Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 - A Brief Year In Review

I spent the first half of 2012 working on an unforgettable production of "Avenue Q". 
Sadly, the second half saw the end of my admin day job, and my marriage. 
Determined not to let it all completely destroy me, I have recently managed to successfully register my own puppeteer business, and look forward to a successful 2013 as my own boss, doing something I'm passionate about for a living. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

My journey down Avenue Q: Could Puppetry Be My Purpose? - Part Six: Conclusion.

Let me start by saying that "Avenue Q" was a most amazing six month journey. It ended with a six week season of sold out performances. Twenty one shows all up. It received great reviews, and broke all kinds of attendance records for the Brisbane Arts Theatre. 

I have since joined a group of puppeteers called, "UpATree Arts". It's a very different style of puppetry that they do. More of a pageantry style, with giant puppets that require several puppeteers to operate. It's very much like the Chinese dragons that are paraded around. I have helped to build a giant dragon puppet with light up eyes, which will be performed at a music festival on the first of September. This will be my first performance with the group.

As well as that, I have looked into various ways to get my puppet show business started. Money is the main requirement at the moment. I need to raise $75 to pay for a blue card (required if I want to perform puppet shows at children's birthday parties and schools). And I need to purchase a portable puppet theatre that easily sets up and folds up. I have a few of my own cheap puppets to start with, but I have also designed some of my own original characters which I would eventually like to have made professionally in the style of the Muppets. 

There is an amazing puppet maker in the US called "Creature Clones" who makes perfect Muppet replicas, and brings people's own designs to life in the same Jim Henson style. Nobody else does it like him. There are those who do build puppets like this, don't build ones from people's designs. And there are others who make puppets from people's designs, but they are cheap, low quality puppets. I'm not good at sewing, stitching, knitting or gluing things like this. And I don't know anybody else locally who can either. At least not in this specific style. For a start,  many of the materials used to make The Muppets are not available in Australia. I'm pretty intent on having my own original characters built like real Henson Muppets. 

I'm aware of the FAO Schwartz toy store in New York who have their "Muppet What Not" section, where you have a limited choice of bodies, head shapes, noses, eyes and costumes to put together your own Muppet. I like this idea, but as I mentioned, you have only a limited choice. And it's not really your own designs. It's something that's made from the choices of materials you're given. 

I want a "Muppet" that's mine. This guy at Creature Clones can do it, at a cost of $1, 200 per puppet, and $75 for postage to Australia. Yes, this is expensive. But I think it will be worth it in the long run. I'm poor, and haven't seen this much money in one place ever. So I just need to save up for the portable puppet theatre and the blue card. Then I must come up with an amazing show to perform at parties with my current puppets - which are not my own original designs, but I've dressed them and made tongues for them out of felt. So I've added personal touches to them.

I've been informed that puppeteers are hard to find for kids' parties. There are plenty of clowns and magicians for hire, but no puppet shows. There's a market, and I need to get in on it. From that, I can save up to have my puppet designs made. I can expand, and try to make a name for myself. 

Raising the money to get started:

Arts Grant - To qualify for an arts grant, I am required to write up a proposal for a project that is culturally significant and beneficial to the community... Simply being good at puppetry and wanting to make people laugh is not enough unfortunately. So coming up with a good proposal has been a big a challenge. 

Pozible/Crowd Funding - This is a fairly new way that artists can raise money to get their project started. You put your idea out there via a website, and ask your friends to donate towards it. In return for the donations, you give back prizes such as free tickets to the performance you're trying to put together, or list their name in the credits of the film you're trying to make. The more they donate, the bigger the prize. But if the full amount you want isn't raised by the target date, then everybody gets their money back and you don't get to start you project. So similarly, I would need a proposal that's great enough to inspire the public to want to contribute towards it. What prizes could I offer in return? A free puppet show for their kids? What would people want from this puppet show? What kind of show would they like to see? These are all the things I'm trying to work out.

