Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview Theatre Interview

David Hutchinson and Sam Lupton: Sell A Door’s Avenue Q

By | Published on Friday 18 April 2014

I’ve long been a fan of touring company Sell A Door and their commitment to creating shows designed to attract teenagers and young adults to the theatre. With productions of the likes of ‘Spring Awakening’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Seussical’ under their belts, they’ve now turned their attention to that satirical Sesame Street inspired contemporary classic, award winning Broadway and West End smash hit ‘Avenue Q’.

The show begins an 18 night residency at Greenwich Theatre later this month, before striking out on an extensive national tour. I sent some questions over to David Hutchinson, Sell A Door’s artistic director, and Sam Lupton, puppetry coach, ahead of the London run.

CM: What made you decide to stage a production of Avenue Q?
DH: I saw the original production on Broadway and absolutely loved it. It’s got something for everyone, and as much as it is outrageously funny, it also stands up as a very well written musical. It’s enjoyed real success on Broadway and the West End, yet hasn’t visited some of the fantastic mid and large scale venues we are touring to this summer. We are delighted to be revisiting a number of our regular partner venues including the Buxton Opera House, Poole Lighthouse, Blackpool Grand and Greenwich Theatre in London, along with a host of new venues.

CM: Has this production adapted the original stage show, or is it the same version?
DH: It is the same version and hasn’t been adapted (it doesn’t need to be); however, it has a fantastic new creative team led by the amazing Cressida Carré, who has previously worked with Sell A Door on productions including our 2011 UK tour of ‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘Seussical’ at the Arts Theatre in the West End in 2012. We can’t wait to see what Cressida and the team do with our production when we open the show at the Greenwich Theatre on 23rd April.

CM: Is it a challenge putting puppets and puppeteers on stage alongside the actors? Are puppets easier to work with than children or animals?
SL: For most actors in Avenue Q, they are learning a brand new skill. This show requires not just triple threat performers, but quadruple threat! They need to sing, dance, act and bring a piece of felt to life. At first, the puppets feel very odd to work with, but throughout rehearsal they become part of the actor, and it feels as if they have been doing it for ever. When I performed in the show, I wondered how I could ever act again without a puppet, what would I do with my hands?!?

Puppets don’t have the ‘toilet problems’ that may come with animals or children, but they do have their own set of challenges. There is one person backstage who is dedicated to keeping the puppets maintained, safe, clean and happy. They are well looked after, but everybody needs training in how to safely handle them to make sure they remain in top notch condition for a long tour.

CM: Sell A Door’s work is mostly aimed at teens and young adults. But Avenue Q is a bit rude, isn’t it? What age group would you say this is okay for?
DH: Sell a Door produce a lot of work for young adults, and whilst we recommend 14+ for this one – it still falls within our bracket of 16 to 25 year olds. We tour a lot of work that crosses into the curriculum in England and Scotland including recent tours of ‘Kidnapped’, ‘Lord of the Flies’ and Orwell’s ‘1984’, but also tour slightly more edgy new work including ‘Spring Awakening’. ‘Avenue Q’ is fantastic for Sell a Door, as it’s a great musical to engage regular audiences and new audiences alike, and is promoting the work our company do on a large scale with a big geographic spread across the UK and Ireland.

CM: I know it’s mainly supposed to be funny, but do you think the show also has useful messages?
SL: This show has more heart than a lot of musicals today. The essence of the show is all about friendship. How our friends help us through life, how they teach us everything we need to know along the way, and support us when times get tough. The characters that live on Avenue Q learn about what it means to be an adult, how to deal with unrequited love and finding your purpose in life. Programmes like ‘Sesame Street’ taught us our ABCs and 123s; ‘Avenue Q’ teaches adults everything they didn’t teach you at uni. And you’re right, it is hilarious, because it’s an honest story about real character, they just happen to be made of felt!

CM: What are the aims and ambitions of Sell A Door? How do you try and make your theatre accessible to a younger generation? What do you think theatre practitioners can do generally to attract younger people to this art-form, especially in the light of so much media competition from TV, cinema, the internet?
DH: A huge part of the work we do at Sell A Door is to tour work to theatres and areas of the UK which are developing an audience for live theatre, and work closely with theatres to engage new audiences. A crucial part of the reason we tour our work is because we want to attract new audiences to the theatre, and we do this by looking more closely at what appeals to young people and seeing a night at the theatre as more of ‘an event’. We throw a lot of ‘night at the theatre events’, giving young people an experience of not just what goes on stage, but what happens behind the scenes – as well as tying up live entertainment with dinner deals, ceilidh nights (for our Scottish titles) and other events to make the theatre a destination for young people.

What’s next for Sell A Door?
DH: We’ve got a really exciting autumn season coming up kicking off with ‘Sunset Song’, a co-production with our Scottish associate theatre the Beacon Arts Centre which plays the Glasgow Kings, Edinburgh Kings, Dundee Rep, Inverness Eden Court and MacRobert, amongst other venues. We are also touring ‘The Merchant of Venice’ across the UK in the Spring. And then next year we’ve got some big titles up our sleeve, including our first international dates for two musicals which will be playing out in Hong Kong. A really exciting time for us and we can’t wait to bring ‘Avenue Q’ out to tour this summer!

ORIGINAL RUN: Sell A Door’s production of ‘Avenue Q’ is on at Greenwich Theatre from 23 Apr until 11 May. See the venue website for more information and to book tickets. 

SECOND RUN: Sell A Door’s ‘Avenue Q’ is on at the New Wimbledon Theatre from 26-30 Aug. Details and tickets here.