Tag Archives: Sesame Street

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


“Being Elmo”

The film Being Elmo is currently playing at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe

Kevin Clash began building puppets at the tender age of ten, and was often teased by classmates for “playing with dolls.” His sister, who enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls, couldn’t understand why their mother gave the puppets more attention. One day she threw Kevin’s puppets out of the window onto the snowy street below. Soon her cosmetics met a similar fate. Seems even the man who operates Elmo, one of the sweetest characters on Sesame Street, knows a thing or two about sibling rivalry.

Clash’s mom reveals, in the film titled “Being Elmo,” that she was never bothered by her son’s fascination with puppets. She knew that building puppets and bringing them to life was his gift and his passion. Once Clash landed a local television gig, kids at his Baltimore school decided he was cool — but that was never his goal. Clash merely wanted to do what he loved, and use his puppets to make others happy.

His earliest audience consisted of kids from the day care center his mom ran in their home. Soon Clash was performing at hospitals and other community settings, where he noticed the special affinity of kids with special needs for his playful puppet characters. Several “Being Elmo” scenes show Clash, and Elmo, interacting with children from the Make-a-Wish Foundation and other children’s charities.

Being Elmo features the journey of puppeteer Kevin Clash

Clash was thrown, quite literally, into the world of Elmo after another puppeteer couldn’t decide what to make of the furry red creature. Elmo’s original voice, much deeper than the voice Clash developed for Elmo, wasn’t resonating. Clash followed the advice of a mentor who’d once told him that every character needs a hook — one unique, defining characteristic.

As Clash watched the children around him, he noticed something they all seemed to need and appreciate — a hug. So Elmo — with his high, exuberant voice — became the Muppet who loved to kiss and hug. Elmo, like Clash, is all about making others happy. Toys like Tickle Me Elmo don’t gel with Clash, who says Elmo would never use the word “me.”

Folks who see “Being Elmo,” a documentary about Clash’s puppeteering journey, hear tales of his first trip to New York City and his first glimpse at the famous porch steps on Sesame Street. Also home movies from the day his daughter’s mother, once his wife, went into labor. Seems she didn’t take kindly to Elmo’s narration of the event.  

Several scenes show Clash working in the Jim Henson workshop, pulling out wide drawers filled with assorted plastic eyeballs and brightly colored facial hair. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Clash is well into the journey before realizing that he’s spent much of his daughter’s childhood entertaining other people’s children.

The film captures his attempts to right the wrong with a very special sweet 16 party. And other bittersweet moments too — including a gathering of puppeteers, and puppets, at the memorial held after Jim Henson’s death. As the film draws to a close, we see Clash opening the beloved eyeball drawer as he delights in the excitement beaming through a young puppet builder’s eyes. That’s the nature of “Being Elmo.”

— Lynn

Note: “Being Elmo” is currently playing, along with another documentary titled “We Were Here,” at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe’s Mill Avenue District. Click here for details and showtimes.

Coming up: Black Friday — Main Street style

New York Comic Con

There’s a reference to “Star Trek” in “Billy Elliot The Musical,” which I saw on Broadway with my daughter and some other student/parent pairings from Pace University. You can tell the “geeks” in the crowd because they often seize this opportunity to flash the “Vulcan salute” Leonard Nimoy devised during the late 1960s during his “Mr. Spock” gig.

“Geeks,” by the way, is the self-identifier used by folks who enjoy all things comic book, sci fi, anime and such. Once considered a put-down, the word now brings a sense of pride to those who carry it. I should know, I’m a “geek mom.” We put Abby Lee’s “Dance Moms” to shame.

There were several items on my “must see” list for my first full day in NYC this time around. First, waiting in line hoping for “standing room only” tickets to “The Book of Mormon” — no luck there. Then time on Park Place — home to an Amish Market, Muslim community center and Anne Frank Center. And finally, several hours at New York Comic Con.

My interest in New York Comic Con originally derived from my daughter’s fascination with geek culture. But after visiting the Anne Frank Center, and learning from their education director that a newly published book tells Anne Frank’s story in graphic biography form, I realized for the first time that “comic books” can be just as significant as other forms of literature.