As I've recently become unemployed from my day job (like so many others in Queensland right now), I have the opportunity to really look into this. My biggest dream has always to been to be able to live off what I'm good at and interested in. Admin, call centre, retail and hospitality jobs have always been what I need to do to earn money. But these jobs are just awful, dull, and often don't last for very long. I studied for five years in the fields of animation and film & TV. I set up my own cartoonist business, which just didn't earn me enough money to live off. And all of the bands that I've played keyboard with have never been snapped up by record labels or put in a situation of being able to comfortably live off the music we write and perform. 

I've come to accept that for most artists, this kind of work is voluntary and done for the love of it. And any money you make out of the arts is a bonus. All of those names we see listed in the credits of film and television productions, in the programmes of successful touring theatre productions, and in the linear notes of all the CDs we purchase from the store... These are the lucky people who were "discovered". For every one of those names, there are billions of others waiting to be "discovered". 

There comes a time when you realise that you simply can't keep flogging a dead horse and waiting for that big break to come. You're a small fish in a big pond. You have to do something outrageously bold. And clearly, dressing up as an evil clown and playing jazzy, carnivalesque heavy metal isn't bold enough. 

Having explored all options humanly available to me, and having put in as much money and time as I possibly could have to try and get my cartooning, animation and music into a position of financial comfort, I now simply consider these hobbies that I do for the love, rather than keep hoping that something amazing will come of it.

But the puppeteering is my last chance to make an impact. To become my own boss. To finally be able to do something I'm good at, and to be able to live off it, without having to mop floors or be abused by members of the public over the phone or face to face at a checkout counter. I want to entertain and make people laugh. I much prefer this kind of interaction with the public.

Avenue Q really inspired me to pursue my skills in puppetry further. I'm really glad I took the plunge and auditioned for that show, having never sung or acted before. It really will serve well in my goal to make a name for myself as a puppeteer. Let's hope I can come up with something amazing that's worth the public (or the QLD government) throwing their money at so that I can gather up the necessary materials to get started.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

My journey down Avenue Q: Could Puppetry Be My Purpose? - Part Five: To Avenue Q and Beyond!

It seems pretty clear that puppetry is indeed something worth pursuing further. With just a few weeks until opening night, "Avenue Q" is looking spectacular! It's all coming together very nicely.

We have our puppets. Singing, choreography and puppeteering is coming along brilliantly. The band is all ready to go. Professional cast photography has been done. The set has been built, and we're currently in the process of painting and dressing it. Promotion has begun, and tickets are starting to sell.

I am sharing the puppetry of Nicky and Trekkie Monster in the show, and playing some dancing rats in one scene. Initially, I ran a couple of introductory lessons on puppetry, and have been assisting the cast throughout the show. They're really doing great!

I applied for a puppeteer job with Camp Quality about a month ago. I got on the short list! But sadly didn't make the cut. There was no audition, so it wasn't due to any lack of puppetry skills. But the ad did state that you'd need a manual drivers license, which I don't have. I figured I'd apply anyway, just to see what happens. I think it was my roles in Avenue Q that impressed them puppet-wise.

I've been thinking a lot about applying for an internship or scholarship with The Jim Henson Company over in either the New York or Los Angeles studios. I haven't spent much time looking into the specifics or costs or whether or not you need a fancy degree to get in there in the first place. But it's on my mind. Jen has said this could be doable if I went away for the first six months and then she would join me for the rest of it (assuming it was a one year thing).

Living in the US would be very expensive though. I don't know if the position would be paid, or if I would have to find a retail or hospitality job to pay for living expenses. But money aside, I think it would be the ultimate experience, being trained up by the Muppet masters, and working towards a permanent position on productions like Sesame Street and movies starring The Muppets!

Much like my 15 years of effort towards making a big break into the animation, cartooning and/or music worlds, the puppet world is another avenue that interests me. But I do think my options in all of these areas are very slim in Australia. You really have to make it big overseas before you're recognised by art/music/entertainment bigwigs in Australia.

My other idea was to officially start my own puppet show business here in Brisbane. The parenting magazines have pages of ads about clowns and magicians for kids' birthday parties, but nothing about puppeteers. Jen has expressed interest in helping me set this up. I would need to look into business loan options to get started. We need a portable puppet theatre, some more puppets, a story! Gift bags with the faces of the puppet characters on them. Perhaps a "Make your own puppet" activity session.


