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The Daily Tar Heel

Pauper Players walk the long road to ‘Avenue Q’

Student performers act out a musical scene during a dress rehearsal for Pauper Player's production of Avenue Q. The rehearsal took place at the Arts Center in Carrboro, Wednesday the 2nd of April.
Student performers act out a musical scene during a dress rehearsal for Pauper Player's production of Avenue Q. The rehearsal took place at the Arts Center in Carrboro, Wednesday the 2nd of April.

The journey of the production has been detailed in “The Avenue Ahead,” a series published on The Daily Tar Heel’s Arts blog, “Canvas,” every two weeks since the beginning of the semester.


On Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, hopeful thespians auditioned for the chance to be a part of something unique; something the show’s director — senior Clare Shaffer — said was “a magnum opus of felt.”

“It’s my last show and my biggest show here, and that’s how I think of it in my head,” she said.

Although the auditions tested for basic theatrical skills — vocal range, character voices, et cetera. — students were asked to take an additional, unique step: showcase their acting skills through sock puppets.

Junior Blayne Telling, who was cast as Lucy the Slut, said she and her roommate came up with thumb conditioning exercises to prepare for the puppet maneuvering.

“You kind of have to keep in mind that you are a vehicle for the puppet,” she said. “It’s not you who’s performing — it’s the puppet. It’s a very strangely rewarding thing.”

Behind the scenes

While cast members are the face of the show, the Pauper Players’ crew is its backbone.

Senior Alex Thompson currently acts as “Avenue Q’s” musical director, and helped execute an uncommonly speedy turnaround time — all music for the play was learned by the cast and crew a month before the show’s opening date.

“This is my first time music directing a full scale (show), so I approached it in a way that ensured that the level of productivity would be as high as possible,” Thompson said.

Prop mistress Pauline Lamb either bought or handmade pieces for the set. She said she wanted the props to have a specific, unique feel.

“Something that Clare and I talked about in the design meeting back in December is that we wanted the props to be vibrant and puppety, something you’d see on ‘Sesame Street,’” Lamb said.

A Day in rehearsal

A level of comfort and ease between the cast and crew is to be expected after rehearsing together for four hours every Sunday through Thursday since early February — but a sense of family is present in the rehearsal room.

“It’s such a great cast and crew,” said Lochlan Belford, who plays Trekkie Monster.

Sophomore Zachary Cook, who plays Brian, transferred to UNC this year and said his experience with theater here has been wonderful.

“I would say the sense of community is definitely more inviting than it’s been in other places that I’ve worked,” he said.

The buzz that Pauper has generated drew the attention of a prominent member of the dramatic art community: Mark Hartman, former associate conductor and music director of “Avenue Q” on Broadway. Hartman, a UNC alumnus and one of the founders of Pauper Players, sat in on the March 24 rehearsal and offered his critique.

“The rehearsal was run with great efficiency, expedience and organization. Everyone was focused and there to do the work on the show,” Hartman said. “That’s what you want from any rehearsal anywhere.”

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With a semester of rehearsals and planning almost behind them, the cast and crew is ready to take the stage this weekend. Junior Leila Kaji said the show’s rehearsal process has been the smoothest she’s experienced.

“We all came in so talented and passionate and directed with what we were doing,” Kaji said.

Months of practice will culminate this weekend when the cast and crew finally gets to share their finished product with a live audience. Barksdale said she is excited for the audience to see the shocking, sassy and poignant show.

“Everyone is just so committed and so passionate about making this one of the greatest shows the campus has ever seen — I’ve never seen so much dedication before.”