For more than 50 years, “Sesame Street” has introduced children to a diverse cast of characters, actors, and puppeteers.
Megan Piphus Peace is one of them: in late 2021, she became the series’ first full-time black puppeteer, playing a 6-year-old black girl named Gabrielle. Last month, she celebrated her first anniversary as a member of the team and officially quit her real estate career, which she pursued as she tried to establish herself as a puppeteer.
“I always dreamed of working in television, but I never imagined myself being on ‘Sesame Street,'” she told NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe and Michael Radcliffe.
Piphus Peace, now 29, grew up watching “Sesame Street.” As a young child, she considered the puppets her friends, not realizing until she was older that they weren’t real, she tells the Washington Postit is Page Sydney.
Since then, she has devoted herself to puppetry. When she was a high school student in Cincinnati, students knew her as the “class valedictorian ventriloquist.” At Vanderbilt University, where she studied economics, she was known as “Vanderbilt Ventriloquist”. She even appeared on “The Tonight Show” in 2012 and “America’s Got Talent” in 2013.
One of Piphus Peace’s mentors, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, who debuted as “Sesame Street” character Abby Cadabby in 2006, recounts the Washington Post that Piphus Peace is a gifted storyteller and a natural leader.
“To say Megan intrigued me would be an understatement,” Carrara-Rudolph says. “Megan’s talent as a singer, actress, writer and performer is incredible in itself, but I was immediately inspired by her loving heart, her strength of character, her humor, her humanity and what an energetic creative force she is. “
Although Piphus Peace submitted her first video audition to “Sesame Street” in 2017, she didn’t hear from her until 2020, when Matt Vogel, the show’s puppeteer, contacted her, reports. Ebonyit is Rashad Grove.
“She comes from a different puppet background than most of us other ‘Sesame Street’ Muppets performers,” Vogel told the Washington Post. “Some of us went to college to learn puppetry, or acting schools, etc., but Megan is a self-taught ventriloquist, which none of us did.”
After going through a lengthy audition process, Piphus Peace first performed as Gabrielle on “Sesame Street” in 2020 for a children’s town hall called “Standing Up to Racism” in partnership with CNN.
Piphus Peace commends the show for tackling tough topics and presenting them in a way kids can process. “One of the lessons we learned was to use your voice. It subtly speaks to fairness,” she told NPR. the camera and say, ‘Black Lives Matter’. She says we all have a voice that matters and we can use our voice.
“Sesame Street” got its first black puppeteer much earlier: Kevin Clash began working on the show in the 1980s, playing Elmo in addition to various other characters.
The show, broadcast in more than 150 countries, has its roots in black culture and has been heavily influenced by New York’s Harlem. In its early years, the show intentionally featured a range of black guest stars – including actor James Earl Jones and singer Nina Simone – to help teach numbers and letters to a target audience that included young black viewers. Most recently, Gabrielle was featured on the show alongside tennis player Naomi Osaka and poet and activist Amanda Gorman.
Season 53 of “Sesame Street,” recorded earlier this year, will premiere on HBO Max this fall, then premiere on PBS Kids in 2023.