‘Avenue Q’ on Elm Street

Puppets are the main characters in “Avenue Q,” and seven of the production’s 10 actors serve as puppeteers.
Puppets are the main characters in “Avenue Q,” and seven of the production’s 10 actors serve as puppeteers. Photo by Tory Burnside Clapp.

Yale’s stages have recently been home to singing pirates, vibrators and a 45-year-old Hollywood star as Hamlet. This week, it’s on to singing, dancing, cursing and lovemaking puppets.

“Avenue Q,” playing Thursday through Saturday at the Calhoun Cabaret, is a musical about a recent college graduate named Princeton, played by Christian Probst ’16, who finds himself moving to a sketchy neighborhood in New York in search of his life’s purpose. There, he befriends a host of characters of questionable morals, bearing such names as Lucy T. Slut (Mary Bolt ’14) and Mrs. Thistletwat (Chandler Rosenthal ’14). Most of the characters in the show, which won five Tony Awards including best musical when it opened on Broadway in 2004, are puppets.

Anna Miller ’14, who plays Kate Monster, called the show “an X-rated spoof of ‘Sesame Street.’” “Avenue Q” features profanities, puppet sex and songs with names like “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet Is for Porn.” Director Ian Miller ’15 said that while the show features adult content, it is thoughtfully and intelligently written, rather than gratuitously profane.

Producer Samantha Pillsbury ’15 said “Avenue Q”’s adult humor is much of why the show is appealing to a college audience. Anna Miller said “Avenue Q” attracts audience members who are not otherwise interested in musical theater.

The show’s plotline is also particularly relevant to Yale students, said Chris Camp ’16, who plays Rod and a Bad Idea Bear, citing the show’s opening number, “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”

But for all its appeal, Pillsbury said “Avenue Q” presents some unusual challenges, the biggest of which is working with puppets in addition to puppet-sized props and sets. Seven of the production’s 10 actors serve as puppeteers during the entire show, Ian Miller explained.

Camp said the puppets are actually the show’s main characters and that the actors’ job is primarily to make the puppets come alive. Anna Miller said she thinks the show’s success relies on how believable the puppets appear, adding that the puppet characters have to deliver the same type of energy as those on “The Muppets” or “Sesame Street.”

“I’m moving and speaking and singing for him, but I’m part of the show only insofar as I make Rod move,” Camp said.

At the beginning of the rehearsal process, cast members received six hours of training from a New York-based professional puppeteer who trained the puppeteers on “Sesame Street,” Camp explained, adding that the original cast of “Avenue Q” underwent months of training.

“We have to make the puppets express all different emotions with just their hands and mouths and body movements,” Camp said.

Both Ian Miller and Pillsbury declined to comment on how the show was able to receive enough funding to use such elaborate sets and props.

“Avenue Q” will play on Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

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