Anika Larsen (with Kate Monster) in Avenue Q
If people address me as Lucy when I am Kate, my feelings will get hurt, and if they address me as Kate when I am Lucy, their feelings will get hurt.
About the author:
Anika Larsen took up residence on Broadway’s Avenue Q on July 6, but the actress is no stranger to the Q neighborhood. Larsen spent a good deal of last year on the road in the Tony-winning musical about puppets in search of love and a purpose. Larsen’s purpose is clearly entertaining—as she has proven with a long list of credits, including Xanadu, All Shook Up, Rent, Zanna, Don’t!, How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes and Miracle Brothers as well as her recent solo show, Shafrika, The White Girl. This tireless co-founder of Jaradoa Theater, a company of professional theater artists who serve the community through performance-based outreach, has a special task at Avenue Q: playing the dual roles of Kate Monster (the ultimate good girl) and Lucy The Slut (er, the name says it all). Here, Larsen reveals her technique for doing double duty.
Playing Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut in Avenue Q is just like playing Jekyll and Hyde. But different.
It’s a challenge that requires incredible physical stamina, mental ingenuity and emotional resilience. To be prepared for the task eight times a week, I must train like an Olympic athlete. Or rather, like two Olympic athletes. Every morning I get up at 5:30 and eat a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats, because the whole-wheat side appeals to the Kate in me, but the frosted side brings out the Lucy in me. I eat it with a spork. (It’s a spoon, but it’s also a fork.) While I’m digesting, I put on a skort (it’s a skirt and shorts) and for 45 minutes I stare at an optical illusion. (It’s a young lady, but it’s also an old woman.) Then I go to my yogilates class. I’m still not entirely sure what we’re doing in there, but I believe them when they tell me it’s both yoga and pilates. I’ve started training for the biathlon, but it’s been hard to find places where I can cross-country ski and shoot a rifle in Brooklyn.
After yogilates, I hurry home to watch All My Children, where the brilliant David Canary plays both ruthless Adam and his sweeter, slower brother Stuart. I also watch old episodes of The Patty Duke Show, in which the star played identical cousins Patty and Cathy, and Friends, to learn from Lisa Kudrow’s fine work as Phoebe and her sister Ursula. And of course, just before I leave the house, I watch the last 20 minutes of Sally Field in the miniseries Sybil.
Once I enter the Golden Theatre, I am fully in character. Everyone in the Avenue Q company knows not to speak to me before they are spoken to. We’ve all learned the hard way that if people address me as Lucy when I am Kate, my feelings will get hurt, and if they address me as Kate when I am Lucy, their feelings will get hurt. (If anyone addresses me as Anika, the spell is broken and I have to call out of the show and go home.)
Once places is called and the cast assembles stage left to sing the Avenue Q theme song, the magic begins, I black out, and I come to during bows. Unfortunately, Kate and Lucy are wildly competitive, so if one of them hears that their applause is significantly louder, they lord it over the other, which makes for sleepless nights…
Oh, I’m jus’ foolin’, people! Playing Kate and Lucy isn’t alla that! It’s mainly just a whole lot of delicious fun. I mean, I get to play the good girl and the bad girl in the same show! If you look at the beautifully made puppets, you can see exactly who they are, so much of the work of making character choices is done for me. And what I don’t learn from the puppets is made eminently clear in the libretto. I think we all have a Kate in us who is sweet, earnest and vulnerable, and a Lucy in us who is sassy, confident and no-nonsense. All I gotta do is tap into mine.
Which leaves the voices and the puppetry. Kate’s voice is basically mine but a little higher, up off my vocal cords in a nice, easy place. I’ve always thought Lucy was a new millennium Mae West, so I basically just channel Mae for her. Placing these two voices where I do makes it easier to switch back and forth, and makes it possible to get through eight shows a week without vocal fatigue.
Learning puppetry has been hard work (just ask my right shoulder), but I have utterly fallen in love with it! I really enjoy the challenge of expressing character and emotion with my right arm. Jen Barnhart co-puppeteers Kate and Lucy with me, so she does as much to portray them as I do. I was a little intimidated before I started to work with her, because she’s a for-real, no-joke puppeteer, but I was only nervous for a hot minute before I realized what a warm, generous, wacky chick she is. I’ve learned a lot by watching how adeptly she makes Kate and Lucy live.
The hardest part of playing both characters is not switching back and forth in the same scene. I have to make sure the puppet I’m holding is listening and reacting while I’m voicing the other one. When Kate and Lucy are fighting in the bar, and I’m voicing Lucy saying something nasty, while I’m making Kate calm herself by smoothing her hair and her clothes. It took me months to be able to do that!
It’s going to be tough when the Q closes in September. I’m really going to miss Kate Monster, and I like to think she’ll miss me too. I have no illusions about Lucy missing me. She’ll tell me to suck it up and take it like a woman, then strut off to find the next hand to shove up her backside.