Warning: ‘Avenue Q’ Contains Full Puppet Nudity
Coronado Playhouse extends popular musical through March 7
Friday, February 6, 2015
Coronado Playhouse’s Avenue Q bears a warning that states: Adult themes, language, and full puppet nudity. That’s right, these aren’t exactly the kid friendly Muppets of Sesame Street. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando goes behind the scenes to talk with the puppets of “Avenue Q” about challenging stereotypes and working with humans.
"Avenue Q' Program
Program for the Coronado Playhouse's production of 'Avenue Q.'
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At first glance "Avenue Q" might remind you of the PBS children’s show "Sesame Street."
But Nicky, a blue puppet with a large grin firmly states, "No, no, no, 'Avenue Q' is not really a child-friendly production. It has some great lessons but a lot of those lesson apply better to adults."
At the theater last week, humans and puppets gathered for interviews and Bad Ideas Bear (Boy) insisted that they do something "nasty" as a sample of the play. This of course offended Miss Lavinia Thistletwat (you web readers get to see this puppet's name but the folks in radio and TV land won't!).
"So some of what people do and say here I don’t like," Miss Thistletwat said.
"It’s not always PC but it’s really funny," Kate Monster added with a bubbly smile. She's a brown furry gal who has the lead female role in the play.
Bad Ideas Bear, who already lived up to his name, pointed out that the play "has a disclaimer. It’s not really appropriate for children." Then he giggled till his tiny, furry frame shook as if the disclaimer gave him free reign to say and do anything.
After performing the cheery opening song to the show that talks about a sunny day much the same way the "Sesame Street" opening song does, leading puppet Princeton said he understood how people could be confused.
"It could be misconstrued since we look like Muppets, therefore it could be a kid’s show. So that’s why we really have to tell people, please people don’t bring your kids here."
Coronado Playhouse does have clearly posted disclaimers on their website and at the show that warn of adult themes, language and full puppet nudity. Yes, you read that right.
If "Sesame Street" teaches kids that they are "special" and "can do anything," the puppets of "Avenue Q" discover that life's a little tougher than that and they are no more special than the next person. But the puppet residents of Avenue Q display some attitude as they tackle the challenges of growing up in a world a little more complicated than "Sesame Street."
Kate Monster explained, "Well I can get a little sassy and I never mean to hurt people’s feelings, but it’s all a part of growing up and I think that’s really what the play is all about. It’s about growing up and finding out who you are and what you really want in your life."
"It’s a lovely story in many ways, it’s about learning to accept others," Miss Thistletwat added.
That’s a lesson learned backstage at "Avenue Q," where puppets and humans must work side-by-side.
Princeton noted that there's a lot of goofing around backstage, which is the sign of good friends but acknowledges that there are differences too.
"I’m a puppet and they’re human beings, so it’s different kind of DNA sort of configurations but other than that we’re all same," Princeton said.
"Yeah we like the humans, we work pretty well together. I like my human," Nicky said as he turned to his puppeteer Joel Miller. Nickey added that they are "very, very, very close."
Perhaps too close. That’s because in order to perform onstage, the humans have to run their hands up the, um, backs of the puppets.
"Well it’s not up my back," Nicky interjected. "It’s up another hole."
Kate Monster elaborated: "I basically have a giant hole in the bottom of my body and Catie Marron [Kate Monster's puppet operator] just puts her hand up there and I have one rod attached to this arm, so Catie just puts her hand up there and moves my mouth around, moves my neck around, and moves my arm around."
Miller explained how Nicky's puppet worked:
"He’s the kind of standard two-person puppet. At the bottom is a big heavy ring that gives him the torso shape. So you would probably use your dominant hand to run his mouth and your non-dominant hand to run his arm. So my arm kind of turns into his arm, and then I will have my other puppeteer on the other hand, and she attaches to me and we kind of walk around together and make sure we are always in sync."
Edgar Diaz-Gutierrez is Princeton's puppeteer.
"One of the big challenges was stepping into his shoes and bringing him alive because there are times, if you don’t do anything, it will look like a dead puppet onstage and it will loose that magic," Diaz-Gutierrez said.
Breathing life into inanimate objects is hard work say the humans.
"We found that doing this (Diaz-Gutierrez opens and closes his hand rapidly), hurts a lot," Diaz-Gutierrez said.
Patrick Mayuyu, who operates Bad Ideas Bear (Boy), said it's "a lot of pat the head and rub the belly at the same time. That's a challenge."
Miller added, "By the end of this we’re going to look like a crawdad with one really muscular arm and one not so much because it adds up, I mean how many hours of your arm being up at a 90 degree angle. There are scenes where you don’t have time to put your puppet down and he’s trembling a little bit and it’s not because it’s cold."
Bad Ideas Bear had to chime in with his opinion: "It’s kind of a work out. After one number I’m sweating balls. Yes, I have cotton balls."
TMI Bad Ideas Bear! But the hard work does pay off and something magical happens onstage.
"It’s kind of exposed onstage and that’s one of the beauties of this show that the puppeteers are onstage with the puppets so you are welcome to watch the puppeteers if you want to," Miller said.
"It’s kind of like a blurred image of both the puppet and the puppeteer. I think people are primarily focusing on the puppet," Mayuyu added.
"If I’m doing a good job, they are actually just looking at Princeton," Diaz-Gutierrez said. "I'm just their to support."
"Avenue Q" breaks a bit of new ground with its human-puppet collaboration.
"There are a lot of funny jokes that you can relate to that totally redefine musical theater as most people visualize it so come see Ave Q you’ll love it, it’s a great show," Nicky said as he gave me the big blue thumbs up.
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