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A unique Fall 2017 course, taught by WIU Costume Shop Manager Rebel Mickelson, created all of the rehearsal and final production puppets for the upcoming staging of "Avenue Q," by the WIU Department of Theatre and Dance.
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WIU senior theatre major Katie Ferguson, of Cedar Rapids, IA works with one of the class puppets.
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The 11 students in the class spent the semester learning how to create hand and rod puppets.
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WIU senior theatre major Sonja Nelson, of Macomb, does some close-up work with one of the dyed fleece puppet creations.
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WIU Course Collaborates with Theatre and Dance Production of 'Avenue Q'

February 2, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – A unique collaboration between a Western Illinois University art course and an upcoming University theatrical production has resulted in the classroom creation of the more than 25 puppets needed to stage the April musical.

The WIU Department of Theatre and Dance will stage "Avenue Q," described as an "adult Sesame Street," Wednesday-Sunday, April 4-8 in Hainline Theatre. The April 4-7 productions begin at 7:30 p.m. and the April 8 matinee begins at 2 p.m.

The production uses 26-28 hand and rod puppets that were handmade by the 11 theatre students in Faculty Assistant Rebel Mickelson's Fall 2017 puppetry class. Mickelson is also the manager of the University's costume shop.

When interviewing to work at Western about one year ago, Mickelson said she told University administrators she had experience in making puppets.

"They asked about special skills, and I said 'I can do puppets'," she said. "It's not really a costume skill, but I learned basic puppetry in graduate school and have been to a national puppet festival that taught me advanced techniques."

During the summer, Mickelson began planning the Fall 2017 class, which would produce the dyed fleece puppets for the production. Students began to learn about the hand and rod puppets and created both the puppets for the musical's rehearsals and those needed for the final production.

"This was a specialty class for the production, but we will see how interest builds after this class," said Mickelson.

Mickelson began the class teaching how to create a simple puppet, then built on what students learned in class, which met for one hour three times each week.

"It was a large class, so we needed to make sure everyone was on the same page, with all of their questions answered the best I could," she said. "I wanted them to understand the basics first and have more time to grasp the concepts."

Students made 13 of final puppets for "Avenue Q" and others are in various stages of completion. Mickelson said several students from last semester's class are coming in on their own time to help complete the final production pieces.

Some of the puppet characters have more than one puppet persona and some take two people to operate. Mickelson and a team of graduate students are also in the process of making the puppet clothes for the final production after the outfits were chosen by the production's costume designer.

"Avenue Q" has a cast of three live actors and 11 character puppets and the production was cast about one week ago. Despite its "Sesame Street" comparison, the show is not recommended for younger ages. The Tony Award-winning musical played on Broadway for six years.

The production, directed by Theatre and Dance Professor DC Wright, will be performed in WIU's Hainline Theatre.

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Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Relations