Finding Their Purpose: Meet the Cast of Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Avenue Q’: Part 1: Rachel Zampelli

This is the first part of a series of interviews with the cast of Olney Theatre Center’s Avenue Q. In Part 1: Meet Rachel Zampelli.

Rachel Zampelli.
Rachel Zampelli.

Joel: Rachel, where have local theatregoers seen you perform this year? 

Rachel: Most recently I was at Ford’s Theatre playing Rona Lisa Perretti in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee!

The cast of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’. Rachel Zampelli is in Blue. Photo by Scott Suchman.
The cast of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’. Rachel Zampelli is in Blue. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Have you performed with puppets this year or before being cast in Avenue Q at Olney?

Nope. Never.

Is there a puppetry expert and consultant working with you and what has been the most helpful advice she has given you?

Yes! A woman named Jennifer, who was in the original Broadway cast. Since I have zero experience, pretty much everything she says is gold :)

Who do you play in Avenue Q and how do you relate to your characters. Do you share any character traits and flaws?

Most of the time I play Kate Monster, who is a real sweetheart. I definitely share the trait of “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” The other character I play, Lucy (the Slut) is a hoot. Luckily I think the only thing WE have in common is that we both enjoy brown liquor on the rocks.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced learning your role, score, and puppetry?

I could write pages and pages on this. This has been, hands down, the most challenging rehearsal process I’ve ever experienced. Ever. Puppeteering is it’s own skill and art form as it is. Add that to speaking, singing and CHOREOGRAPHY plus the two characters I play have SCENES together…I mean…what?!

During the first week on our feet I was seriously afraid I was going to get fired or something. It was wild. I was in physical pain- especially my right side, on which I hold my puppet. I couldn’t hold the pages for my lines because I was manipulating the puppets so I had to get off book FAST before I could get anything done. So it’s been really gratifying to improve and get stronger (literally. My right arm, shoulder, wrist and hand have all grown to be SO strong it’s amazing!).

What are your solos in the show and what do we learn about your characters when you sing them?

My favorite solo is a song that Kate Monster sings to close the first act called “Fine, Fine Line.” I love the song because it’s one of the few times in the show that is emotionally dropped in and it makes you think, “Oh wow- am I actually feeling something for this puppet??” I think we learn that Kate Monster runs deeper than the nice, happy, always-chipper character she presents to everyone.

What do you admire about your castmates performances and what has surprised you during rehearsals?

I admire EVERYone for pulling together and supporting one another. Considering how exhausting rehearsals are, I’m surprised that there really have been no blow-ups or negativity! Everyone rose to the challenge. Wonderful!

Why do you think Avenue Q is so popular and why there are so many productions in regional and community theatres in our area?

It’s a well-written, hilarious, R-rated show. With puppets. Who DOESN’T want to see that?!

What song that you don’t sing is your favorite, and why?

Probably “If You Were Gay.” It’s always stuck in my head plus it’s so clever and it makes me laugh every time I watch it.

What have Bobby Smith, Chris Youstra, and Jason Loewith brought to this production that make Olney’s Avenue Q so special? 

Collaboration at its finest. They all work together in such a lovely personal yet professional way and it’s always clear that the the best idea is the one that is best for the production. Egos aren’t a factor and it’s wonderful.

Stephen Gregory Smith and Rachel Zampelli in 'Avenue Q.'
Trekkie Monster, Stephen Gregory Smith, Lucy (The Slut), and Rachel Zampelli in ‘Avenue Q.’

What has been the most fun so far working on this show, and what have you learned about yourself as an actor while working on Avenue Q?

Working with some of my dearest friends has been the most fun part. As an actor, I’ve learned how to funnel my self-doubt and frustration into an opportunity to be challenged.

Have you found your ‘purpose’? And if so-what is it?

I think my purpose is to be the best person I can be in all of my various roles in life: wife, friend, daughter, sister, and actor.

What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you perform in Avenue Q?

I want them to enjoy themselves. I want them to laugh! I want them to be amazed and inspired by the human capacity for compassion…even for puppets : )

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Avenue Q plays through July 16, 2014 at Olney Theatre Center-2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online.

Finding Their Purpose: Meet the Cast of Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Avenue Q’: Part 1: Rachel Zampelli.

Finding Their Purpose: Meet the Cast of Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Avenue Q’: Part 2: Stephen Gregory Smith.

Finding Their Purpose: Meet the Cast of Olney Theatre Center’s ‘Avenue Q’: Part 3: Evan Casey.

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