BY SARAH VASSELLO I The Daily Tar Heel
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 fifth installment of the series, staff writer Sarah Vassello spent a day in rehearsal with the cast and crew. The last installment of the series will be published in the print edition on opening night, April 4.
“Fantasies come true,” the puppets of Avenue Q chant as they sing, dance, and light each other’s cigarettes in the colorful atmosphere of UNC Pauper Players’s rehearsal.
If one happens to walk by Room 2518 of the Student Union from 6 to 10 p.m., it is not unusual to overhear laughing, singing, and the occasional use of good-humored profanity. It is more disorienting, however, to hear all of those things spoken by a Sesame Street-style puppet.
It’s even more confusing to hear the UNC students who handle the puppets pose questions about their characters, debating the appropriate level of sex-hair and the correct way to portray the longing gaze from one puppet to the other.
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 Feb. 2, but a sense of family is present in the room.
“It’s fun because the closer you get to the show, the closer you get with the people,” said freshman McKenzie Millican, one of the stage managers for the show.
With only one week until the April 4 opening night, the cast has already put in approximately 160 hours into rehearsal — and the show is pretty close to perfect, a quality that can be attributed to the fierce sense of professionalism directed toward the show.
As the opening date approaches, the buzz for the show has started to intensify, drawing the attention of prominent members of the dramatic art community.
Mark Hartman — former associate conductor and music director of “Avenue Q” on Broadway, a UNC alumnus and one of the founders of Pauper Players — dropped in on Monday night’s rehearsal to offer some insights.
“They are doing just great,” Hartman said. “I was impressed by their understanding of the material, their passion for the show, and the attention to detail they are putting into the show.”
Millican said that detail work was one of the primary focuses at this point in rehearsals. After dividing the show into separate components of singing, choreography and acting, the primary objective was to start with large concepts and work toward mastering details throughout the rehearsal process, tweaking only small details of a few scenes.
To fully prepare, the cast has been doing full run-throughs and dress rehearsals since spring break.
“We’re working on lots of stuff we haven’t used before, like props and costume changes. We’re teaching all of the transitions to the stage heads and cleaning up a lot of the small things you notice along the way,” Millican said.
Hartman said that he was impressed with the professionalism the cast has exhibited.
“The rehearsal was run with great efficiency, expedience, and organization. Everyone was focused and there to do the work on the show,” he said. “That's what you want from any rehearsal anywhere.”
Nonetheless, it is the collaborative, creative environment that fills Room 2518 with vibrancy, bringing not only the puppets to life, but also the cast and crew as well.
The show will run Apr. 4 through Apr. 7 at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro.
Reviews, previews, and other coverage of Shaffer shows.