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Home HEALTH Meet Megan Piphus Peace, Sesame Street's First Black Puppeteer

Meet Megan Piphus Peace, Sesame Street’s First Black Puppeteer

Megan Piphus Peace was a shy girl. She remembered sitting cross-legged in front of the TV screen when she was watching 2”Sesame Street” and reruns of “The Shari Lewis Show”.

He felt that the characters were his friends.

“I didn’t know until I was much older that the puppets weren’t real,” said Piphus Peace, 29.

However, when he found out, they remained his friends.

The puppets left such an impression, in fact, that he decided to give it a try. Her parents bought her a puppet when she was 8 years old, thinking it would be a good outlet for her. At first, she did not take any puppeteer classes or workshops, but instead learned to imitate the ventriloquists she watched on VHS tapes at home. She would practice in her room for hours and put on shows at home for her family.

“I lived inside a shell,” he said. “I had a hard time opening up and expressing myself.”

It was the puppeteer, he said, that allowed him to find his voice. So she never stopped.

In June 2020, Piphus Peace made history by becoming the first black woman to be a puppeteer on “Sesame Street,” and the following year, she became a full-time cast member in the show’s 52nd season.

She plays gabrielaa 6-year-old black girl who first appeared on the series in 2017. Before Piphus Peace began playing Gabrielle, a child actress voiced the character.

“I’ve always felt I can say more with a puppet than myself,” said Piphus Peace, who worked for years as a real estate agent.

Despite receiving rave reviews about her performances on “Sesame Street” and feeling at home with the cast, she was hesitant to rely on her career as a puppeteer for a full-fledged living. But last month, she decided to step away from real estate, which she was doing between taping seasons of the show, to focus on “Sesame Street” and other puppetry opportunities.

“I really had to decide what makes me come alive,” said Piphus Peace.

Go ahead, check out my brace. I know it’s amazing.

Playing Gabrielle, she said, is a long-time dream come true, especially given the historical nature of her casting.

“Performance is what brought me to puppetry,” said Piphus Peace, explaining that watching performances by judy’s book other Liz VonSeggen, both female ventriloquists, motivated her. “Seeing female ventriloquists on stage inspired me.”

Growing up, Piphus Peace performed at churches, schools, festivals and events, doing both puppetry and ventriloquism. She was also an outstanding student.

In her senior year of high school in Cincinnati, she was known as the “Ventriloquist’s Valedictorian”, and as a student at Vanderbilt University, she was called the “Vanderbilt Ventriloquist”.

she appeared in “The Tonight Show” in 2012Y “America’s Got Talent” in 2013. After graduating from Vanderbilt in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s of science in finance the following year, she worked full-time in real estate for seven years, while also doing puppeteering.

Although Piphus Peace has long been a die-hard fan of “Sesame Street” (her favorite character was always zoé), never expected to be a member of the cast.

His path to “Sesame Street” began in 2018, when on a whim he approached Leslie Carrara Rodolfo — the original interpreter of the Muppets character Abby Cadabby — to express his admiration for her work.

“We kept in touch and she became a mentor to me,” said Piphus Peace, who lives with her husband and two children, ages 1 and 3, in Nashville.

Carrara-Rudolph asked permission to send a video of the Piphus Peace puppeteers to the “Sesame Street” staff for consideration for future roles.

“To say that Megan intrigued me would be an understatement,” Carrara-Rudolph said. “Megan’s sheer talent as a singer, actress, writer and performer is incredible on its own, but she instantly inspired me with her loving heart, strength of character, humor, humanity and energetic creative force that she is.” “.

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In March 2020, Piphus Peace was shocked to learn of the show. She received a message from matt vogel, actor and show director who has portrayed several characters, including Big Bird and Kermit the Frog. She asked if she would be willing to audition for “Sesame Street”.

“I never expected that,” he said.

Vogel, for his part, was interested in learning more about Piphus Peace’s unique skill set.

“She comes from a different puppet background than most of us other ‘Sesame Street’ Muppet performers,” Vogel wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “Some of us went to college to learn puppetry, acting school, etc., but Megan is a self-taught ventriloquist, which is something none of us have done.”

He said that what caught his attention was his natural talent.

“What sets Megan apart from a lot of us is her innate musical ability,” he continued. “We were able to see in the videos of her her potential and a lot of energy and natural instincts, which are also important for this job.”

Piphus Peace underwent a lengthy audition process, during which he had to learn the distinctive style of “Sesame Street” and record multiple video performances. She received copious notes from the show on how to improve her techniques, she said, and in June 2020 she was offered an opportunity: Would she be the voice of Gabrielle for CNN’s partnership with “Sesame Street” to produce a “Stand up to racism” town hall for children?

Definitely yes, he told them.

“It felt so wonderful to be empowered by the best puppeteers in the world today,” Piphus Peace said of the “Sesame Street” actors.

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He was asked to officially join the cast, and in September 2021, he traveled to Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, where the show has been taped since 1993. His first time taping at the famous studio, he said, was surreal.

“I felt all the magic,” said Piphus Peace, adding that each recording season lasts about six weeks. “It felt like a shocking moment of me holding Gabrielle and being on set.”

He also explored the dozens of framed photos of the cast and crew in the studio. One thing caught her attention: she didn’t see any black puppeteers depicted on the walls. She confirmed with her producer that she was the first.

“I immediately started crying,” said Piphus Peace. “The more diversity we have, the more it shows the potential opportunities we have for the next generation.”

“Being the first black puppeteer on the show,” she added, “means opening doors for future artists and people of color anywhere in the television and entertainment space.”

“Over the years, we had encountered very few black puppeteers, and the ones who found their way to ‘Sesame Street’ had all been men,” Vogel said. “It was refreshing and inspiring to see Megan, our first Muppet artist who was a black woman, and her natural abilities.”

Carrara-Rudolph said she is proud of her friend and trainee.

“Megan is a born leader and powerful woman who has used her creative gifts to tell stories we all need to hear and connect with,” said Carrara-Rudolph.

The 53rd season of the show, Piphus Peace’s second on “Sesame Street,” which was taped in January, will air on Cartoonito on HBO Max this fall and PBS Kids next year. She plans to travel to and from New York for future recordings.

Through his role in “Sesame Street,” Piphus Peace hopes to teach others, especially children, to believe in their dreams, no matter how out of reach they may seem.

“It gives me a lot of purpose,” he said.

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