I also noticed while down in Melbourne that there was an adult puppet play (inspired by Avenue Q) as part of the comedy festival called, "Who Killed John Bearington III?" This show unfortunately began its run a week after we returned home to Brisbane. So I didn't get to see it. But I'm inspired to write my own puppet production that isn't for kids. Something I could showcase at The Brisbane Arts Theatre (now that I'm a member), with handpicked cast members from Avenue Q and Impro Mafia perhaps. And I would love to take it to the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and the Sydney one too.

These are options. If packing up and leaving the country to pursue my dream isn't something I can afford to do in the near future, then trying to do something amazing right here could potentially spark up some interest from the right people, if it's good enough and well publicised.

Just a few thoughts on post-Avenue Q puppet pursuits. I would like to think that my involvement in this show could open up some doors.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

How we Conquered Melbourne

My wife Jen and I like to attend a lot of shows. Bands, comedians, theatre.

In 2011, we decided to visit Melbourne for our birthdays (both in March) and see as much of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) as we could, while taking in all the sights of the town. 

There's so much to do in Melbourne - From the film/TV/animation exhibits at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) to the endless selection of interesting shops, bars and restaurants, many of which remain open until the early hours of the morning. Unlike Brisbane, there are theatres galore, and performers on every corner instead of charity street hasslers. And a really good public transport service to get around with. There's no shortage of trams. If you miss one, there's another right behind it. 

The highlight of our 2011 trip was meeting comedian Bob Franklin, who gave us free tickets to his show. His was one of about 15 or 16 shows we attended in the short time we were there.

In 2012, we again managed to squeeze 15 MICF shows into 6 days, and also attend the filming of a TV show. Well, I guess it was two TV shows, because one of the MICF shows was a special filmed for TV.

But we really embraced this trip in a big way, really getting involved and making an impact. Here's what happened:

- We booked front row seats to the MICF "All-Stars Gala" show. Yet to be aired on Channel Ten, this massive show at the Palais Theatre was hosted by Julia Morris, and featured sets by Wanda Sykes, Sam Simmons, Idiots of Ants, Dead Cat Bounce, Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra, Jeff Green, Wil Anderson, Shappi Khorsandi, Greg Behrendt, Mark Watson, Kumail Nanjiani and more. Being in the front row of this means you're right amongst the action. Camera men running past, comedians performing right in front of you, and in the case of comedian Sam Simmons - incorporating you into the act! When the show airs on Ten, you will see a shirtless Sam Simmons riding on top of the gentleman to my right, and then climbing past me to sit on Jen's lap! The cameras were in our faces the whole time. A great start to our holiday!

- During a play by Bob Franklin and Steven Gates (aka Gatesy from Tripod), I was chosen to portray a character named Jason. A failed actor, and regular psychiatric patient of the doctor being played by Bob Franklin. 

- After seeing Lawrence Leung's show, another comedian John Robertson gave us free tickets to his show because he liked the way we were dressed - all in black. Another win!

- On our way home from a show, Jen photographed a billboard at one of the tram stops and posted it on Twitter. She started what became a widespread discussion about how it seems to promote irresponsible drinking and bad workplace health and safety practices. Within a very short time, Jen was the number one "trending topic" in Australia on Twitter! 

- Comedian Mick Neven had a show at the MICF where it was encouraged to tweet during the show. It was an interactive Twitter show! People could tweet from home too! All tweets were displayed on a screen at the front, and read out during the performance. Jen was chosen to drive the iPad up the front, and be in control of Mick's Twitter account. Retweeting things and replying to people. 

- Somehow over Twitter during the Mick Neven show, Jen was mixed up with a different "Jennifer Hansen" (same spelling), a Melbourne journalist who is married to Neighbours actor Alan Fletcher (aka Doctor Karl Kennedy). The confusion ended with the two chatting a lot over Twitter. This part of the story has an interesting twist later.

