walt Disney Company, the 11 are not Muppets. They’re puppets of a very special kind, conceived for Avenue Q and created, as all creatures should be, with love.
Avenue Q, a 21st century tale of the coming of age of a generation raised by Sesame Street, demands players of two species, human and puppet-not-Muppet. It is not a puppet show, Kirby insists; if anything, the puppets play the humans.
Theater groups all over the country are jumping on the Avenue Q bandwagon, for it’s a novel and popular play, running 2,534 performances on Broadway. Staging it means buying the rights. But as Summer Garden Theatre learned, rights to the play don’t include rights to the puppets, who have their own booking schedule.
Kirby turned to the 19 other community theatre group booking the play at about the same time. Casts of Avenue Q puppets abounded, she found, with the very best at Theatre Alliance in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The puppets were special, too: handmade by the president of the Alliance’s brother, Joseph Lopina, who just happens to be head of animation at North Carolina School for the Arts. They come with complete wardrobes, as they have costume changes.
“They are so gorgeous and have so much love invested in them,” Kirby says, that she and her husband drove down to pick them up.
Now the Kirbys are sharing their home with Princeton, Kate Monster, Newcomer, Trekkie Monster (who has bad habits), Lucy, Rod, Nicky, Ricky, Mrs. Thistletwat and two Bad Idea Bears.
For now, the puppets are kicking back, which is Nicky’s favorite occupation. Until their human actors become skilled, they work with embryonic practice puppets.
Once the A-cast takes the stage, they steal it.
“The actors operating the puppets move their limbs and talk,” Kirby says. “But you forget about the people.”