My audition for the Sesame Street puppetry workshop. Video and results.

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Sesame Street Workshop

When I’m teaching writing, one of the things I talk about puppetry a lot. In particular, I talk about the way it taught me to practice and how I apply that to fiction. It’s why I like taking classes that will stretch my skill set.

I’ve been a professional puppeteer for over twenty years. Most of that has been on stage. I’ve done some work with film and television, even including stuff for Jim Henson Productions. They are very, very different skill sets. I’m a damn good stage puppeteer and a competent video puppeteer. Most of that has to do with which I’ve practiced more.

So when the opportunity came up to audition for a Sesame Puppeteer Workshop came up, I jumped on that.

Sesame is holding a workshop for highly talented puppeteers, age 18 and over, who are looking to develop and hone their on-camera puppeteer skills. If you are familiar with the Sesame Street style of puppetry, and interested in the opportunity to participate in a puppeteer workshop in New York City in early 2014 please apply as directed below:

Make a short video (3 minutes MAX) showcasing your talents as a puppeteer following these guidelines:

  • Introduce the video as yourself.
  • Enter and exit frame with your puppet (it’s helpful if the puppet you use has good eye focus).
  • Show a variety of character voices (3-4 minimum). Please note: we want to see your original character voices, not your imitation of existing Sesame Street character voices.
  • Finish your video with a short song…we would like to hear you sing!

This is what my audition video looks like this. (By the way, the puppet is one I borrowed from the Puppet Kitchen since I did the audition while in NYC and away from my own stuff.)

Those three minutes? I spent a couple of weeks beforehand practicing basic lipsync again, because I haven’t performed any real video puppetry in awhile and my technique was rusty. Once I had that in my hands again, the main video only took four or five takes. Most of those were me forgetting which voice I was switching to.

And the result?

I was accepted to the workshop, which delights me.

DELIGHTS me. Among other things, it give me the opportunity to ask, in earnest, if they can tell me how to get to Sesame Street. I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to ask that question.

Now, to be clear. This is a workshop only. It’s not an audition for the show. Still, it is a chance to work with two of the top performers in the industry and, as they say, hone my skills.

So what does a workshop like this look like? Basically, it’s three days of puppetry work with a group of other people. It will be fun. It will be sweaty. It will be physically exhausting.

The acceptance email says:

Key items we will be focusing on at the workshop will include:

  • Precise lip sync (variations in sync and manipulation)
  • Bold characters
  • Ability to perform with a standard monitor (not a mirror or reverse scan)

So… now you want to know what by that last bit means.  Video puppeteers work in front of a camera and use a monitor to watch the performance as it happens. The easiest way to think about it is that the puppet is actually the image on the screen. You’re using the object on your hand to control the image on the screen.

What gets difficult for some people is that the monitor isn’t reversed. In other words, when I move my right hand, the puppet also moves it’s right hand. While in a mirror, the left hands is the one that appears to move. If you have a video program on your computer, open it and turn off the mirroring so you can see what I’m talking about.

It requires a little bit of rewiring of the brain, and some folks have trouble with it. Funny thing is, when I started teaching via G+, I had the exact opposite problem because I was so wired for monitor work, that I kept doing things backwards for the monitor.

Anyway… all of this is to say that this is going to be a heck of a lot of fun. I’ll be in NYC in early February, but probably will not have time to do much hanging out because of the aforementioned sweaty exhaustion.

And writers? If you need any clearer example that it’s okay to be a pro and still be a fan… You should have seen my face when I opened the email.

Sesame Street.

Sesame.

Street.

It’s only a workshop, but it’s still Sesame Street.

Now… I’m going to want to practice between now and then because we’ll be working long days and I need to get my stamina back up. Funny thing. Writing? Does not use the same muscles as video puppetry. This is where you get to play. Ask publishing/writing questions in the comments below and I will have a puppet answer them for you.

Series NavigationDay one of the Sesame Street workshop. >>

49 Responses

  1. Susan B

    I’m not a writer myself, but I am creative and crafty in my own ways.

    Some creative works and crafts I do for the sheer pleasure of the act. Crocheting is meditative for me, and helps me to relax.

    Other crafts are infuriating and miserable to do, but the end result is so wonderful that it makes up for it. Patchworking and embroidery are crafts like this for me. They make my shoulders tight, and my eyes hurt, but the end result is worth it.

    How is writing for you? Does it change by the day (or hour)?

  2. Jason Gruber

    Though I know rejections are part of the game, I still struggle with being productive for a day or two after getting them. Any tips on how to overcome that?

  3. Brenda Cooper

    That was delightful, Mary. Have fun, and may you find yourself on the street itself some day….

  4. JoMax

    Very well done. I watch Sesame Street with my two-year-old every weekday. You got the stuff, he was enthralled and clapping at the end. Good luck with the workshop.

  5. Jon Marcus

    Congrats, that sounds amazing! And the video was fun.

    When you say “Writing? Does not use the same muscles as video puppetry” are you talking about literal physical muscles (doesn’t seem like writing would take much in the way of muscles of any kind?), mental “muscles” or both?

    Dunno if you’re looking for more general questions about writing, and if you’re willing/able to answer questions about your upcoming work. But I’ll ask anyway: What do you have planned after Of Noble Family? Other work in the Glamourist world? (What? Who??) Something completely different?

