Jennifer Barnhart is an American actress and puppeteer. She grew up in Hamden, Connecticut with her mom and a brother, who is currently a ragtime piano player. Growing up, Jennifer was a huge fan of the Muppets since she saw the movie “The Dark Crystal” and knew she wanted to work as a puppeteer. However, because she didn’t know how to become one, she decided to turn her attention to straight acting. Jennifer’s family was pressed for money, so she went to the only university they could afford – University of Connecticut. Ironically enough, this is the only university on the US with an accredited program in puppeteering. Jennifer could not afford to do a double major in acting and puppets, so she went into acting and took as many puppeteer classes as possible.
Right after college, Jennifer worked with Rick Lyon, another puppeteer, in a Las Vegas show. In 1997, Jennifer started working on Animal Planet, as various animals in a show “Once Upon A Tree.” She then started as Cleo in the 1999 PBS Children’s television show “Between the Lions.” Since then, Jennifer has been able to support herself through puppetry. For the past three years, Jennifer has worked on Sesame Street. She has also appeared in various theatre productions including Angel in Angels in America, Olivia in Twelfth Night, and Cassie in Rumors.
In 2003, Jennifer she heard that Rick Lyon was working on a workshop for a new show called Avenue Q. She auditioned and worked as the head puppeteer and played various roles, also partly responsible for the training of newcomers. When Avenue Q went to Broadway, Jennifer made her Broadway debut on July 31, 2003 as various characters (including Bad Idea Bear #2 and Mrs. T). At some point in the show, Jennifer holds every puppet except for one (The Newcomer). She mainly assists in the control of a two-person sock puppet named Nicky with Rick. She says that they have a form of sign language so they can make sure the puppet is moving correctly. When Rick left in 2005, it became a requirement for the incoming puppeteer to have the same length legs as Jennifer. She is the understudy for the roles of Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut, but because those who have played the roles are extremely dedicated (even going on sick), she does not have much opportunity to take them over. She says that if asked she will take over the roles of Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut when Mary Faber (the current Kate and Lucy) leaves, but she is happy doing what she is doing. She has also preformed in an Avenue Q benefit called “Empty Handed” and “Stars in the Alley,” an outdoor concert for hit Broadway shows. Jennifer loves the experiences she is having in Avenue Q and loves to chat with the fans afterwards and sign autographs. She is always amazed when people think that she minds because she likes nothing better than people telling her how much they enjoyed the show. One of her favorite sensations is being able to recognize fans at the stage door because they have come back so many times. Jennifer is also currently working on writing her own one-woman show.