Last Monday I biked over to the LOT to talk to Seanna Kennedy, director of Avenue Q, cast member, Adam Norrad who is taking on Trekkie Monster for the third or fourth time, and Amelia Hironaka who originally choreographed the show and plays Christmas Eve. Touring around the theatre with Abdi my guide, I was struck by the buzz. Even on a day off the energy of the Lower Ossington Theatre is electric. I'd never been inside the theatre before, the stage was still set for RENT, which closed Sunday, but it is Avenue Q that has truly made Itself at home here.
Seanna echoed my thoughts when I asked her why Avenue Q is LOT's longest running production. "Part of the draw, I think, is our space... it's a very intimate experience. If you are in the front row you are literally on the stage. You could reach out and touch* the puppets and sometimes they come and interact with you."
Adam and Amelia's echoed that sentiment in their comments about what has drawn them back to this production. All three are veterans of the show, and like audiences they are chomping at the bit to get back on the block. "It's just fun.'' Adam said, who admitted, he was the one to reach out to LOT this time around to re-join the cast. “Because we have not had the same cast twice - it's an eight person cast, every new person alters the show. [They] come in with new ideas and the rest of cast has to adjust. You can't react the same way to a line that is being delivered completely differently... That has helped those of us who are returning, to find different things in our own performances... [it] resonates with audiences because they can see that every second there is something going on for all eight people on stage.”
In addition to the returning cast members joining Adam and Amelia, there are some new faces. Jacqueline Martin joins the cast in the roles of Kate/Lucy, and Graham Fleming is stepping in as one of two Princetons. As Shenna put it, "this show might seem like a simple little children’s romp but it is not. It is a very complicated show... Almost nobody had worked with puppets prior to the first run. It was a whole new challenge, but we had a lot of rehearsal time.... Now we have to consider that when we add new cast members. If they don't have a natural instinct for working with the puppets, it is not something we can teach in that short a time. Plus are they a fantastic singer, plus a fantastic actor?. Oh yea, and because the puppeteers play multiple roles can they do voices? It is very demanding" The company is again looking to famed puppeteer Mike Peterson to help strengthen the puppetry for this latest run.
The puppets impact every aspect of this show. "The work has to be so specific." Seanna said. And even things you would not think of are affected by the added dimension. Ameila pointed out, "It is funny really, think about how you choreograph puppets with no legs... And it's different than a televised thing like Seaseme Street or the Muppets where the actors are hidden. In Avenue Q it is very clear that these are puppets, and actors interacting with puppets. There is no reference for how to do that, you have to make it up. But it is one of the most fun and rewarding experiences I’ve had"
For Adam it’s a performers dream to work on so many characters. "In the last ten minutes of the show I cycle through three different characters... and I double as an assistant stage manager, you have to be versatile”. Amelia reiterated that there is a high level of trust. “You have to really know everyone has your back. Everyone knows the show. If there is an issue someone covers it. We’ve created a rapport with each other that is very beautiful. I love it." You really get the sense from these three that despite working on this show for over a year, off and on, they still love being in and on Avenue Q.
On my way out I asked Seanna, "Who is the audience this time around?" She said it was a bit of both returning devotees and new people. "I think people should visit Avenue Q on a regular basis, there is something there that speaks to people." It's funny, "audiences laugh all the way through," there is tremendous heart and the puppets lend a, "sense of nostalgia." Ultimately audiences love it because, just like them, Avenue Q is where Seaseme Street went to grow up.
Be sure to check out Avenue Q opening at LOT June 20th for an extended run. Tickets are available here.
Stephan Amon || Princeton/Rod
Graham Fleming || Princeton/Rod
Jacqueline Martin || Kate/Lucy
Phil Skala || Nicky/Blue Bear
Adam Norrad || Trekkie/Newcomer
Shannon Feltmate || Yellow Bear/Mrs.T/Nicky
Mark Willett || Brian
Natasha Strilchuk || Gary Coleman
Amelia Hironaka || Christmas Eve
Ann Paula Bautista || Christmas Eve Understudy
Seanna Kennedy || Director
Robert Wilkinson || Musical Director
Amelia Hironaka || Choreographer
Michael Galloro || Set Designer/Production Manager
Mikael Kangas || Lighting Designer
Mike Peterson || Puppet Coach
Tarah Kennedy || Costume Designer
Puppets Design and Construction || Andy Hayward
Madison Kalbehnn || Stage Manager
*you could but probably shouldn't.