The cast of URI Theatre’s production of “Avenue Q” visited Hope Commons with their puppets, yesterday afternoon.
The actors walked around Mainfare Dining Hall with their puppets, interacting with students and the dining staff. The group was accompanied by the production’s puppet coach, Joshua Holden.
Holden has been a puppeteer for seven years and toured with the Broadway national tour of “Avenue Q.”
“I teach them how to animate them and make them look alive,” he said. “I come in and basically help them with their storytelling, how you transfer everything you do as an actor into just your hand and make your hand act the same way your body would.”
The actors learned such puppetry techniques as lip-synching, or matching the movements of their hands to their dialog. Other techniques they have learned include determining the direction the puppet is facing and the gestures that make the puppets “walk.”
“Avenue Q” is an ensemble musical about young adults, mostly portrayed by puppets, living in an apartment building in New York City.
The show, often referred to as being an “R-rated ‘Sesame Street’,” won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2003. The production is unusual in that the puppeteers are visible on stage, and their presence enhances their characters’ performances.
“The puppeteer and the puppet are going through the same emotional experience, so you have two visual reference points to watch,” Holden said. “You have the puppet you’re watching and then you also have the actor that’s filling in the blanks with things that the puppet can’t necessarily convey.”
Senior theatre major Catherine Poirier, who plays Mrs. Thistletwat in the production, described acting with the puppets as more “specific” than other shows.
“You’re adding another element to your own acting, everything you do, you have to do with your puppet,” she said. “Everytime you turn your head, you have to turn the puppet’s head and if you don’t then you’re disconnected and it looks weird.”
“Whereas before in musicals we would just be up on stage performing with our bodies, this time around we’ll be performing through puppets,” senior theatre major Philip Ryng said. “It’s mostly just hands and small gestures that come from that.”
Ryng, who portrays the obsessive Trekkie Monster, describes his character as “socially inept, and he spends most of his day in his room in Avenue Q.”
The actors noted the reception that the puppets received when they came into the dining hall yesterday afternoon.
“Overall I think people are very excited about [the show],” Ryng said. “They seem to be talking about it, which is a very good thing, which is what we need.”
“Some of the people think the puppets are weird, but the majority of people seem really receptive and excited about it,” Poirier added.
The puppets in the performance are provided by Musical Theater International, who license Broadway musicals to regional community theaters and schools.
URI Theatre’s production of “Avenue Q” premieres at the Robert E. Will Theatre in the Fine Arts Center on Nov. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $15 for URI students, $18 for senior citizens, URI faculty and staff and $20 for general admission.
The cast will return to Hope Commons with their puppets today [Thursday Nov. 6] from noon to 2 p.m.