My first stop at New York Comic Con, which was held Thursday through Sunday at the Javits Center in NYC, was a large hall housing the “Artist Gallery” — where fans attending the pop culture convention could chat with the artists who create all sorts of comic book fare, even watching them in the act of drawing.

I paused for the first time to consider the skill it takes to create such detailed works for a genre where the images must be every bit as powerful as the words.

The short slide show below shows some of the folks I met that afternoon, many of whom are quite talented. All struck me as sincerely devoted to their craft, something you just don’t find in every occupation.

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Watch for a future post about my Comic Con adventures outside the Artists Gallery — where I explored anime, video games, books, toys and more — and even spent some time with a grouchy character from Sesame Street.

— Lynn

Note: Folks who missed NYCC this year can “save the date” for next year’s event — taking place Oct. 11-14, 2012 at the Javits Center.

Coming up: Exploring Anne Frank’s diary through the arts, Main Street meets 42nd Street

Big Bird or Elmo?

Some say Elmo has got to go. At the very least, he’s got to get off the public dole. And what about Cookie Monster? Isn’t he eating up valuable taxpayer dollars?

I got to chatting with Tom Tiding, writer of all sorts of things he proudly dubs “twisted,” about moves by some politicians to end federal funding for things like NPR and PBS.

Tiding will be in Phoenix this weekend to perform an original work in the “Phoenix Fringe Festival” — but was gracious enough to chat with me about other matters when we spoke by phone the other night.

Elmo, world-famous artist, teacher and Sesame Street character--putting my taxes to good use

I wanted to get his take on the controversy surrounding federal funding for public broadcasting — but erred in leading with “Elmo,” the one thing on PBS Tiding says he could definitely live without.

Tiding is more of a “Big Bird” kind of a guy, but we still managed to enjoy a civil conversation. Because truth be told, the “Sesame Street” gang will rise or fall together whatever their fate.

Some suppose that an end to federal funding won’t hinder our furry little friends in any way, since most of public television is funded through corporate and individual contributions. But Tiding disagrees, in his usual “twisted” fashion.

“If you lost twenty percent of your body,” he muses, “it wouldn’t just grow right back.” Even folks who are terribly fond of public broadcasting won’t be in a position to make up the difference when they’re struggling to meet their own basic needs.

I asked Tiding why some folks are making so much noise about needing to defund public broadcasting. He suspects it’s a bit of a ruse. The more attention supporters of PBS and NPR pay to its naysayers, the more distracted we’ll be as other perilous policies move forward.

Seems “Elmo” and “Big Bird” are mere pawns in that old political strategy called “bait and switch.” I see where they may be going with this, but public broadcasting opponents seem to be forgetting that we’ve got “Miss Piggy” in our corner of the ring.

I chose the sports analogy because, oddly enough, it was sports-related content that Tiding most enjoyed as a boy growing up in Minnesota and East Texas. Seems public broadcasting was his only real lifeline to the soccer he loved as a boy.

He’s also keen on shows like the “PBS News Hour,” describing it as “one of the few places you can go and get really intelligent people from both sides.”

Those who live in large urban areas with thriving cultural resources might see NPR or PBS as mere niceties, but they’re necessities for Americans living in outlying areas that don’t have access to many of the things they offer.

Think live theater, music and dance. History and literature. Science and medicine. Health and fitness. Civics and education. Think easy, affordable and equitable access to elements that form the very foundation of a free and democratic society.

There’s plenty of noise out there about all sorts of budget-related issues. For today, it appears, public broadcasting has been spared the ax. But policy and budget discussions involving NPR and PBS will no doubt resurface. So I’m keeping my eye on the prize — preserving federal funding for both.

Trust me, you don’t want to get between me and my “Elmo” — or Tiding and his “Big Bird.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about this weekend’s “Phoenix Fringe Festival” (which features mature content fare) and the schedule for Tiding’s performances. Click here for details about “Sesame Street Live” coming to the Comerica Theatre April 29-May 1.

Coming up: Conversations with “Cosette”

Get a Q!