- Having been on a waiting list since September to be in the audience for "Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight", a popular TV show on the ABC, we got a call to attend a filming on the second last day of our trip. We showed up to the station, where a production assistant announced they're going to film a sketch starring comedian Jimeoin, and they wanted some of us to be in it! Jen and I raised our hands pretty quickly. While the episode we're in the audience for aired last night (there were a few very brief shots of us), the sketch we appeared in will air on next week's show (18/04/2012). 

- The Doctor Karl Kennedy twist was when the other Jennifer Hansen's husband Alan made a brief comedic cameo on the Adam Hills show, just a metre from where Jen was sitting. What a coincidence! All was discussed over Twitter afterwards and apparently Alan (who is not on Twitter) thought it was hilarious.

- Only hours before boarding a plane back to Brisbane, we had coffee with character actor Michael Davoren, who plays Basil Faulty in the "Faulty Towers Dining Experience" - That's not a typo. The original show is spelt Fawlty. Faulty is the tribute show. They travel all over the world with it! 

And that was our most recent trip to Melbourne in a nut shell. We didn't just visit. We got amongst it! Got involved! And got on TV! And Jen was famous Australia-wide on Twitter for one night! 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

My journey down Avenue Q: Could Puppetry Be My Purpose? - Part Four

A few rehearsals in, and the Brisbane Arts Theatre production of Broadway puppet musical, "Avenue Q" is shaping up to be a fantastic show! The first rehearsal was all about getting to know each other, and to go through a full script read. The cast sounded exactly like the original Broadway characters. It was unbelievable!

This is video #1 of what will become a small series of videos documenting the events which lead up to the opening night of the show:

My involvement in the show began as "Puppetry Consultant", where I was to simply teach the cast how to operate the puppets convincingly, and assist them throughout the rehearsals. 

Trekkie Monster and Nicky in Broadway's "Avenue Q"
However, to my delight, I was soon given the additional role of "2nd Hands Puppeteer". I will be assisting actor Kieran (seen in the video) with the puppetry of his two characters "Trekkie Monster" and "Nicky". For the most part, I will be operating the right hands of these characters while Kieran operates the mouth and left hand. In scenes where both characters are on stage at the same time, I will be puppeteering one or the other character wholly at various times throughout the show. I am also performing one of the singing postal boxes in one scene! Absolutely brilliant! I never imagined I'd ever get to be a stage puppeteer in Avenue Q someday!

In addition to that, I'm now a part of the singing ensemble. The harmonies in these songs sound amazing. It's really sounding spectacular!

Last week, I conducted my first ever puppet workshop, just teaching everybody the basics - lip sync, performing in tandem, eye focus, keeping the puppet at a fixed point (a sense of being grounded, of having weight), walking, hearing and reaction to sound, and "puppet vibrato" (a Jim Henson technique where a puppet is indulging in a moment of singing). The most important thing is to keep the puppets 'alive' at all times. Never must they flop to the side or float across the stage without a walking movement. 

I brought my own puppets, and the director brought some along too, as we haven't received the Avenue Q ones just yet. We went through some exercises and I showed some videos to demonstrate how these techniques are used in professional puppetry. 

One of the best examples I showed the cast was this Sesame Street parody of the show, "Glee". It has walking, it has great lip sync both in the talking and singing. The characters are very animated, with a lot of forward head movements to emphasise certain words. The "puppet vibrato" technique is used perfectly in this too. Watch as they sway their heads when singing, rather than simply open their mouths. It's a lot of fun for adults to watch while kids learn about the functions of the letter 'G'. The great thing about the Muppets is that they never talk down to kids. It's never too babyish. And there's always plenty of wit and humour for adults to enjoy.

This Easter long weekend, we'll be working with puppets further, and might even receive the Avenue Q characters! An exciting time for all involved! 

This production will feature a revolving set, a full band playing the music, video sequences throughout the show, and the cast will all have headset microphones, which is a first for the Brisbane Arts Theatre. Most shows don't have a full band playing, so this is necessary. And of course, most of the main cast are puppets! This will be the must-see show of the year in Brisbane! It's an honour to be a part of it!

