Yesterday, I totally geeked out on a behind the scenes tour of Sesame Street. For whatever reason (I don’t question these things anymore), I got invited by Chrysler to come to the Sesame Street studios in Astoria and watch a taping. I was only allowed to bring one guest who had to be over five years of age, so Mazzy was the obvious choice.
In addition to being old enough to sit silently during a live taping (and to not have her world rocked by seeing the actual puppeteers), Mazzy has always been a way bigger Sesame Street fan than Harlow.
Or at least, she was as a toddler.
Back in the day (you might remember this if you are a longtime reader), Mazzy was Elmo OBSESSED. The very first videos that she ever watched were Elmo music videos with celebrities. Then, for about two years, Sesame Street was the only show we would let her watch on television. I remember the first time I took Mazzy to a toy store, she just walked through the aisles yelling Elmo’s name. As if the Tickle Me Elmo would suddenly appear, if he heard her calling.
She doesn’t remember that now though.
When I first asked Mazzy if she wanted to go, she said, “Isn’t Sesame Street for babies?”
And I said, “Uhhh…NO. If you watched it now, you would see they throw in a lot of advanced humor for adults.”
Then I told her we would be going backstage to see how they actually filmed Sesame Street and she agreed that would be pretty cool. I also told her that she was going to get to miss school for the experience and then she was THRILLED.
Good thing, because while Mazzy was playing it cool, I was BEYOND excited. I remember my Sesame Street obsession very clearly. Since I didn’t have Netflix options or CABLE, for that matter, I watched Sesame Street every day, probably up until I was about ten. That was back in the days when everyone thought Snuffleupagus (my favorite character) was Big Bird’s imaginary friend. It used to drive me crazy that everyone thought he was making him up! I think I read somewhere that in later seasons, they made Snuffleupagus visible to everyone because it was stressing kids out.
I was THAT KID!
Not only did I love the show, my favorite toy growing up was the Sesame Street Playhouse. I remember that on my first drop off play date with a friend (hi, Tracy!), we couldn’t agree on what to do. Her mother said, “Well what do you do at home?” I said, “I play with the Sesame Street Playhouse.” Then she said, “Well, we don’t have the Sesame Street Playhouse” and I started crying. She had to call my mom to come and get me.
Suffice to say, seeing the real Sesame Street puppets backstage was a huge deal for me.
Being on the actual set brought back memories of both Mazzy as a toddler and my own childhood. Who would have thought I would ever get to sit on THE SESAME STREET FRONT STOOP with my daughter????
They had very strict rules about what we could and could not take pictures of, because they are very protective of the magic of the puppets. They don’t ever want anyone to post a photo where you can see a puppeteer or what they call a “sleeping puppet.” For instance, we saw Abby Cadabby hanging on a wall. And we saw the two headed monster get pulled out for a scene.
Mazzy knew that Elmo and the rest of the gang were puppets, but I still think it was a shock to the system to see it an action. Kind of like final confirmation that something she once believed wasn’t real.
While we were on set, they were actually filming a few segments with Elmo, Rosita and Michael Che, who was the celebrity guest for the day. Lucky us! We weren’t allowed to take pics of them on stage because you can see the puppeteers underneath the table, but here’s one cropped close so you can’t see any Sesame Street secrets.
They let us sit and watch for about an hour and Mazzy ended up being really enthralled with the whole thing. I loved watching her take in all the people involved in pulling together a TV production— the set designers, the camera people, the actors, the editors, the sound people, etc. She is really interested in film and television and I always try to make her understand how many different industry jobs are possibilities. I used to have dreams of doing something in “show business” when I grew up, but I thought my only option was being an actress, because that’s all I could see.
Mazzy also got to see how many times they had to film a scene or part of a scene over to get it right. Michael Che would flub a line or the timing would be off, and they would cut and refilm, which I explained was always the way these things go. There’s a lot of value in seeing that even professionals aren’t perfect and need do-overs. Nobody beat themselves up about it. They just stopped and did it again.
While they were filming, I got to wonder around the set and take things in— like Mr. Hooper’s Store, Big Bird’s nest…
And Cookie Monster’s truck…
At the end of the segment, Rosita came over to say hello. Her puppeteer was in full view as she talked to us, so a staff member had to take this pic to ensure she wasn’t seen.
Here are a few more interesting tidbits from our experience behind-the-scenes at Sesame Street:
1) I passed a guy in his dressing room doing stretches and our guide said, “Say hi, that’s Snuffleupagus!” So, I got to tell Snuffy’s puppeteer that he was my absolute favorite character as a kid.
2) The reason Snuffleupagus is not on the show often is because his costume is very large and difficult to maneuver. It hangs from the ceiling under a blanket at the entrance of the set (we saw it and it is quite something) and only comes down when necessary. It also gets very hot in the costume and the puppeteers (one in the front who is the voice and one in the rear) have to come out and get fanned between takes.
3) We saw Big Bird’s legs hanging out against a wall in the wardrobe room.
4) Mazzy handed me a wrapper to throw out and I went searching for a garbage. I came extremely close to throwing it out in one of the trash cans that surround Oscar the Grouch. He wasn’t inside and they look just like regular garbage.
Thankfully, I realized before I made the most major faux pas you can make on the Sesame Street set.
5) We bumped into Alan on our way out!
In the end, Mazzy said the experience was AWESOME. I think she enjoyed it just as much as me, which is A LOT.
Thank you to Chrysler who invited us to the taping! Sometimes, I really don’t know what I did to get so lucky to have these kinds of experiences with my kids.