BY MADISON FLAGER I The Daily Tar Heel
Throughout the spring semester, Canvas will follow UNC Pauper Players’s production of “Avenue Q” from the beginning to the end in its series “The Avenue Ahead.”
In the second installment of the series, staff writer Madison Flager profiled senior Will Hawkins, who plays Rod in the production.
The first time senior Will Hawkins auditioned for a show, he wasn’t nervous at all. In fact, he didn’t even know he had an audition until 10 minutes before go-time.
A passing comment to his mother about how fun the movie “High School Musical” looked had led her to sign Hawkins up for a teen production of “Les Miserables.” He got the part, marking the first of many performances to come.
Fast forward about six and a half years, and Hawkins is on his seventh and final UNC production, this time as Rod in Pauper Players’s upcoming “Avenue Q.” Hawkins describes the character as a closeted Republican investment banker puppet who must come to terms with both his sexuality and his unrequited love for his straight roommate, Nicky.
Hawkins, a music major, said he had his eyes set on Rod long before he even knew Pauper Players would be producing “Avenue Q.” This summer, he auditioned for the role in his hometown of Alexandria, Va. Though he didn’t receive the part, he got a second chance to play the character this semester.
“Rod takes himself very seriously and the stuff that happens to him is very important to him. In a comedy, that really drew me to the part,” Hawkins said.
“It kind of meshed the nice balance between a dramatic plot and a comedic plot at the same time.”
Hawkins is no stranger to auditions, but this one had an unusual element to it. Because of the nature of the show – seven of the 10 characters are puppets – Hawkins had to use a sock puppet.
“I’m generally prepared for auditions but this was a different experience,” he said. “It was a little strange and a little frightening.”
Puppetry makes rehearsals different, too. The actors had to memorize their lines much faster than usual, so they could begin practicing with the puppets.
Hawkins said it’s difficult to translate natural mannerisms, like hand gestures, into the body of a puppet. There is more choreography in this show than he is used to, he said, and less improvisation with his body movements.
Despite these challenges, Hawkins said he thinks Rod will be his favorite UNC performance. He credits that in part to the cast, several of whom he has worked with before.
Most of the shows Hawkins has done at UNC have had small casts, and he said he enjoys the camaraderie and support that forms in that environment.
“It’s especially important when you’re doing something like puppetry onstage — there’s an element of ‘OK, I’m getting up and doing something completely new that I have no real training in,’ and it’s nice to have people there that you feel comfortable around.”
Freshman Annie Keller, who plays Christmas Eve — the only female human role in the show — echoed this sentiment, and said she feels honored to be working with Hawkins.
“He is so enthusiastic and very inviting,” she said. “During auditions, Will made an effort to get to know me and introduce himself and it made me feel so much more welcome.”
Keller said she feels like she has learned a lot from Hawkins by watching the way he commits to his character.
“He really puts his whole heart and soul into what he’s doing and it really reflects onstage,” she said.
Hawkins, who will graduate in May, said he is happy to end with this show, calling the experience bittersweet. He will miss the excitement of guessing what next semester’s show will be and getting to work with familiar faces like director Clare Shaffer, who is also a review writer for The Daily Tar Heel, and roommate and castmate Blayne Telling, he said.
Though he’ll no longer be performing in venues like Historic Playmakers Theater, Hawkins plans on continuing to act and sing after graduation.
“Staying involved in arts for me is the big thing,” he said. “There’s a great theater scene in D.C. that’s growing right now, so I’m going to move back to the D.C. area and audition.”
His dream role is George in Steven Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.” But, for now, he just has to worry about getting through one last semester of balancing school and rehearsals.
Reviews, previews, and other coverage of Shaffer shows.