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Sesame Family Robinson – From making Muppets to Raising Moppets

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The Twin Show

Number of the Day:  2

We shot my final show of the season today—the “Twin Show.” Hooper’s Store is celebrating “Twin Day” and Abby and Zoe want to become twins so they can join the party. They learn about fraternal and identical twins, and that everyone is different in their own way, even if they look the same. Very Sesame Street.

It was truly a great day on the set. Joey Mazzarino directed, and did a wonderful job. The major cast was Abby, Zoe, Telly, the Count, Chris and his real twin sister, Christy. She came in from LA to do the show and was just fantastic. The energy on the set was super and we even finished on time. (The following photos were taken by Richard Termine.)

 Micah and Aria Linz, Chris and Christy Knowing and Abby and Zoe (the wannabe twins).  
Micah and Aria Linz, Chris and Christy Knowing and Abby and Zoe (the wannabe twins). 

  A great shot of the twin animals in action at the “Hooper’s Twin Party.” Here they’re just finishing a game of “music freeze.”
A great shot of the twin animals in action at the “Hooper’s Twin Party.” Here they’re just finishing a game of “music freeze.”

 Director Joey Mazzarino showing Chris how to give a penguin a sardine cookie. The penguins’ names are Pen and Gwen. Get it?
To top off all the fun and games, Marty and I were “extras” and walked through one of the shots with Lyra and Ripley.   

 The Robinson Family Extras. Ripley and Lyra were both pulling on Abby and Zoe’s hair.
The Robinson Family Extras. Ripley and Lyra were both pulling on Abby and Zoe’s hair.

After all these years writing for the show, this was my first “cameo.” I even went into hair and make-up to look human as I walked across the screen with my husband and daughters.

Tune in for the aired show—sometime in 2010 or 2011!

Our Irish Eyes Were Smiling (Well, My Welsh Eyes).

Word of the Day: Heritage

When I first went to Northern Ireland three years ago, I remember sitting in the airplane as it descended out of the clouds and I saw for the first time, (in this lifetime!) these incredible green fields. It really is emerald—or “40 shades of green.” As the taxi drove towards Belfast past little stone farmhouses and fields of cows and sheep I really thought, “I’m home,” which is funny because I’m not Irish. I’m Welsh (except for a few drops of French or German, depending on what year in history it is in Alsace-Lorraine.) But I AM Celtic. Marty and the girls are very Irish and Scottish. So, we were definitely home last week in the land of the Celts.

The first day of our arrival was a rest time. We needed it to all get adjusted to the time change.  It was raining, so we just relaxed, baby-proofed the hotel room, watched TV and ordered room service.

Babies crawling in a hotel room.
Lyra and Ripley getting a lay of hotel room land … and the full-length mirror.

The next day, our babysitter, Lisa, arrived right on time. We actually thought she was an hour late, until we realized we’d changed our clocks one hour too many. Instead, we had plenty of time to eat breakfast. Lisa ended up being a “kid wrangler” for film and TV in Belfast rather than someone else’s babysitter. She had worked with the Sesame Tree producers so she was able to even walk us with the babies to their offices so we didn’t get lost. The plan was for them to come everyday for lunch and a visit, then enjoy walking around Belfast. Unfortunately, it rained EVERY DAY we were in Ireland, so instead, the babies saw a lot of stores. No wonder it is so green here.

That first morning of the workshop was spent getting reacquainted. I knew three of the four writers from last season. There was a new script editor, Laura and a new main producer, Fiona. The original line producer, Leon, is still involved with the show. These women are powerhouses and are going to make this second season of Sesame Tree fabulous.

The writers, puppeteers and producers (minus the executive producer, Colin, who was on another shoot) sat together in a circle to discuss everything about last season that worked and didn’t work. It was the first time they had actually done this as a team so everyone was very happy. This is not a reflection on the production—often writers are finished and no longer staff before the puppeteers are hired back for production.

The babies showed up for lunch and we all ate together and visited. In the afternoon, the writers and I started intense breakdowns of the first four scripts of the new season and the puppeteers began working with Marty on technique. At the end of the day, we walked back to the hotel, relieved Lisa, ordered room service, and crashed hard.