There's a buzz about Avenue Q already. There's excitement in the air! Tickets are already selling, and fast! Here's where to book your seats! -- 
Ticket Request! AVENUE Q: June 2 - July 14 @ Brisbane Arts Theatre

Sunday, 11 March 2012

My journey down Avenue Q: Could Puppetry Be My Purpose? - Part Three

Tonight is the first night of my role as "Puppetry Consultant" in the Brisbane Arts Theatre production of Tony-Award Winning Broadway musical, "Avenue Q". The cast and crew will all be getting to know each other, and then doing a first read-through of the script. I have my introductory notes prepared, and I'm bringing a puppet along to demonstrate some of the key things I'll be teaching them over the course of the rehearsal period.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the audition, which eventually lead to my formal acceptance into the production team. I also promised to tell you about the "Puppets Vs. People" workshop I attended a few weekends ago.

"Puppets Vs. People" was an improvisational theatre workshop for the performers in the Impro Mafia Theatre Company. This is the group that I perform music (piano) for at the weekly "Speakeasy" shows. If you're familiar with TV shows like "Whose Line is it Anyway?" and "Thank God You're Here", you get a bit of an idea of the format. Actors improvising their way through scenes, games and songs.  

The workshop, and then the theatre performance that night, was conducted by Sydney-based director and puppeteer Jon Williams, who is the former Artistic Director of Sydney's Impro Australia. While I'm not a trained actor, I was encouraged to attend anyway, seeing as I'd been asked to be a part of Avenue Q. I felt that it was quite handy to be able to experience a puppet workshop prior to my role training people in puppetry. 

Kermit (and Jim Henson) with John Cleese
The idea of "Puppets Vs. People" is very much based on Jon's fascination with how well Jim Henson's Muppets interact with human actors on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show (and movies). The way the human actors are able to act with a straight face and treat the puppet characters as other living actors. The way the puppets can make eye contact with a human, and have a believable conversation or interaction with them. Puppets and people working together as equals. Later, at the theatre performance, the audience would decide at the end of each improvised scene whether the puppets win, or the people win (hence the "Vs"). 

Grover and Madeline Kahn
Sam the Eagle with Alice Cooper

Jon is also quite fond of the 
fact that The Muppets were/are not solely for children. People who avoided going to see the recent film, "The Muppets" for reasons such as, "I'm too old for that now" or "I don't have kids, so I don't have an excuse to see it" have missed the point entirely. Henson always strived to appeal to adults with his puppetry. The pilot episode of The Muppet Show was titled, "Sex and Violence", which couldn't be further from pre-school entertainment. And even on Sesame Street, an educational show for children, the Muppet segments were, and still are designed in such a way that parents could watch with their kids, and laugh at the clever pop-culture references and parodies that would go over the heads of kids. From Miami Vice, Columbo and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in the early years, through to 30 Rock, True Blood, CSI and Madmen today! 
Sesame Street Parodies: Miami Vice, Mad Men, Law & Order: SVU, True Blood

Parody of Bono's musical, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

Adults Only Puppets: Meet the Feebles, Crank Yankers, Wonder Showzen, Rubbery Figures
Puppetry for adults has of course been taken further into 'Adults only' territory with Peter Jackson's film, "Meet the Feebles" and TV shows like "Crank Yankers" and "Wonder Showzen". And in Australia, we had "Rubbery Figures" during the late 1980s - a series of short episodes (later incorporated into sketch comedy show "Fast Forward") featuring puppet caricatures of politicians. 

Puppets Vs. People Workshop
At the workshop, Jon had provided a selection of different puppets, and I brought my two monster puppets too, which we all shared. The focus at this workshop was more on the Muppet/Hand puppet with moving mouth style, rather than marionettes.

The first exercise we went through was an interrogation scene, where the group split into pairs. One person would be seated with a puppet to perform, while the other (standing) would play the human who is interrogating the puppet. The puppet wasn't allowed to speak at this stage. We were concentrating on keeping the head up and the eyes following the human as he/she walked around, accusing the puppet of a crime. Everyone had a chance to play both roles, and change partners. 

