“Avenue Q” summer staging included university talent

The New Hazlett Theater housed the “Sesame Street” parody

Written By Matt Petras, Co-Features Editor

Alumni Theater Company’s (ATC) July 28-29 rendition of “Avenue Q”  was a raunchy parody of “Sesame Street,” puppets and all, steeped in the existential dread of becoming an adult. In other words, it was perfect subject matter for college students to chew on.

The musical at the New Hazlett Theater in Oakland included several university talents, one a recent graduate, one a current student and one a frequent musical director for Point Park Conservatory shows.

“I think it was good,” Shakara Wright, a senior acting student who played two roles in the musical said. “We did what we were trying to do.”

There were a few subplots, but the musical’s main storyline followed Princeton – played by 2017 graduate Shae Wofford – moving into Avenue Q and figuring out what he wants to do with his life. Throughout the musical, the performers broke into song and dance for such musical numbers as “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?”, “It Sucks to Be Me,” “There is Life Outside Your Apartment,” and “I Wish I Could Go Back To College.”

Wright primarily played Lucy, a promiscuous erotic night club singer who attempts to woo Princeton throughout the musical, though she also played Bad Idea Bear: think the atypical naughty influence on one side of a cartoon character’s shoulder.

There were some alterations for this version, including small changes like calling “Lucy the Slut” just Lucy as well as big changes like the addition of an all-black cast.

Wofford and Wright dressed in plain black clothing, because they weren’t really the center of attention so much as their puppets were. Cheryl Capezzuti, a prominent puppet-maker in Pittsburgh, created puppets based on the actors’ appearances for use in the musical.

“Oh my gosh,” Wright remembers thinking when she first saw her puppet. “She kind of looks like me. She is like a general idea of what I look like.”

“When I first saw it I was interested in what it took to make the puppet,” Wofford said.

Neither of them had ever acted with puppets before, and they both soon realized there are specific challenges to that type of performance. Wofford watched some videos online to help get a grip on the unique kind of acting, he said.

“I have better muscles now, I’m sure,” Wright said.

One of the two music directors for ATC’s “Avenue Q” was Camille Rolla, along with Joe Serafini. Rolla provided musical accompaniment during rehearsals and coordinated music for the show, and has made similar contributions to several Point Park Conservatory shows.

“I thought it was great, [ATC] is an amazing program,” Rolla said in a phone interview. “Those kids are so talented, I just had a blast. Especially since that group has worked together for years. Some of those people, especially the young adults, have been working together since middle school or high school.”

Wofford has been with ATC for 5 years, since the summer before his senior year of high school, and Wright is a founding member. She has been with the group since 2008, which was when she was in 7th grade.

“ATC is like a family,” Wright said.