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It’s not easy being a puppet

By: Judi Straughan

 | Apr 22, 2014 - 2:19 PM |
Blair Irwin is the talent behind Lucy in Sudbury Theatre Centre's production of Avenue Q, where audiences get to see what life would be like if the Muppets grew up and moved off Sesame Street. Photo by Arron Pickard.

Blair Irwin is the talent behind Lucy in Sudbury Theatre Centre's production of Avenue Q, where audiences get to see what life would be like if the Muppets grew up and moved off Sesame Street. Photo by Arron Pickard.

Avenue Q brings irreverent humour to the stage April 24

Just as life can suck for humans, it’s the same for puppets. For those of us who place Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and Oscar on rock star pedestals, we understand that not every day on Sesame Street is necessarily sunny.

In fact, one of the songs in “Avenue Q,” Sudbury Theatre Centre’s latest production, is titled “It Sucks To Be Me.”

The creators of the hit Broadway musical wondered what life would be like if the Muppets grew up and moved off Sesame Street. Jim Henson’s Company would have nothing to do with it, so the New York Avenue Q team created its own adult version of Henson-style puppets living all the 20-something challenges of today: the meaning of life, the future, careers, apartments, friendship, love and sex.

Did I just say sex?

Meet, for example, (puppet) Princeton, played by Ken James Stewart, and Kate Monster, played by Blair Irwin. Both have pretty normal challenges — Princeton can’t figure out his purpose in life; Kate is looking for love and a full-time teaching job.

When they first meet on stage, both feel a spark of interest, but will it develop into a full-blown love affair? Oh yes, there is, indeed, a puppet sex scene in “Avenue Q.” Let’s just say that seeing is believing.

Warning: unless you haven't guessed yet, “Avenue Q” is not for kids.

Stewart and Irwin, two of a cast of seven in STC's “Avenue Q,” are quick to point out that even though it’s arm-torture holding up a puppet for an eight-hour rehearsal, working with a puppet character is truly liberating.

“Rod, one of my puppet characters”, says Stewart, “ is a banker, a little stiff and precise, while Princeton is wide-eyed, naïve and a bit insecure. How I move each puppet has to reflect each one’s character.”

“And when your puppet is listening on stage, we have to make sure we move closer towards the speaker and tilt the puppet head to the side, like listening,” says Irwin.

And both agree that finding the character’s voice is key.

Audiences will believe in each character the same as they do on Sesame Street — but this is no Sesame Street with songs like “The Internet is for Porn,” “It Sucks to be Me,” “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” 


The puppets do have human adult problems.

“My puppet Rod is a closeted gay,” Stewart said. “And he has to come to terms with it before he can live a full and happy life.”

Both agree the music is hilarious and runs the gamut from vaudevillian to ballads to burlesque. Musical director Adam White is working with some of Sudbury’s hottest musicians for the show, including Allan Walsh, Tony Jurgilas, Brian Quebec, John Newlands and Jordan McNeil.

“Avenue Q,” winner of the Tony Awards Triple Crown for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book, is a laugh-out-loud experience that simply makes everyone feel better. It's a place where puppets are friends, monsters are good and life lessons are learned.

Judi Straughan is the education co-ordinator at STC. 

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