Created in 2014, Carpe Diem Emmie is a Midlands based Lifestyle, Theatre and Travel blog. Ran by Emmie, a 28 year old woman based in rural Leicestershire.

In the day Emmie works in a primary school where she is passionate about inclusion and mental health. In the evening she escapes to the cultural world.

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INTERVIEW | Oliver Stanley discusses the outrageously fun musical, Avenue Q.

1 Garrick Walk, Leicester LE1 3AF, UK
The newly refurbished Leicester Haymarket Theatre is thrilled to be welcoming Avenue Q to their theatre during their UK Tour this Spring. The outrageous musical took to the stage on Broadway in 2003 and soon enough it won the TONY "Triple Crown" for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. Within the new tour cast is Oliver Stanley (Brian) who I got to chat with about Avenue Q. He is a Leicester native who has "fantastic memories of going to this theatre to see shows when I was younger. It will be pretty special standing on the stage. And I know Leicester audiences are always up for a laugh and will really enter into the spirit of it!" 

For those unaware of the context of this show "essentially it is a journey of self-discovery for Princeton, a university graduate who wonders what he's going to do with his newly gained BA in English, and - ultimately - his life!" explains Oliver, "After searching some of New York's more pleasant neighbourhoods for somewhere to live, his small budget brings him all the way down to Avenue Q, where he meets a host of lively characters who become his new neighbours. Once settled into his new home, the story follows the relationships he forms as he searches for his purpose in life. So far, so normal.."

But as Oliver explains he suspects most people know this musical from its iconic puppets "- and the adult content!" Avenue Q has the classic Broadway traditions for a cracking musical with the big show tunes, hummable melodies, and a live band, the show is also a parody and homage to TV shows such as Sesame Street and The Muppets. As Oliver does explain to me "Although it has no official affiliation to those shows, it draws a lot of inspiration from them. Where Sesame Street teaches children some core values and life lessons in a fun and colourful way, Avenue Q tries to do the same for adults". 

The show has gained quite a loyal audience since it first appeared on stage over sixteen years ago and has almost gained a "certain cult status among theatre fans". "We have people visiting us at Stage Door who have seen the show dozen of times. Some even bring their own puppets!" So what does Oliver think Avenue Q has that encourages its audiences to visit over and over again? "I think at the heart of it the story is fairly timeless, which means the appeal to audiences is quite broad. We attract all ages and walks of life. It’s also incredibly well-written. Before it ever got close to Broadway or the West End, it was in development for years, which means it really is a slick piece. There’s not a note or lyric that doesn’t belong there."

In Avenue Q, Oliver Stanley takes on the role of Brian. His character is, in fact, one of three human/non-puppet characters in this show, along with his fiancee Christmas Eve, and grown-up child TV star Gary Coleman. "He has a bit more life experience than Princeton, having left university ten years ago, but his dreams haven’t really materialised in the way he expected. He has a big heart, and beneath his comedic persona has an encouraging and nurturing personality. I think if he were an animal, he’d be a Golden Retriever: loving, endlessly loyal, quite chilled out, and an easy temperament. It might seem odd to compare a person to an animal, but it’s something actors sometimes do in their approach to working on a character, so you’ll have to forgive me that particular oddity!" Oliver goes on to explain that "ultimately Brian is a steady and predictable kind of guy, and a good friend to those around him. He’s the kind of guy who’d come to your gig, even if it was miles away and really expensive. (And even if you were sh*t.)"

This production has a lot of puppets in it and what a challenge for the "human" characters like Oliver Stanley. "Working with puppets is a unique challenge!" Oliver goes on to discuss the challenges of this with me; "Of course, the puppeteers have a very hard job. Physically the show is very demanding, and they’re often voicing multiple characters. As a human character, I’m lucky that I get to play the same person throughout. But as an actor, so much of your performance is about the connection to your fellow actors on stage, and much of that comes through eye contact and almost imperceptible physical movements."

"In Avenue Q, the challenge is to avoid looking at the actor manipulating the puppet, which means you’ve lost a lot of that visual connection. You’re essentially acting alongside a very impressive piece of needlework! As a result, you have to listen a lot harder to the delivery of other actors’ lines to gauge your own delivery and acting choices. I’ve never relied on my hearing and peripheral vision more in a job!"
Although the puppetry is obviously a challenge, there are challenges associated with touring a large show for such a long time. "In total, there are about forty people involved with Avenue Q, including actors, musicians, creatives, producers, crew (and many more). Not all of these people tour with the show, but most do." Another challenge is being an actor during a tour, "we barely set foot in a city before we have to move on to the next venue".

Oliver says that his favourite part of the show is "how popular the show is. Night after night, we have audiences laughing for a solid two hours, and that feels fantastic! There’s nothing worse than turning up to work if you know the audience aren’t on your side. But with Avenue Q we feel so supported wherever we go."

Being a fan of the show himself I wondered whether Oliver had a dream role in the show (if he wasn't nailing it as Brian!) "As a teenager, I dreamed of playing Princeton/Rod. Ten or more years on I'd be more interested in having a go at Trekkie/Nicky. But actually, I'm probably my happiest playing Brian. I never thought I would play this part, but getting the job has meant I’ve really grown to love him. Every night I get to walk in his shoes, and he’s a pretty great guy!"

The show does express some risque subject matter and Oliver believes people "see the show out of curiosity! Obviously some people will know from the adult content warnings that it’s really not their type of thing, but generally, we get very large audiences and a fantastic reception so we must be doing something right!"

So why should you purchase your tickets to see Avenue Q during its tour?

"As with all theatre, styles and trends go in an out of fashion. So you never know when you might next have the opportunity to see something. I think Avenue Q will be popular for many years to come, but who knows?! So see it while you can!"

"Also - on a personal note, Leicester’s my home city and I’d like as much local support as possible. Come along and show the Avenue Q cast how great a Leicester audience can be! And don’t be afraid to come and find us at Stage Door after the show. We’re always happy to sign a programme and meet fans of the show! See you there!"

You can see Avenue Q perform at Leicester Haymarket Theatre between 21-25 May. Book your tickets here.


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