Seeing what kind of emotions we could get out of the puppets was another exercise. From saying things to provoke a response, to simply demanding an emotion of the puppet - happy, surprised, shy, annoyed, depressed, etc. It's all about how you manipulate the mouth and head, and the whole body really. Simply having a puppet sit still and open its mouth occasionally just shows how fake and inanimate it is. The trick is to give the illusion that this inanimate object is a real, living, breathing character. Head tilts, mouth movements, arm movements. Jim Henson spent his life convincing the world that his Muppets were real. The Henson team continue to do this today. 

We did an exercise where the person had to show the puppet around the room. The puppet was to interact with its surroundings. Touch things, pick things up, do something naughty like knock over a chair or climb into the microwave and be scolded by the person showing them around. 

Then the puppets had to seek attention from the person, by annoying them while they were trying to read or watch TV. The person had to react as though they were a parent telling their child to behave, and the puppet would react accordingly.

Physical interactions between people and puppets came next, where the puppets actually got into fights with people. Strangling, slapping, kicking and wrestling. 

And then the puppet had to become a super villain and use its powers against the human superhero, and vice versa. 

Next came the operation of one puppet by two people. One person operating the mouth, while the other made the arms and legs move. Floating in space, swimming, etc.

Puppets Vs. People
Then we had puppets interacting with each other. Eye contact and lip sync was looked at. Opening your hand outwards to operate the puppet's mouth, and doing this simultaneously with your own mouth performing the voice of the puppet.  

Finally, we all sat down and faced the front for an end of workshop performance. Two people at a time would voluntarily come to the front to perform a scene with a human character and a puppet character. Jon would tell us what the scene was and we would improvise it. Scenes included prisoners sharing a cell, a sleazy boss at work, a doctor performing an unconventional check up, a vampire showing a girl around his castle, and a mafia goon bringing news of his failure to the big mob boss.

Jon casted people from the workshop to perform in the "Puppets Vs. People" show at the Brisbane Arts Theatre that night. As the show's focus was on experienced improvisational actors who had learnt puppetry in a day, I was not cast in the show. However my two puppets were.

Puppets Vs. People
It was a fun filled evening of very funny scenes and songs. There was a scene set during the Crusades, a scene set in the Vietnam war, a hospital scene, an audience volunteer being serenaded by puppets, and a wonderful 'rock opera' about gardeners at war with plumbers.

Avenue Q - Australian Touring Cast 2009/10

After learning of my role in the Avenue Q production team, I got in contact with Sue Giles (artistic director of Polygot children's theatre company in Melbourne) who held the same position of "Puppetry Consultant" in the Australian touring cast of Avenue Q in 2009-2010 to see if she had any tips from her time with the show. She sent me some really good 'puppet direction notes' for me to use. 

So with these notes, along with what I learned at the workshop, and my own knowledge, I am now ready to start work on this amazing production! The journey down Avenue Q begins! 

Oh, and by the way - Kate from Impro Mafia made this amazing cake for me, which we all shared after last week's "Speakeasy" show. 

And then this happened... 

Monday, 27 February 2012

My journey down Avenue Q: Could Puppetry Be My Purpose? - Part Two

 In part one, I talked about my three lifelong pursuits: Cartooning/Animation, Music, and Puppetry. I talked a bit about my background in puppetry, and left you with a cliffhanger ending: What happened at the big "Avenue Q" audition? And what events unfolded since?

Two weekends ago, I attended the "Male Puppet Roles" audition for a local production of Tony Award winning Broadway Musical, "Avenue Q". 

I've never really acted before, except for a few plays in school. And I was awful. Terrible at learning and remembering lines, and then being able to convincingly act them out. And, even though I'm a musician, I'm not much of a singer. Maybe it's just a confidence thing. But either way, I don't like singing.

BUT I've done plenty of voice acting for animation - both for my own films and for other people's animated films. I have always loved doing silly voices. And grew up recording comedy sketches and silly radio plays on tape. This is the kind of acting I feel confident with. And singing in a silly puppet voice is also more comfortable to me than singing in my own voice. That confidence of becoming someone else. Is it called masking? Maybe it's just called acting. But if I'm performing a character that is not physically me - like a puppet, or a cartoon character's voice - then I seem to do pretty well. And these skills, along with my puppetry skills, were what gave me the confidence to audition for a musical. A musical of all things! I would never have done this had it not been for the fact that puppets are in it. 

