Monday, January 14, 2013

Lending a Hand to Theater Works' "Avenue Q!"

My sketches for Theater Works' puppets for "Avenue Q."

Well, blogosphere, it has been awhile.
I spent the last week in Phoenix, AZ helping the folks at Theater Works prepare for their upcoming production of “Avenue Q” (the junior version). All of the performers are between the ages of 12 & 19, including the puppeteers. Over the last year or so, I’ve had the privilege of conducting some puppeteering workshops for the kids at Theater Works. I must say, they are an exceedingly talented group of young performers.
Puppet builder/costumer extraordinaire, Cari Smith
When Chris Hamby, their director, told me he was mounting a production of “Q,” I was quick to offer my help constructing the puppets for his students/performers. The lovely and talented Cari Smith has built many a puppet for Chris’ productions over the years, but I knew this particular show would be a monumental challenge since there are so many puppets required for this show including multiples of most of the main characters. Cari’s final count for puppets was 18 and I was only going to be in AZ for a week. You could practically hear the starting pistol.

Foam head mock-ups.
On day one, I started patterning out puppet heads for all the puppets. Mock-ups were made and then flat patterns altered. Soon, an assembly line was tracing patterns, cutting foam and gluing pieces together with contact cement: every puppeteer’s favorite huffing material. Fur was ordered and shopping trips to Jo Ann’s fabric for fleece were all on the day’s schedule.
Tracing out hand patterns pieces on a sheet of foam
By Wednesday, all the foam heads, bodies and arms were constructed and I began patterning out the fabric covering for each character. This involved draping fleece over each character’s foam skull and figuring out where to place darts (curves) to make a flat pattern.

Finished foam heads
Patterning the fleece covering on a finished foam head.
One evening, I took the opportunity to sit in on part of a rehearsal for the show. I was blown away by the skill level of most of the puppeteers. For rehearsal, they were using puppets from past performances that Cari made, but I was anxious for these guys to get their actual puppets.  So many productions of this show stick a puppet on an actor’s hand and expect them to give a performance with hardly any consideration for the skill and time it takes to become a competent puppet performer. What sets Chris’ group apart is that he actually wants his students to be good puppeteers and takes the time to train them as such. And it shows in their performance. I’m happy that their performances will only be enhanced with having good puppets to work with.

Paul Pedersen directs choreography for "Avenue Q."

Cast members of Theater Works' production of "Avenue Q."
 Time always seems to run out too soon and this project was no exception. By the time I left on Sunday, all the puppet heads had been covered and were ready for faces and costumes. Cari still has a lot of work ahead of her to get them all finished, but she’s in good shape. I can’t wait to see them in action!
Covered heads with bodies and arms attached.
Kate Monster's head before and after trimming the fur.
Two, count them, two Trekkie Monsters!
Face mock-up for Rod.
Our messy workroom! That's director Chris Hamby to the right.
                                Best of luck, Theater Works!!

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