When I called Libby Letlow several days ago, she was working on one of the puppets she's making for "Avenue Q," so I offered to call her back another time.
"That's OK," she said in a cheerful voice. "I can talk and sew at the same time."
What she was making, you see, was one of the eight goggle-eyed, wide-mouth puppets that are an integral part of the musical.
Puppetry is a relatively new genre for Letlow. Now 32, the Highland High School graduate began her theatrical career 16 years ago in "Masked Rider," a children's television show that aired on FOX. In the 1990s she was involved with the Phoenix Theatre in Bakersfield. Two years ago, while living and working in Los Angeles, she became interested in puppetry and studied with Michael Earl at his Puppet School.
Brian Sivesind of The Empty Space had known Letlow when both were theater arts students at Cal State Bakersfield. He asked her to work with him on "Avenue Q." She agreed and, in addition to making all the puppets, she's also coaching the puppeteers.
"I have a minor role -- Lucy the Slut; the name says it all -- so I'm not on stage very much," she said. "But you can see my work throughout the show."
The dialogue, as written by playwright Jeff Witty, has the actor speaking for the puppet but both represent the same character.
"This is a new form of puppetry, a new convention for theatrical productions," Letlow said. "After the first 10 minutes of the show the audience doesn't notice the difference -- they're like one person."
Like Jason Monroe, director of The Empty Space's production, Letlow is an enthusiastic fan of "Avenue Q."
"The script is unbelievably witty and the songs are clever," she said. "And then you have people dealing with all these serious things but they have these soft, cuddly fleece puppets on their arms."