So I turned up to the dance studio where the audition was being held with one of my monster puppets. I was surprisingly calm, considering this was my first ever theatre audition. But I think it was having the puppet with me that gave me the confidence. I knew what I could bring to this, and figured I'd show them just what I could do. 

As requested prior to the audition, I had practised two songs in puppet voice. One chosen piece ("Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear" by Randy Newman) and one set piece, which everyone had to learn ("Movin' Right Along" by Paul Williams, from "The Muppet Movie"). Sheet music was provided for the set piece, and we had to acquire the sheet music for our chosen pieces. 

After signing a form and filling out a questionnaire, the audition started with the entire group of about 17 or 18 auditionees all lining up in the studio, and all singing "Movin' Right Along" together, with the accompaniment of a pianist. So far, so good. A great warm up for us all. 

Then we all sat in a waiting room and got to know each other. A really nice bunch of guys. We discussed Avenue Q, puppetry, musicals, Sesame Street and the Muppets. We practised some puppetry. Another monster puppet like mine was provided for people to use. Others brought along their own puppets too, including a penguin, a pirate and various socks with googly eyes. Most people had never worked with puppets, but were confident in their singing and acting ability. I was the opposite. 

The director and musical director called everyone in one by one to perform the two songs. We were encouraged to sing the set piece in the voices of our favourite Avenue Q characters or Muppets, and then sing the chosen piece as ourselves. Many went in without a puppet and showcased what they were good at. They were fantastic singers! But I felt like I needed to show them straight up where I was coming from. 

I sung my chosen piece (Simon Smith) in a puppet voice, while operating the puppet. They had a great laugh and applauded at the end. Then, they asked me to sing it again as myself. Uh oh... I got through a few lines, and then they asked me to stop. And I was glad to. 

I was able to redeem myself by singing, "Movin' Right Along" half in a Kermit the Frog voice (which sounds like the character of Nicky in Avenue Q), and half in a Cookie Monster voice (which sounds like the character of Trekkie Monster in Avenue Q). I was hoping to get the roles of Nicky and Trekkie because they are the most Muppet-like characters in the show, who have a lot of funny lines, and not as many emotional and dramatic scenes as some of the other characters. 

"Emotional and dramatic?", you ask. "In a show with puppets?" Yes! You would be surprised. While Avenue Q is full of laughs, there are some moving scenes. These characters are capable of being just as powerful as the human characters in any other play or musical. It's a very good story. And remember, this show won numerous awards. In 2004, "Avenue Q" won the Tony Award for Best Musical, BEATING popular favourite, "Wicked"! 

After again impressing them with my puppet voices and puppetry, I received more laughter and applause, and was asked to do one more thing before leaving the room - "Can you speak in a Kermit the Frog voice?" And so as my final hoorah, I said, "Hi Ho, Kermit the Frog here!" in my best Kermit voice. They loved it, and I left the room on a high note. 

We were all required to stick around for more. They had said to allow up to three hours for the whole process. So I went back to the waiting room with everyone else and continued chatting until everyone was done with their separate auditions. 

Next, we all had to go into the studio again and we learnt some choreography. Lots of fast paced steps back and fourth, arm movements, spins, turns, and linking arms, all to the tune of "Movin' Right Along". Every phrase within each sentence of lyrics featured a different action. We learnt the moves together. Then we had to sing while dancing. Then partner up and showcase what we'd learnt, one 'couple' at a time. I have two left feet. I couldn't keep up. I was hopping and tripping around, turning the wrong way, and royally screwing up the routine. 

Then it was time for a group puppetry session. My time to shine again. We all lined up in a single line in front of the wall mirror, and the director watched how we all handled singing while moving the puppets mouths in sync with our own mouths. I felt great about how I did. And clearly, they were impressed too. This was followed by having two puppets sing to each other, making sure they had good eye contact with each other. And then we did that choreographed dance sequence again, while singing, and puppeteering. Could you spin, jump and skip around the room while singing in key and operating a puppet that moves its mouth perfectly in sync, and maintains the illusion of being completely 'alive'? Not many people can, but this is the challenge of the Avenue Q performer. And if you can imagine it, I was tripping around like a fool, but my puppet was more co-ordinated than me. 

