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Operating the Sesame Street Puppets Looks So Cool and So Exhausting

Wired recently shared a fascinating look at all the puppeteering that goes into making an episode of Sesame Street. Having grown up on the series, and really only ever seen the finished product, I found it super-interesting to see all the different puppet mechanisms, voice work, tromps around in Big Bird and Snuffleupagus suits, and supplementary stagehand help that goes into creating these characters.

It’s amazing that these puppeteers manage to create character voices and seamlessly deliver their dialogue while rolling around on dollies, scrunched up in a ball and operating the puppet’s hands, mouths, eyes, and sometimes trunks.

“On Sesame Street, there are basically three kinds of puppets,” explained Matt Vogel, who performs as Big Bird. “There are rod puppets like Elmo, there are live hand puppets like Cookie Monster, and then there are puppets that you wear, like Big Bird or Snuffleupagus.”

“There’s a number of ways where we have a character pick things up,” explained Ryan Dillon, who plays Elmo. “Sometimes, you can use magnets, insert them in the palm of the hand. Cookie Monster, Ernie, they can pick up things with no problem, because they have live hands. Elmo, Abby [Cadabby], those characters are a little trickier. There’s wire in the arms, but we can’t actually move the fingers.”

“A lot of times we’re on the floor, on rollies,” said Frankie Cordero, who plays Rudy. “Obviously, these characters are rather small compared to people, so we’ve got several characters on screen, but then we’ve got six or seven bodies down below, because we sometimes have assists as well, that come in to do right hands or wings or different things. So there’s a little bit more choreography going on down below compared to what we actually see on screen.”

Sometimes, seeing behind the scenes can take the magic out of a show, but watching all the hard work, delight, and devotion that these artists put into making Sesame Street just made me smile. This is a show about sharing and playing nice with others, and it was fun to see how the people who work on it apply those lessons as they work.

(Featured image via screengrab)

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