The musical theatre department at Walnut Grove Secondary is headed over to the seedy side of town.
And you’re invited to come along for the ride.
WGSS presents the edgy Broadway hit Avenue Q beginning this Thursday evening.
But you know that one particular scene?
The one that everyone who’s seen the play always talks about?
Yeah, don’t expect to see that.
This is Avenue Q School Edition.
With a play that features songs like
“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today,” people who are familiar with the original version of the Sesame Street spoof, will understand why the school distinction is essential, said WGSS’s new drama teacher, Chad Hendricks.
Certain scenes have been omitted, songs revised and characters renamed to make the hilarious coming-of-age story a bit more family-friendly.
But the high school version of
Avenue Q,, set on a fictional street in an “outer-outer borough” of New York City, still walks the line, Hendricks noted.
After graduating from college with a B.A. in English, Princeton moves into an apartment in New York City in the only neighborhood he can afford.
Here, Princeton — played/operated by Grade 12 student James Aalhus — and his neighbors cope with the struggles of real life, learning that you cannot necessarily count on things turning out as you would like them to.
“The themes are sometimes heavy, but the energy and fun in the show keeps us laughing, and the experience light,” said Hendricks.
Even though Avenue Q School Edition has been reworked from its original Broadway show, the production contains material related to both homosexuality and racism, and includes the message that life isn’t always as easy as we have been led to believe, said Hendricks.
“I chose this show because it is challenging, relevant and extremely creative,” he said.
The cast includes 30 students in Grades 9-12. For many, it is their first show, while others have been involved in productions in previous years.
“The play offers a fascinating blend of muppets and live actors sharing the stage,” said the teacher.
The 20 puppets, which were built at the school, will be operated by the student performers who are present on the stage, but are not part of the show. The audience is expected to treat them as though they are invisible.
As the building’s superintendent, out-of-work actor Gary Coleman, Grade 12 student Abby Wiens plays one of only three human characters amid a cast of colourful puppets.
It’s a bit odd to stand on a stage, surrounded by inanimate creatures, she’s meant to address, and actual humans she’s to ignore, Wiens acknowledged.
“It’s weird, talking to puppets, focusing and keeping good eye contact,” she said.
But, it helps that her cast mates manage to breathe so much life into the creations.
“They do an amazing job,” said Wiens of the puppeteer/actors. Not that she’d want to be one of them.
“I’m actually a little bit happy that I didn’t get a puppet,” she admitted.
After practising with one of the felt and foam creations for a bit, “I realized how much arm strength I don’t have,” she laughed.
Besides being “quite the arm workout,” operating the puppets takes a certain level of concentration, beyond just knowing your lines, say the actors.
“The way the hand wants to go, the puppet would always be looking sideways,” said Elsa Fawkes, whose double role includes Ricky and Trekkie Monster.
The actors also have to find a way to play the role without drawing attention to themselves.
It’s a bit counter-intuitive, said Aisley Komatsu-Trehearne, who plays/operates Lucy, the femme fatale who comes between Princeton and his love interest, Kate Monster.
“When you act, you want to display emotion, but you have to channel that emotion into a puppet.”
Right from the beginning of rehearsals back in September, the students knew they had something special.
“We’re excited,” said Fawkes.
“It’s tough, but we knew, if we get it, it’s going to be awesome.”
“People are going to go away thinking, ‘I can’t believe a high school did that,’” said Komatsu-Trehearne
The show also features a seven-member pit orchestra comprised of music students in different grades, under the direction of Shane Fawkes, musical director and music teacher.
“They have been working really hard and are a wonderful addition to our production,” said Hendricks.
Avenue Q School Edition runs from April 24-26 and May 1-3.
Shows begin at 7 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on April 26 and May 3. Admission is $12 adults; $10 seniors and students.
To purchase tickets call: 604-882-0220 Ext: 580.