After the audition, the director told us to keep a look out for a phone call or email before Wednesday. Wednesday night was going to be the "callback", which I learned was a follow up audition for those who the director felt had the best potential to be a cast member. At the end of it, we all wished each other good luck. And went on our way. 

Monday came and went, Tuesday as well. By Wednesday, I was anxious. On one hand, I felt that it didn't matter too much if I didn't get into the show, because Jen and I already had tickets to the Melbourne Comedy Festival during the time of the rehearsals. If I was cast in the show, I would be required to stay in Brisbane to attend all rehearsals. So Jen's Mum was prepared to take my place on the non-refundable trip to Melbourne. But I still had that hope. I kept playing the audition through in my head, over and over. I remembered how well I did with the puppetry, but how terrible I did with the choreography and singing in my own voice. I thought that surely, my puppet voices would've been more important, considering I was auditioning for puppet roles. And I felt that if I wasn't going to get a lead role, perhaps I would be able to perform one of the "Bad Idea Bear" characters or perhaps another background puppet role. But Wednesday ended, and I heard nothing.

I was feeling a bit down in the dumps on Thursday. I knew that I would continue to support, promote and attend the show, regardless of whether I was in it or not. Part of me was happy to be going to Melbourne. But then, there was that element of disappointment too. I figured that if I hadn't heard anything by Wednesday, it meant that I wasn't going to be a part of this amazing show. Yet there was still a glimmer of hope that maybe I'd hear something by the end of the week. According to "Yahoo Answers", not getting a callback usually means not getting a lead/main cast role. But it doesn't necessarily mean you won't get in at all. This kept me hopeful that I might still hear something.

On Friday morning, I commenced work as usual. And then a mysterious mobile number appeared on my phone at around 10:30am. Without hesitation, I answered in probably my most confident and professional manner ever. Sure enough, what I heard next was, "Hi Brett, it's Miranda from Avenue Q". At this point, I think my heart stopped for a moment. But instantly, I prepared myself for whatever the purpose of her call was going to be. I knew I would take it well whatever the outcome. 

She proceeded to tell me that unfortunately, she could not offer me a role in the cast of the show. I was relieved just to know officially what was happening. And I replied with, "Oh that's ok", like it was nothing. But she was pretty quick to back that statement up with reasons that were both expected and unexpected. As I'd predicted, the cast were selected based on their singing, acting and dancing/choreography abilities. However, she pointed out that none of them were very good with the puppets. She told me that I, on the other hand, stood out as the best puppeteer who clearly has a lot of experience and skill. I thanked her for this compliment, and wondered where this might be going. 

"As I don't know a thing about puppets either", she said, "I would like to ask you if you would be happy to work alongside me as the show's Puppetry Consultant". I was both shocked and extremely happy at the same time! She explained that my job would be to assist and train the cast in working the puppets, and making sure they learn to operate them as confidently and as convincingly as I did at the audition. And perhaps even run an intensive puppet workshop at some point during the rehearsal period. 

Wow! I was thrilled. I accepted the offer with honour. I knew I had something I could bring to this show. While I wasn't sure how my singing, acting and dancing would be, I knew that I had to try to get into this show as a puppeteer. I would regret it forever if I didn't at least try. Taking that plunge, and going for that audition landed me in a position of high importance. Many talented people didn't make the cut. So I feel very privileged to be involved in this amazing show. 

I won't be learning lines, and performing them in the spotlight. But I will still be able to work with the puppets (which is what I wanted all along), and turn that cast into a group of talented puppeteers. I've seen "Avenue Q" twice, and studied the movement of these puppets via YouTube hundreds of times. 

I cannot wait to bring to this production my passion for believable, convincing puppetry, like the work of my hero, the late Jim Henson and his team from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and numerous films. This is going to be an exciting year!

The puppet adventures continue in Part 3! Last weekend, I attended a puppet workshop called, "Puppets Vs. People". I'll tell you all about it in my next blog post!