When the morning news turned too vitriolic last week, I knew just who to turn to — Elmo. The furry little puppet with the ever-happy face never fails to cheer.

But I’ll be enjoying puppets of another sort today as Lizabeth and I head out to see Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Avenue Q” — a Broadway musical with mature content and “full puppet nudity” you might not want to share with your little ones.

There are tons of competing activities out there this weekend — from the Scottsdale Arts Festival to the Ostrich Festival in Chandler. I’m making my choice about what to hit based on where the teen taxi takes me.

Lizabeth has a volunteer gig with “QSpeak” this afternoon, so I’ll be taking her there before heading out for a few art adventures of my own. Then we’ll meet back at Phoenix Theatre for the matinee performance of “Avenue Q.”

I’ll need to be quick, however, because there are quite a few things I’m eager to experience — including today’s “Devoured” event at the Phoenix Art Museum, just a short stroll from Phoenix Theatre.

Then I’m off to enjoy the quaint and quiet grounds of the Japanese Friendship Garden, where I’ll take some photos to share with you later as I preview their upcoming events — including the “Children’s Day Kite Festival” and “Zen Garden Music and Art Festival.”

Next I’ll experience some quintessential Irish fare at the Arizona Irish Festival, also taking place downtown. Think Irish food, music, dance and all-around merriment — plus another opportunity to whip out my camera.

If I haven’t yet inspired you to get out and enjoy the Arizona sunshine, perhaps you’ll find something else that strikes your fancy by browsing through today’s family-friendly events listed in the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

I suppose I should quit now and get on with my plans — quixotic though they may be. I certainly don’t want to quibble with my teenage daughter over whether or not the teen taxi will be running on time today.

— Lynn

Note: I came home with lots of photos, some of which are included in a slide show at the end of this post (“Avenue Q” logo courtesy of Phoenix Theatre). Watch for another post coming soon with some of the many adorable children who attended this year’s Arizona Irish Festival — as well as a future post with more highlights from the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Coming up: Charlie Sheen “is only for now”

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A labor of love

Last week, after driving my college-age son Christopher to an appointment, I told him I was off to run errands. Bank. Drugstore. Grocery store. All the fun stuff.

I certainly meant well, but simply couldn’t resist the lure of the Scottsdale Civic Center as I drove past. There’s a library, a museum of contemporary art, winding park paths, a museum store, a performing arts center and restaurants galore.

If you can read this, thank a teacher -- and a librarian

I still had the Wickenberg Public Library, recently closed due to budget cuts, on the brain. I wanted to visit my own local libary, and pause a while to reflect by the giant quill and inkwell sculptures near the entrance.

View from a balcony that overlooks the corresponding ink well for this giant golden quill

The whole area — part of Scottsdale’s “Old Town” — is full of places for peaceful reflection. Think park benches, colorful gardens and calming water features.

Old Town Scottsdale is a no-GPS-required zone that's perfect for pedestrians

This was a favorite haunt when Christopher was first learning to take pictures

Plenty of tables and benches make this a great place to enjoy picnic meals or relaxed conversation

While walking through the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (within easy walking distance of the library), I heard the cheerful voices of children — and soon followed the sound to a small theater where students from a nearby elementary school were about to enjoy a film about dance.

It was just steps away from the large open space where both my daughters have performed with fellow Dance Theater West summer campers.

There’s also a small art exhibit space nearby, the “young@art” gallery, which currently features an exhibit titled “Imagining Dance” — with sculpture, paintings, video of dance performance and more.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts presents dance on stage and on exhibit

Imagining Dance exhibit at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts

I picked up a brochure for the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts to discover diverse dance offerings coming soon — including the legendary Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Naturally I hit the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts gift shop on the way out (there’s another gift shop just across the sidewalk at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art).

Know any dancers looking for a unique dance bag?

The best museum stores offer serious and humorous fare

It’s a fun place to find teacher gifts, unique items for children and all sorts of arts-related fare — and I love shopping where I can support local arts and culture.

But my fondest memories of Scottsdale Civic Center involve adventures with my young children — reading in the children’s section of the library, taking pictures together of flowers and public art, watching performances by artists we admire.

