(Last Updated On: August 9, 2013)

It took puppets in “Avenue Q,” which is playing at the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre right now, to help me realize my quarter-life crisis at 25 wasn’t terribly abnormal.

Yes, I spent my 25th birthday mostly in bed, lamenting the fact that any life I’d ever dreamt of as a competitive athlete (specifically, a figure skater) was definitely over.

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Gary Coleman represents the washed-up actor — and plays the superintendent — in ‘Avenue Q.’

As a recent college graduate with a B.A. in English — just like some of the characters in “Avenue Q” — I had surpassed that wide-eyed, hopeful “I’m going to be special and make a difference in the word” phase, with a flash of a tassel, and at that point, my worries and experiences mirrored the puppets’ main dilemma: “What is my purpose in life?”

The theme sounds heavy, but “Avenue Q” marvelously takes a poignant life question and turns it in to a series of hysterical scenes and scenarios, from serious relationships and one-night stands to careers (or lack thereof), sexual identity and even racial tension.

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The cast of ‘Avenue Q’ get psyched before the show.

“Avenue Q” is billed as “Sesame Street” meets “South Park,” and it’s a definitely more adult-oriented “South Park” than Big Bird and his buddies; don’t bring the kids to this one. I literally laughed (not just chuckled) through nearly the entire show, from dialogue between washed-up, child-actor Gary Coleman (who happens to be the superintendent) to occasional songs like “It Sucks to Be Me” and “The Internet is for Porn.”

Behind the scenes

Using large, heavy puppets is a new challenge for the Backstage. Behind the stage hang not only the puppet characters, but also multiple versions of them. The show moves so quickly that there’s no time to change the puppet’s clothing; as a result the main puppet, Princeton, has about 10 versions of himself partially dressed, as well as nude (for a  comical love scene).

Puppets hang backstage at the theater.

Puppets hang backstage at the theater.

The seven actors took special puppetry training. They worked first with their own gestures and facial expressions, then transferred them onto the puppets, moving the felt creatures’ mouths and arms just enough to make the main characters more human, but not enough to render a mockery of the method. Artistic director Christopher Willard also had to figure out new lighting techniques and moving doors that slide, hinge or act as shadow boxes for both the puppets and humans because he wanted to pattern the show very closely to the one on Broadway.

“It’s such a smart show,” Willard said. “It’s something when 20-somethings hit the real world and the lessons from ‘Sesame Street’ don’t apply.”

And as far as Gary Coleman, he comments: “Who better to represent when your life doesn’t go the way you planned but a failed child star.”

Human actors bring the puppets to life not through overhead strings, but by being on stage with them, which adds an even richer component — a kind of symbiosis — to the show; whatever the puppet does, the actor mimics, and vice versa. And, of the seven actors, some (just like “Sesame Street”) play humans the whole time. Those actors who bring the puppets to life finish the show literally shaking from fatigued muscles and wrists because the puppets are so heavy, said Carolyn Lohr, who plays both a love-sick college grad and the vampy Lucy who tries to steal her man.

Actors work hard with the heavy puppets in 'Avenue Q.'

Actors work hard with the heavy puppets in ‘Avenue Q.’

Get there

Last Sunday (June 30), the majority of the audience was well over 20 — more like 50s and 60s — and they roared with laughter, perhaps because they’ve struggled with obsessing with their “purpose,” let go, then maybe even revisited it again and again: It’s kind of a universal theme, and it’s appropriate for any adult, say, over 18 or 19.

The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre has been selling out its 100-seat capacity, so make your reservation before the show closes July 14. Tickets range from $20-25, and the production runs on weekends.

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About The Author

Kimberly Nicoletti always knew she was meant to escape gray Chicago winters and spend her days skiing the Colorado Rockies. So, two months after she turned 18, she moved to Breckenridge to be a ski bum "for a season," assuring her parent's she'd return to Illinois to finish college. But, the ski bum life stuck. After three years of full-time skiing in Summit County, she decided to finish her degree at CU-Boulder in Creative Writing (granted, she took a semester off to ski). Once free of classes, she took yet another year off to ski in Summit (do you see a pattern here?). Then, she moved back to Boulder to earn her master's degree in Somatic Psychology/Dance Therapy. Upon graduation, she spent a winter teaching skiing at Mammoth Mountain. (Surely you see the pattern now.) In 2002, she moved back to Summit full time, to work at the Summit Daily as the arts and entertainment editor. She stayed with the company for 10 years, enjoying Summit's great events and later working as the managing editor of magazines covering the High Country. She still revolves her life around adventure and creativity, taking time to travel, ski, paddleboard, dance, ice skate, play with her dogs, learn new things and generally enjoy life. She's highly addicted to powder skiing and keeps her winter mornings commitment-free so she can indulge in "deep play" when Mother Nature cooperates. Off the mountain, she's a freelance writer and editor and teaches fitness and mind/body classes throughout Summit County.

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