Professional puppeteer prepares UW-Green Bay students for ‘Avenue Q’

Puppet CampLast week puppet expert and professional actor Kevin Noonchester led a weeklong “Puppet Camp” — six, three-hour sessions that provided basic principles and a huge respect for puppetry to UW-Green Bay student cast members preparing for  the musical, “Avenue Q.”

“Avenue Q” will be presented at UW-Green Bay in November as part of the Theatre and Dance Mainstage season. Directed by Laura Riddle with musical direction by Courtney Sherman and choreography by Denise Carlson-Gardner, shows will be at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21-23 and at 3 p.m. Nov. 23 in University Theatre of Theatre Hall.

The puppets used in “Avenue Q” are “Muppet” like in design but most are carried onstage by actors who are visible to the audience, explained Laura Riddle.

“Two of the puppets in “Avenue Q” only appear in windows and the puppeteers are not seen,” said Riddle. “However, those two puppets require two puppeteers. One operates the mouth and one hand and does the voice, while the second person operates the second hand. The ‘hands’ on these puppets are glove-like so these particular puppets can make more specific gestures. The majority of the puppets are operated with one hand for the mouth and the second hand used to create gestures with a rod attached to the puppet’s hands.”

Riddle said that bringing puppets to life is an art.

“Kevin would occasionally demonstrate for us and we would immediately see how he helped the audience to focus on the puppet. Each movement was broken down beginning with breathing and speaking and using mirrors to see what the audience sees. These techniques were repeated the way a musician repeats scales — over and over so that the body memorizes it. Then body movement was added — line of vision, walking, turning, bending. Finally emotion and gestures were added.”

The cast now has only seven weeks to apply the techniques in preparation for the show.

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Noonchester is a professional actor, director, puppeteer based in L.A. and most recently played the role of Marlin in Disney’s “Finding Nemo: The Musical.” He performed the roles of Princeton/Rod and Nicky/Trekkie in the Las Vegas company of “Avenue Q” and is a member of the Henson Company’s “Puppet Up.” As a voice-over actor, his voice can be heard coming out of actors Jason Bateman in “The Change Up” and Chris Pine in “Unstoppable.” Videogame players can hear Kevin as “Jack Frost” in DreamWorks’ “Rise of the Guardians” video game.

Read more about “Avenue Q, The Musical.”