My son was apparently very eager to explore it even before his late August birth 21 years ago. I felt the first pangs of labor while having dinner with my husband at a joint that’s since been replaced with an Indian restaurant — and walked for some time around the grounds hoping to speed up the process.

This balcony once housed the restaurant where I felt my first labor pangs

While the walking may have helped, it wasn’t a quick fix. I didn’t head to the hospital until later that night after my water broke and the cramping grew hard to ignore.

I’d chosen a small stuffed animal — “Big Bird” of Sesame Street — for my focal point during labor (the thing that supposedly takes your mind off the pain if you stare at it hard enough).

With Jennifer, our second child, I used a giant clock. The moving hands were more distracting than the stillness of a stuffed animal.

With Lizabeth, our last, it was the row of tiny buttons on James’ shirt (by then I was too busy to think ahead in the childbirth department).

But it occurred to me as I passed the giant LOVE sculpture at the Scottsdale Civic Center, that I should have used a replica of this work (I hadn’t yet discovered them for sale at the SMOCA gift shop).

This iconic sculpture sits on a lawn at Scottsdale Civic Center

As my children continue their journey through adulthood, I suspect these detours to the places we’ve so often enjoyed together will happen more and more often.

Labors of love stay with us forever.

— Lynn

Note: The art teacher I met that day, from Zuni Hills Elementary School, recently got in touch with me — so I look forward to learning more about their art program.

Coming up: The fine art of friendship, Got graffiti?, Broadway tales, Copper rush, Three necessary things

Cows for a cause

Thousands of boys from Sudan immigrated to the United States during the 1990s — including the “Arizona Lost Boys of Sudan” — who are among the many children orphaned in one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history.

Sudan might feel a world away, but who can’t imagine what it might be like to be orphaned? And who doesn’t wish there was some way they could help.

This is where the cows come in. They’re ceramic handmade cows crafted by orphaned children, and they’ll be on sale during “The AZ Lost Boys of Sudan 6th Annual Birthday Party” at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.

Birth dates are rarely recorded in Sudan, so aid workers have given many orphans a Jan 1 birthday — which Changing Hands recognizes with an event featuring birthday treats and a cow sale to benefit the AZ Lost Boys and Girls scholarship fund.

If you want more info on the scholarship fund, just visit the AZ Lost Boys Center online at www.azlostboyscenter.org. Of course, they pretty much had me at “ceramic cows.”

Changing Hands Bookstore has all sorts of interesting fare this month — including a Jan 12 panel with psychologists and educators sharing “strategies on how teachers, students and parents can cope with bullying.”

Sesame Street puppeteer Noel MacNeal hits Changing Hands Jan 14, and the “Yallapalooza” — “a literary extravaganza for tween and teen readers featuring more than a dozen ‘YA’ authors — takes place Jan 29.

You can bring little ones clad in pajamas to the Jan 13 “Pajama Storytime for Preschoolers” with children’s specialist Ramie Manch, or awaken your own writing muse with one of Changing Hands’ many writing workshops and poetry roundtables.

Another “Local First Arizona” bookstore — which has stores in Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson — has diverse offerings for literature-lovers of all ages. This Sat, Jan 8, folks can head to Bookmans in Phoenix to learn the art of paper folding from the Arizona Origami Society.

Other Bookman happenings this weekend include an author signing of a new book about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson), a “Silly Bandz” trading event (at the Glendale Glitters & Glow Block Party) and an anime club get together (Phoenix).

Later this month, you can enjoy several “Music Hour with Nature!” events, a Harry Potter club gathering, and a performance as part of the “Ear Candy Charity & Chicks with Picks Live Music Series!” (Store locations vary.)

Be sure and check with your local independent booksellers as well — many of whom provide an environment rich for conversation and community building. Your local bookstore is a great place to find fellow readers, writers and thinkers — and to help your children cultivate these skills in a day and age too full of distractions.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Local First Arizona and its members (which include Raising Arizona Kids magazine).

Coming up: The fine art of tolerance, The art of “Sacred Places,” Art adventures: Glendale, Shrek: I’m a Believer