Updated September 30, 2022 6:59 a.m. ET
It is only in September 2021 that sesame street — which debuted in November 1969 — got its first full-time black puppeteer. That’s when Megan Piphus Peace joined the cast full-time and landed the role of Gabrielle, a 6-year-old puppet on the classic children’s show.
This month, as she celebrates a year of working with sesame streetshe decided to devote her career to entertainment.
“I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be on sesame street and encourage other kids to dream as big as their imaginations allow,” the 29-year-old told NPR. weekend edition. “I’ve always dreamed of working in television, but I never imagined myself sesame street.”
A passion for puppetry
Her interest in puppetry and performance began when she was a child.
Piphus Peace says a woman from her church invited her to a puppet conference where she first encountered the art. She saw female ventriloquists singing and telling stories with their characters.
She went home and told her parents that she wanted to learn ventriloquism.
“I had never seen a ventriloquist before. And at the time, I didn’t realize that Shari Lewis, one of my idols…was a ventriloquist until I was much older because she was so good,” says Piphus Peace.
Lewis, the original puppeteer of Lamb Chop, performed puppetry and ventriloquism on television for decades, including on The Shari Lewis Show and the PBS program Lamb Chop Play-Along. Piphus Peace grew up watching her work.
“Lamb Chop was my friend and Shari was just his friend too,” she laughs.
Piphus Peace watched tapes, got his own puppet, and started entertaining his classmates.
“I realized that my passion was to make children laugh and smile through puppets.”
Become the series’ first black puppeteer
His trip to sesame street was preceded by Kevin Clash, a black puppeteer who started with the show in the 1980s. It’s not until 2021 that a black puppeteer will do the same.
“It’s about representation,” says Piphus Peace. “It’s not very often that you see puppeteers in general and also black puppeteers. I can probably count on one hand how many there are.”
She first played with sesame street in 2020 as part of a special with CNN. Then, after a year of training in what she calls Muppet-style puppetry, she officially joined the cast in 2021.
Piphus Peace says she hopes that by being the show’s first black puppeteer, more doors will open for women and people of color.
She notes that the show has had black women in other production positions “who have been woven into the fabric of sesame street over the years.” This inspired her to become a producer one day.
Discuss the race on sesame street
Piphus Peace praises the show’s team of writers and producers, saying they take the toughest subjects and frame them in a way kids can understand.
“One of the lessons we learned was to use your voice. It subtly speaks to fairness,” she says. “You know, we didn’t ask Gabrielle to go on camera and say, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ She’s saying we all have a voice that matters and we can use our voice.”
Piphus Peace hopes to bring an unwavering sense of confidence and self-love to his character.
“I want his confidence to shine through the screen so that little girls and boys everywhere will have confidence in them.”
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