  6. Ellen Datlow

    I’m sooo happy for you. I hope we’ll have time to get together, if I’m in town when you’re in town :-)
    Congratulations!

  7. Agnes Gawne

    Congratulations Mary — I loved the singing part of the audition tape– LOL — I hope to see you out west this fall.

  8. Laura Christensen

    Writing question for your puppets!

    Here’s some background to the question: So, I’ve been working on short story format. At first the short stories I wrote were more like scenes or situations or chapter ones. They didn’t have a full beginning, middle, and end arc. They couldn’t hold their weight as a complete story and the end was always unsatisfying. Now I can pull off a real story, a beginning, middle, and end, and it’s satisfying. But the critique I’m getting is that my short stories feel too compressed, like I’m trying to do too much in too small of space, like write a novelette or novella’s worth of story in a short story’s word count.

    So here’s my question: When you write short stories, do you purposefully try to make them short, or do you simply write your story idea and are pleasantly surprised when it ends up a short story rather than something longer? How much do you do deliberately? Any advice about any of this?

    Congratulations about making it into the workshop! Your video was fantastic. I can see why you were accepted! :D

  9. Meagen Voss

    Congratulations! That audition tape was wicked awesome. But now I’m expecting you to bust out some puppets at Illogicon.

    As for a writing question… I find writing endings to be really hard. First lines come easily, but the last lines often come out tepid and weak. What, in your opinion, constitutes a satisfying last line in a story?

  10. Sally

    How could they not accept you?

    They will be amazed and astonished when they see you with your own critters. Will Papa Fuzzy be flying in from Ohio to join you?

    They will also be amazed to find out you have a whole other non-puppet career.

  11. Sally

    Oh, and I want to see a puppet lecture on and demonstrate glamour. (Just the hand and body movements, not the visuals, of course!)

    I want them to see you do famous lines in puppet voice. Or sexy lines in puppet voice. Or puppet lines in sexy voice.

    Kermit flail Yaaaaaaaaaay!

  12. Elizabeth Lefebvre

    Congrats! I’ve never been a puppeteer, but a lifelong Henson devotee. I’ve always dreamed of doing their historian internship, but they really really insist on you still being in school, sigh.

  13. Naomi Kritzer

    I want to ask the puppet a puppetry question rather than a writing question.

    Dear Mary’s Puppet,

    If you could perform in a puppetry version of ANY work of fiction (a puppet version of the musical of Les Miz, a puppet version of the Avengers, a puppet version of Paradise Lost…) what would be one (or two or three) that you think would be particularly fun, or particularly spectacular?

    Thank you!
    Naomi

  14. Benjamin Griffin

    That was great! I loved it! So, since it would be completely awesome to be answered by a puppet, I am very interested in why you write with Scrivener rather than Word or something else. What makes it your tool of choice? (I am totally geeking out about the Sesame Street thing!)

  15. Michael Curry

    I finally had a chance to watch the video, and it’s brilliant. No wonder they picked you! Very happy you’re getting the chance to do this.

  16. -e-

    Oh, so very delightful. The fairly full voiced operatic bit at the end, while controlling the puppet? Extremely impressive!

  17. Missquotable

    Hi! I saw your audition via Zite and just had to swing over to tell you how much I enjoyed it. Truly fabulous. So much fun. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Alethea Kontis

    Congratulations, Mary! This is such a wonderful opportunity–I’m so proud of you! Not that I’m surprised at all, of course. Your video was EXCELLENT.
    My writing questions: where do you get your ideas? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What’s your daily routine like?
    Hugs and love! Xox

  19. A3

    Your video is delightful – I am grinning from ear to ear. I loved all the voices. Congratulations on being accepted to the workshop – I hope you have a great time!

  20. Actor Andrew D. Ford

    Very good, I learned one more step on the way to being the next “Elmo”. I specialize in this voice and many other Sesame Street characters with my natural Liar Bird mimmicking abilities.

  21. JennH

    I know that I have good ideas. I can write full scenes and sections that are at least moderately good. But… I have yet to finish anything substantial. What if I do not have the ability to follow an idea through to its completion? Are there things I can be doing to help with that? Because I am starting to fear that this is the case and while I may have decent ideas, I don’t have the talent required to go through with them.

    By the way, brilliant video. Jabberwock for kids. :)

  22. 1klmercer

    SESAME STREET. Wow. Congrats, Mary! That sounds like a really awesome time.
    My question’s not about writing, so I guess it’s not answer-by-puppet qualified, but do you have any tips for doing voices/readings when you’re suffering from a cold? (*she asks while coughing after reading daughter’s nap time story*)

  23. Ryan LeDuc

    Whenever I try to write 1st person perspective I come across a frustrating issue…. I always feel like my characters a too self-aware. I don’t have much experience writing 1st person, so maybe that is the way it’s supposed to feel but, it feels… wrong. For instance, if I want to get across that my character is angry, it feels unrealistic to have my character think “boy am I angry”. So then I turn to actions, perhaps a clenching of the fists. But, a person wouldn’t ruminate on how their fists are clenching, they would just BE angry. So, in essence, how do you balance getting across information in a 1st person story, without the character seeming unrealistically self-aware?

  24. Elizabeth Janes

    Congratulations, Mary, and have a great time! Excellent synching and eye focus, and I love how the puppet visibly drew breath at appropriate moments (especially noticed that during sultry voice) — is that something you can control, or just a happy accident?