The entertainment world has undergone a shift since the start of #MeToo, with everyone from A-list celebrities to non-union PAs showing up to discuss the toxicity of working in the industry.
Now a new settling of accounts has come sesame street.
Numerous complaints from artisans have been reported by The Hollywood Reporter about The Jim Henson Company (owner of brands like The Muppets and sesame street), including unsafe work environments due to toxic materials, and workers claiming to be underfunded, overworked, and unorganized. A prime example of the working “food chain” in the business was in the stories told about puppeteer Kevin Clash, who voiced the character of Elmo from 1984 to 2012. He was the subject of complaints from alumni employees on the set of the Disney+ show Earth to Nedwho say the puppeteer was “condescending” to them while they were working on set.
A former wrangler said they were told to avoid him on set because of his temper and never address Clash directly. Another worker who Clash told him to “shut the fuck up” because he “got too close” while recording a voicemail for a child in character. The wranglers allege a “clubby” workplace among the company’s puppeteers, who are considered the “talent” for character voices, while the wranglers are those who operate and repair the puppets. A production designer claimed that wranglers and other craftsmen are “”still considered “less than” when they are equally skilled – in fact much more skilled in puppet making, engineering and manipulation – than people paid to play. ”
Clash left the show in 2012 after four men came forward alleging sexual abuse allegations against Clash since they were minors. The charges were later dropped due to the statute of limitations. Neither Clash nor The Jim Henson Company responded to The Hollywood Reporter for comment.
Elmo is the most recognizable face of sesame street, the iconic New York-based children’s television show that has been on the air since the 1960s. Clash was the oldest Elmo, who is currently voiced by Ryan Dillon. The company’s artisans hope the puppeteers will support them as they try to unionize and hope to reach a union agreement by 2023.
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