The power of the puppet

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The power of theatre can be undeniable.  But the power of the puppet?  For actor Tim Kornblum, who plays Brian in the current touring production of Avenue Q, which plays Vancouver in February, that power is very real.

Kornblum’s not only living his dream of being part of Avenue Q, he also credits it as part of his own coming out story.

Avenue Q had a direct influence on my own coming out,” said Kornblum.  “When I saw the show, people had just started to find out I was gay.  I was able to find the peace in my own life by connecting with the characters that I saw on stage.  It is definitely a very personal story for me”.

Even now that personal connection to Avenue Q continues for Kornblum.  Asked if he was currently attached, he confessed that he had just recently broken up with someone after a five and a half year relationship.

“It’s definitely hard,” he said.  “But I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason and I can use the show as part of my healing process and help me to figure things out.”

Kornblum’s journey to the street of puppets started back in 2006 when he was 17 years old and saw Avenue Q for the very first time.  Not only did the show have a profound effect on his life as a gay man, he knew after that very first viewing that he would one day be part of the show himself.

Participating in open auditions in New York, Kornblum says that he originally tried to cover as many bases as he could, not wanting to limit himself to a single character.

“For the auditions I did dress much like Brian would dress, but that is also how I normally dress,” he laughed.  “I also did both the Rod and Nicky voices.  After a number of call backs I finally landed the role of Brian.  The rest, they say, is history”.

Tim Kornblum in Avenue Q
Tim Kornblum, Kate Monster, Jacqueline Grabois in the Avenue Q National Tour. Photo by John Daughtry.

But all seriousness aside, one can’t lose sight that while Avenue Q touches on some pretty serious subjects, it is all done with a great deal of humour.  After all, this is a show populated by puppets  who sing songs like “The Internet Is for Porn”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and even Kornblum’s character gets a little ditty called “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today”.

Avenue Q tells its story of Princeton, a college grad who moves to New York City through a cast of people and puppets. Playing one of only three human characters in the show, a stand-up comic named Brian, Kornblum admits he has never done stand-up himself and isn’t sure he would make much of stand-up comedian as he says he is “not good at planning things”.  But he does credit his parents for exposing him to a wide variety of comedy.

As for acting to a bunch of puppets, Kornblum says that the puppets are so life-like and the actors so talented that they make it very easy:  “the only real difference in acting in Avenue Q is that he look at the puppets instead of the puppeteers”.

Having just seen the current tour extended through April (it was originally scheduled to end in March), Kornblum is looking towards the future with one of his first tasks to complete the independent film “Repetition of Change”, a dark comedy about the underbelly of psycho-pharmaceuticals and corrupt doctors, that was put on the backburner when the tour started.  He may also go back to finish college, something else that was put on hold when the opportunity in Avenue Q came about for him.

As our conversation came to an end so he could get ready for a matinee performance in Anchorage, I couldn’t resist asking him about Rod (one of the puppet characters in the show) and whether Rod was looking forward to seeing his girlfriend Alberta while in Vancouver.

“Absolutey,” said Kornblum as seriously as he could.  “As a matter of fact I was just talking with him and he was jumping for joy and sounding like a little school girl”.

Perhaps a little enigmatic to end a show about puppets especially for those that haven’t seen Avenue Q, but I’m not about to ruin the surprise.  You’ll have go and find out for yourself.

Avenue Q
The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts
1 – 5 February 2011

Tickets are $48 – $73 and are available online.

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