It was like this for the next three days: intense work, babies visiting, walking home, room service and bed. It was fantastic. This team is so funny and smart. I only have to point them in a direction once in awhile for story structure or humor. It’s also helpful I have a large knowledge of the Sesame library and can suggest classic Muppet bits to fit into the topic of their shows. We went through all 20 of their stories for this season, plus eight outlines. On the final day, we gathered as a group again and did a table read of the second drafts of the first four shows. The puppeteers were in great form and the scripts read beautifully. There were lots of laughs and few notes. Colin, the exec, was clearly pleased.

I was going to go up to the hotel room to relieve Lisa while Marty went out with the team for some pints at the Robinsons (!) bar across the street. However, Robinsons was packed with the Friday evening crowd so instead they all came to the first floor hotel lounge, which has a nice big open area and floor rug. So, the babies came down with me and we could all spend some final time together while the babies crawled around us.

Lyra and Ripley with the Irish puppeteers and their workshop puppets. The real puppets are being fixed for the new season.
Lyra and Ripley with the Irish puppeteers and their workshop puppets. The real puppets are being fixed for the new season.

Ripley reaches out for Lisa and Hilda the Irish Hare.
Ripley reaches out for Lisa and Hilda the Irish Hare.

We were planning the next day to go to the Neolithic ruins at New Grange. However, the weather once again looked nasty and Fiona suggested we go with her and her son to see Carrickfergus Castle, which was much closer to Belfast. Marty jumped at this idea since, after a pint or two in the “old country,” he’s been known to sing a Carrickfergus song in Telly’s voice. It worked out super because we could push the girls through most of it and carry them the rest of the way up into the castle “Keep.” There were two large rugs on the top floor, which were the “boards” for an oversized chess game and ladders and serpents game. The girls got to crawl around their first chess set, as well as visit with locals dressed in medieval garb playing music and telling stories.

The Robinsons at Carrickfergus Castle along with John McGuire (Fiona’s son).
The Robinsons at Carrickfergus Castle along with John McGuire (Fiona’s son).

Afterwards, we went to Fiona’s for some tea and pasta, and then headed home to pack for an early plane home.   

Our Celtic eyes were tired, but it was a grand trip.

Smartest Child Ever

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Tyler The Piano Player

Tyler Bunch is one of those guys who can do anything, and really well. (He has pretty much the best Robert Goulet impression you have ever heard.) He's one of the main go-to puppeteers for new, interesting, one-time characters. Recently, during a big Cookie Monster song, "Me Gotta Be Me,” Tyler was performing a piano player, and I asked him to describe what exactly he was doing.

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Leslie, Shaun and the Jib Camera

 Shaun Harkins is one of those very cool and creative people that you will never hear about on Sesame Street. He designed, built, and operates our jib, or as some call it, a boom camera. Sesame always shoots with multiple cameras when in the studio, with the cuts made live from camera to camera as we perform each scene. Usually there are two to three standard pedestal cameras, and the jib cam, which sweeps in from the studio ceiling across the entire set and ends up at floor level all in one shot. Following is a little film with Leslie, Abby, and Shaun showing you how it is done.

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Like your family we have twins, boy/girl, that turned three last month. I saw your blog entry for January and it looks like we have something in common, potty training twins. Like one of your girls, my son WILL NOT pee in the potty but his sister was doing well until she caught on to "Bubbie" not trying. I was just letting things run their course but our local pre-schools/mommy day out programs require the children to be potty trained and this mommy needs a day out. Bribery isn't working. Have you had any success?

Sommer

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How often is the telly puppet renewed or replaced?

Katherine Sydney, Australia

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I read in 40 Years of Life on the Street about an incident involving Snuffy's puppet where a sombrero caused the wood frame to collapse on you and Bryant Young. Did they rebuild the puppet after that or did they just make a new one?

Edward

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I just wanted to say thanks for the blog. My daughter Kylie (who just turned two yesterday) loves to ask if we are going to see "the babies." Thank you so much to you and Marty for bringing the joy of Sesame Street into our lives every day.

Kendal and Kylie Montreal, Canada

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I've noticed that there are fewer Muppets and people in an episode now than there were twenty years ago. Does everyone show up on the set for filming days or only certain ones? Who decides who gets to play the Anything Muppets? There are some voices I hear more than others.

Glenda

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