Red fur meets red rocks

Kevin Clash and Elmo are appearing at the 2012 Sedona International Film Festival

The cheerful, chatty Sesame Street character named Elmo returns to Arizona in February for the Sedona International Film Festival. Prepare the paparazzi. He’s bringing Sesame Street puppeteer and producer Kevin Clash along, because the two appear together in a documentary being screened at the festival. It’s called “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.”

Clash reminded me, when we spoke earlier this week, that he’s joined Elmo in journeying to Arizona once before — to film a one-hour video titled “Elmo’s World: Wild Wild West!” Clash also performs “Hoot the Owl” and “Baby Natasha” for Sesame Street, but Elmo seems to get more press as the television show’s most popular puppet.

Clash is the proud parent of a college-age daughter, but admits in “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” that she was well into her teens before he realized how much time he spent working with other children when his own daughter dearly needed more daddy time.

I chatted with Clash during the tail end of a typically busy day, shortly after he’d wrapped an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross for a segment of “Fresh Air” broadcast just yesterday. You can click here to listen to the interview, which features Clash both in and out of Elmo mode.

Turns out Clash has a few of his own puppet favorites. A furry blue fellow named Grover — first performed by one of Clash’s puppetry idols named Frank Oz. And Kermit the Frog, the smoother, greener fellow who reminds Clash of another friend and mentor, the late Jim Henson.

He’s keen on puppetry outside of Sesame Street too. In recent years, puppets have been featured in two Broadway shows. First a musical titled “Avenue Q,” which Clash describes as “really exciting.” Then a play called “War Horse,” which Clash calls “amazing.” He saw the play only recently, and says it was a “very emotional” experience. “It shows what puppets can do.”

Clash says he’s “curious about the next step” puppetry will take, though I suspect he’ll be pioneering much of what transpires. He’s thrilled that the Muppets’ popularity is once again soaring — thanks in part to “The Muppets” movie still playing at plenty of theaters. And he reveals that discussions about making a Sesame Street movie are underway. “We’re at the beginning stages of talks,” says Clash.

I’d hoped that Clash might reveal a little something folks don’t really know about Elmo. But there’s no mystery to Elmo, according to Clash. “What you see is what you get.” Elmo loves life — and hugs and kisses. It’s that simple, which is much of Elmo’s charm. Still, Clash says he “continues to tweak Elmo” — finding new ways to show Elmo’s “sense of humor” and “edginess.” Hence those snappy catchphrases like “Yeah, baby, yeah!”

To teens pursuing their passion for the performing arts, Clash offers some no-nonsense advice. “Start,” he says, “just do it.” For youth who share his passion for puppetry, Clash offers another suggestion. “Send me a DVD,” he says, “we’re always looking for new puppeteers.” Just find the address for the Sesame Street workshop and run with it.

— Lynn

Note: Stay tuned to the Sedona International Film Festival website for details about when Clash and Elmo will be joining the festivities, and information on the 145 + films being screened during the Feb. 18-26, 2012 event.

Coming up: Love & letting go, Puppets who call Arizona home

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