I have a friend who is scared of puppets. So, of course, I invited her to Avenue Q. And, I think her fear may have rubbed off a little. There were some, normally inanimate, objects that sang. The way the mouth and eyes looked was scary, and resulted in title of this piece. Avenue Q is a musical for adults featuring puppets, which is a really strange mix. The show takes its look from Sesame Street. There are 3 types of characters: Humans, puppet humans, and puppet monsters. For this blog entry, I will refer to the actors that are not puppeteering as actors. I will refer to the actors that are puppeteering in this show, as just puppeteers. That’s just for simplicity’s sake, they are all talented actors.
Avenue Q is an exception to puppet shows being for kids. It is, delightfully, not for children. A lot of puppet shows I can recall don’t show the puppeteers, so I don’t know how much this is thought about: But, are the puppeteers doing their job if I’m focusing on them, or if I’m focused on the puppet? On one hand, the puppets are meant to be characters in the musical. The puppets are having the conversations. Kids are visually fixated on the colorful fuzzy characters. But, speaking for me, I look at the actors usually. It was a difficult transition for me to look at puppets, instead of the puppeteers. I remember consciously trying to focus on the puppets. The puppeteers in Avenue Q are all in black, so it seems I should be focused on the puppets. But, these are talented people, who are characters in plays and musicals. The focus would usually on them. Also, if they didn’t put energy into the performance, the puppets wouldn’t have it either. And, I can remember the body language that some of these puppeteers had, and it seemed like it was adding to the limited body language that the puppet could show. Taylor Grossman, for example was very kinetically emotive. The puppeteers used the same body language that their puppets had. I ended up watching the puppeteers a lot, because I liked their performance so much. So, they did a good job. But, did they do their job, as it pertains to me looking at the puppet?
Speaking of body language, some of the puppets were handled by two puppeteers. But, only one could be the voice of the character. The other puppeteer would provide just the body language of the character. This was odd but necessary. Having someone on stage doing only the body language of a character, while the character is talking, is a special kind of entertainment. I loved taking some time to watch the other puppeteer. I think this supports the idea that the puppeteers added lent their body language to the puppet. They had the facial expressions, the character movements, and all while puppeteering.
And, about that puppeteering, it looks brutal. Having one person puppeteer one puppet, that doesn’t seem too bad. But, add one more person, and I was amazed at their lack of falling. Have you ever watched ice skating, and were in awe that they don’t trip all over each other? That was me every time I saw two puppeteers and one puppet. Just puppeteering the puppet seems ridiculous. The puppets’ mouths open up, so at least one of them controls that. And, each of the puppeteers use one of their hands for the puppets hands. So, the person on the left is the puppet’s left hand. The person on the right, is the puppets right hand. I can’t think of how I could manipulate the puppets hand, and make it look like it was connected to the same body as the other hand. Also, the hand movements would be strange. Then, you have to move around like that. There are song and dance numbers, and the two puppeteers need to be connected at the hip. Some of the choreography had them moving around quickly, and moving back and forth around other puppeteers. The whole thing amazed, and perplexed, me.
I did just enjoy the show. Avenue Q is a great show, and this cast and crew did really well with it.
Tracy is a DJ with KSSU