Community theater group adopts ‘Avenue Q’ risk – The Mercury News


Post-graduate confusion, becoming an adult, and yes, even simulated puppet sex are some of the big topics coming to the Sunnyvale Theater starting this weekend.

The Sunnyvale Community Players tackle the difficult and risky task of putting together “Avenue Q”, a Broadway musical that won the 2004 Tony Award for “Best Musical”.

While the show is clearly inspired by Sesame Street, theatergoers should be forewarned, this is not for those learning their AB-C. It is accompanied by a strong parental advisory in promotional material, warning viewers of adult situations and language, and noting that the show is not recommended for children.

The show opens on Saturday and will run until November 19.

Show director Walter Mayes says that rather than teaching basic childhood lessons that would be found on Sesame Street, it instead provides experiences that young adults may need to have when they enter adulthood. The tale, both steamy and heartwarming, follows a cast of young adults, both actors and puppets.

“You graduated at (age) 22 or 23, and now what?” Mayes asks to set up the post-graduate dilemma of the main character Princeton.

“What if children’s television decided to deal with young adults, and instead of teaching things like spelling, it teaches you about engagement and German words like ‘schadenfreude’ and teaches you how to do good things for others? “

“Avenue Q” follows Princeton’s search for an apartment and a job in a big city, just getting her bachelor’s degree in English. He starts by looking for accommodation on Avenue A, but discovers that he can only pay rent on Avenue Q, which is less popular.

The story of Princeton is accompanied by many strange songs, including “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “Internet is for Porn”. Some of these songs were performed by the Sunnyvale Community Players at Renegades gay bar in San Jose last Saturday ahead of WooWoo’s Cirq-Us Halloween drag show.

Artistic Director Matt Welch, who has been instrumental in choosing this season’s shows, said he is excited to take on the various challenges that “Avenue Q” presents for the company, noting that it can attract talent. different audiences than those players in the Sunnyvale community usually attract. .

“I think bringing him to this theater is something very fresh and different from what this organization has done. It’s light, I think it will be a great escape for people. Some small businesses have done it, it’s achievable, it’s a big name that people recognize, ”Welch said.

Mayes said he was excited to play a musical targeting a younger age group than most.

“Young people in their twenties and thirties love this show because that’s what they experience,” Mayes said. “It is more difficult to attract young people between the ages of 20 and 30 to see live theater than it is to attract elderly people, and like in many theaters across the country, it is the elderly who come.”

Part of the challenge of the show comes from the props and the puppets themselves. Players rented puppets and a functional two-story set with windows on the second floor for characters to enter and exit. The show puppets and rehearsal puppets, replicas of the puppets used in the Broadway show, are rented from Music Theater International.

According to Mayes and Welch, most of the actors had no prior experience with puppetry before the show. A puppet coach was hired to teach actors how to handle their puppets and to play alongside them. The puppets interact with the actors as characters, without anyone making a distinction. The puppeteers are clearly visible and, according to Mayes, the actors who play the puppets have a lot to do.

“The poor actors have to say lines, sing along, get the notes right, get the fucking puppet moving and running backstage to change the puppet’s costumes,” Mayes said.

To prepare for their roles, the actors did the first sessions with just a sock puppet. Two other sessions were done with rehearsal puppet characters working only on the puppet.

Mayes said there is usually a dance captain to make sure the choreography is performed correctly. In this case, players use a “puppet captain” to watch the puppets and take notes.

“I would say it took two rehearsals to get the basic fluidity, then two to three weeks for the actors to be very comfortable,” Mayes said, adding that the actors keep the puppets on their hands even between. the scenes.

Actor David Mister plays Nicky and is the only cast member to ever do “Avenue Q”. Monsieur said it was about four years ago in Los Altos, and it was his first and only experience as a puppeteer.

He said holding the puppets for two hours, even the lightest ones, can be more painful than many people realize.

“As light as they are… the physical stress of holding your hand in these positions is not trivial,” he said, adding that other challenges include training actors to watch and respond to puppets instead. than talking and controlling them.

Conveying emotions through puppets and getting audiences to accept them as equal characters also takes skill.

“When you’re in the audience you think a piece of moss and fake fur is smiling or sad or drinking Long Island (iced tea) or whatever, which is pretty cool,” Mister added.

The “Avenue Q’s” style even has a few cast members worried about who might attend the show. Monsieur said he liked the humor of the show, but wouldn’t invite his parents to see it. Mayes ‘day job is that of a librarian at a girls’ college in Palo Alto, and while he would be “mortified” if any of his students attended, he strongly encourages musical theater fans over the age of 18. years to go out.

Welch and Mayes both acknowledged that the risky, while hilarious, show might give some people pause, but hope the story resonates with young adults or parents who have had young adults.

“If anyone needs an excuse to laugh, come laugh for a moment,” Mayes said.

Steve Shapiro, Chairman of The Players Board of Directors, said the company has grown significantly since joining a new board in 2014. It features better marketing, more refined graphics and materials, and a new online ordering system that allows people to purchase tickets.

He said attendance has been steadily increasing and this season got off to a good start with the sold-out “Fiddler on the Roof” series last month.

“It’s teamwork,” he says. “The # 1 priority was to get people to the theater and remind people that we are still here.”

He said that taking a classic like “Fiddler” and a modern, more daring show like “Avenue Q” shows the range of his theater troupe.

“What I love about this business is that we can do a wide variety of things,” Shapiro said.

“Avenue Q” starts on Saturday and ends on November 19, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

All performances will take place at the Sunnyvale Theater at the Sunnyvale Community Center, 550 E. Remington Drive.

Tickets cost $ 33 for adults and $ 27 for seniors and students.

Tickets are available at the theater box office and online at

For more information or to purchase tickets by phone, call 669-333-7727 or email [email protected]


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