The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday October 19th


The Avenue Ahead: The people who costume a puppet-centric show

Canvas is following UNC Pauper Players’s production of “Avenue Q” from the beginning to the end in its series “The Avenue Ahead” throughout the semester.

In the fourth installment of the series, staff writer Madison Flager talked to the people responsible for the costumes in a puppet-centric cast.

The cast and crew agree – “Avenue Q” is far from a typical show.

With only three human characters, having a puppet-centric cast has meant altering the technical process of preparing for the show, which means costume and set designers must work around the fact that many of the characters are also props.

UNC alumna Brittney Holland, the show’s costume designer, said that designing clothes for only three cast members requires much less time than a typical show, but that has given her the opportunity to create custom pieces.

“It’s definitely been a change of less creative freedom in a lot of ways, but at the same time it has given me this really great creative freedom because I can put more energy into the three characters,” she said.

Unlike other “Avenue Q” productions, the puppets bought for Pauper Players’s production came already dressed. Director Clare Shaffer, who is also a review writer for The Daily Tar Heel, showed multiple options to cast and crew members, Holland said, and the group discussed which options they liked best.

They decided on a set from Georgia-based company Rooster Socks, said Pauline Lamb, a UNC alumna and the show’s prop mistress.

Lamb said that these puppets look different from the ones used in the Broadway production, but that the cast and crew were nearly unanimous when deciding that these were their favorite.

Holland’s plans for the human character’s costumes had to be slightly adjusted once they were chosen, she said.

“It’s different than how you would approach a typical show,” Holland said.

“I have to design my pieces around what the puppets are wearing, so it doesn’t look like one person designed the puppets and another designed the people.”

When designing for the three human characters, Holland said she kept in mind the spirit of the production, as well as how the audience would react. For the character Gary Coleman, based on the late actor, Holland said she looked at pictures of Coleman in television series “Diff’rent Strokes” and tried to create similar costumes.

She said she also had to keep in mind that the production is a parody.

“There’s so much that’s really serious and wonderful, but you can’t escape the fact that it’s kind of a spoof of Sesame Street,” she said. “You can’t neglect the fact of them being a little kooky.”

Holland has created an “Avenue Q” Pinterest board to gather inspiration, pinning costumes, set ideas, cupcakes and other pictures reminiscent of the show, and shares them with fellow cast and crew members.

“It’s really wonderful in terms of having a resource where everything is gathered,” she said.
This is especially helpful as Holland currently lives in Winston-Salem, and commutes to Chapel Hill for the show when necessary.

The actors maneuvering the puppets will wear shades of black to mirror the puppet’s outfits, an approach Shaffer came up with, Holland said.

The human characters’s outfits will come partly from the actors’s closets, and partly from Goodwill. So far, Holland has been able to almost completely costume the human characters for only $35 by shopping at thrift stores.

Holland said she plans on hand making anything unique that they are not able to find.

Similarly, Lamb’s approach to the props follows the do-it-yourself spirit – anything she can make she will make from scratch, and the rest will be bought and modified to fit the show, she said.

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

The prop budget was originally approved for $250, but Lamb said she thinks she will be under budget by a decent amount, in part due to the craft supplies she already had from personal crafting, such as fabric and construction paper.

In the week following spring break, actors will begin using show props in rehearsal, now that they have had time to familiarize themselves with handling the puppets.

“I want the props to all flow together and have a specific unique feel that will set it apart from other productions,” she said.

Lamb said some of the props match what was in the Broadway production, but original ideas are being added into the design as well.

“People who come will see a lot of our own spark and individuality that’s been added to the show.”

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