‘Avenue Q’ brings awareness to puppeteering craft

Photo by David Cooper
Photo by David Cooper

Arts Club presents local production of Broadway classic

By Cheryl Minns, Arts Editor

Avenue Q is a unique musical that breaks puppet show stereotypes by featuring the puppeteers on stage performing alongside their puppets, commenting on society’s uptight political correctness and the problems the Millennial generation faces.

Lead puppet Princeton ends up in the neighbourhood of Avenue Q, a gritty version of Sesame Street, after he graduates with an English degree and struggles to find a job, pay the rent, manage his relationships, and figure out his purpose in life.

Actor Jeremy Crittenden voices and controls puppets Princeton and Rod (Avenue Q’s version of Sesame Street’s Bert) during the show, performing as an actor on stage while controlling his puppet at the same time.

“One of the things I love about doing this show is that I keep finding new things. I keep finding he’s so expressive,” Crittenden said of the Princeton puppet.

While he can’t relate to the Republican investment banker character of Rod, Crittenden can definitely connect with Princeton, the epitome of today’s Millennial generation.

“The kinds of things Princeton goes through—moving from home to the big city, trying to make his mark on life, not being able to pay his bills, losing his job, screwing up his relationships—these are all things I have done and continue to do,” he said. “I relate to Princeton a ton. I always feel like I’m still looking for my purpose as a person.”

Avenue Q also stars Jeny Cassady, a professional puppeteer, actor, and puppeteering instructor, who voices and controls the yellow bear in the Bad Idea Bears duo as well as crotchety old boss Mrs. Thistletwat. She particularly enjoys Avenue Q’s hybrid style of including the performer in the puppet show.

“It’s interesting and I like it because it brings a lot more awareness to the craft of puppeteering, that it’s really a performance and not just something for kids,” she said. “The more the people do it, the more excitement happens around puppetry, the more people realize that it’s not easy. It takes some doing. I feel respected.”

Cassady also controls some of the other puppets during the show when an actor with two puppet roles is busy controlling the second puppet on stage. For example, when Princeton and Rod are in a scene together, Crittenden voices both characters and controls one of the puppets while Cassady controls the other.

“It’s getting to know his rhythm, and he’s also watching what I’m doing with it, so that we can get a nice—hopefully seamless—movement between the mouth and the emotion and how the puppet is moving,” she said. “I have a lot of fun taking the rhythms and then taking their idea of it and putting it into a puppet with its emotion.”

While the show can be offensive and crude at times, its irreverent attitude allows for musical numbers to examine some of society’s worst traits, like racism, homelessness, or taking joy in others’ suffering.

“It’s a lot of fun to see whether or not people are going to drop that political correctness that’s in all of our heads about how we’re supposed to respond to things like that and laugh with us on that, join in and agree,” Crittenden said. “I love the moment when they do. They come around and you can really feel a collective release in the room.”

Avenue Q will be playing at the Granville Island Stage until January 3, 2015. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to ArtsClub.com