Cookie Monster: Take this oatmeal cookie. It's important. It mean whole lot to me. [munches]
Sesame Street Theme Song: Sunny Day
Sweepin' the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get?
How to get to Sesame Street
Melissa Harris-Perry: For more than 50 years, the neighbors of Sesame Street, human and puppet alike, have been teaching important life lessons, like the value of friendship, kindness, and inclusion.
Jill Biden: Hi, I'm Jill Biden and I'm here with my good friend Gabrielle.
Gabrielle: Hi. We're here to tell you the word of the day.
Jill Biden: Today's word is kindness. It means doing something to show you care about people, animals, or the environment.
Gabrielle: There's lots of ways you can show kindness.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Joining Elmo and Big Bird in this upcoming season is Gabrielle, a confident and curious six-year-old girl voiced by Megan Piphus Peace.
Gabrielle: If someone says, I can't play with them because of the way I look, I can be an upstander for myself and tell them that's wrong.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Megan is the first Black woman puppeteer on Sesame Street. She joined the cast full-time in September, 2021, and she's bringing plenty of Black girl magic to six-year-old Gabrielle. Now, you're pretty young. Did you watch Sesame Street though growing up?
Megan Piphus Peace: I watched Sesame Street growing up and I was still watching it as a teenager. Now I get to watch it with my two little boys who are three and a half and one and a half. I loved Sesame Street and I even had a Sesame Street-themed to birthday party when I was three years old. That's one of my vivid memories from being that young is being able to hug the characters after the show.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Did you have a favorite puppet at that time or maybe a crew of favorites?
Megan Piphus Peace: I had a crew of favorite, but my ultimate favorite was Zoe. I just loved her character, her personality, and vibrance. I was still watching Sesame Street when I was a little bit older too. My favorite became Abby Cadabby when she joined the street.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, you start ventriloquism fairly young. Did you understand that the puppets were puppets? I asked this in part because, I mean, I may have been in my twenties before I realized that they weren't just actual people. I still think Grover might just live somewhere in a house by himself.
Megan Piphus Peace: Grover is very real. I can confirm that. Yes, I did not know that they were puppets until I was much older. I was first exposed to puppetry in that it was an art form when I was about 10 years old. That's when I realized that it was an art form that you could learn. As soon as I learned that, I wanted to be the person that was on stage or behind the curtain working the puppet and doing ventriloquism. I never knew that Sherry Lewis was a ventriloquist. I didn't learn that until maybe two years after I was doing ventriloquism because she was just so phenomenal. As a child watching Lamb Chop's Play-Along, I didn't realize she had any literal hands in Lamb Chop.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I feel like for parents and caregivers this could go, really, a couple of different ways when your 10-year-old is like, "You know what, I'm going into the artistry of puppetry." I feel there's some parents and caregivers who are like, "All right, then we're going to be the best ventriloquist that we can be." Others are like, "Here, let me give you this medical set so we can be a doctor or an engineer." What did you get?
Megan Piphus Peace: My parents were so supportive. Looking back, I'm so surprised because I was in so many other activities. My mom was already taking me to piano lessons and dance lessons. Looking back, she could have easily been like, "Megan, you're doing way too much. We're not doing ventriloquism as well." She was incredibly supportive. I remember the day I told her I wanted to learn and she called several different library branches asking if they had tapes on how to do ventriloquism. We got them all shipped to our local library and I picked them up and watched them back and forth, and she took me to the toy store to find a puppet.
My mom is an educator in speech-language pathologist, so she's dealt with all kinds of social skills and speech disabilities. I think in her mind she saw it as a way that I could open up because I still wasn't talking very much. I was very shy. She was very wise in realizing that this passion could be a way for me to express myself.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hearing you talk about your mother as an educator and thinking about the work you do, do you also think of yourself as an educator?
Megan Piphus Peace: I'm so excited that I get to be an educator through Sesame Street. We're able to tackle very heavy topics, and I know I'm just training and leading the next generation to be kinder and smarter, and stronger. I get to teach my own children through Sesame Street. I know I'm creating content that they're going to watch at home.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, I watched some of your content a couple of years ago. You were a voice in the 2020 Sesame Street and CNN Town Hall standing up to racism. That was before you took your full-time role at the show. Talk to me about that experience.
Megan Piphus Peace: That was my first recording experience with Sesame Street. It was so impactful that I got to use my skill in characters and puppetry to be able to address an issue on such a national stage that I knew children needed to learn about. I'll never forget one of the lines that Gabrielle had. She's only six and a half years old but was able to explain what racism was. She said, racism is when you're treated unfairly or unkindly because of the color of your skin. Then kids began to ask questions like, "Why do we have different skin colors?" It was so innocent and such a beautiful conversation. I'm just very grateful that I got to cover that with Gabrielle.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell me more about Gabrielle.
Megan Piphus Peace: Gabrielle, she's six and a half years old. She lives on the street and she has family members on the street like her cousin, her big cousin, Tamir. She's friends with everyone. She has an amazing confident personality. She's very loving, and we're just watching her learn and grow on Sesame Street.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What would we understand about our current world through Gabrielle?
Megan Piphus Peace: We could understand the excitement and energy that our young girls have to dream big. I think children just have the wildest imagination. As we grow older as adults, life experiences, failures can really hamper our imagination, but young girls really have unhampered wild imagination. Through Gabrielle, one of the episodes that we were able to record in this upcoming season that's coming up this fall was about occupations. We get to see Gabrielle explore all of the many things that she can be. As she's exploring, she's actually able to picture and envision herself doing that occupation.
I know as an adult, there's been many times where I say, "Oh no, I can't do this because of that." "I can't do this because of that," but Gabrielle, "Oh, could I be an architect? Yes, I'll think about it. Could I be a veterinarian? Yes. I'll think about it." Yes, if you can do anything, anything is possible with the exposure to the career. I think with Gabrielle, we can learn our true potential and open up our imagination to be absolutely anything that we wanna be.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you're thinking about your own work and your own artistry, how do you know? When is the moment when you feel like, "Ah, I nailed that." "Oh, I feel so good about that." One of the times when you're like, "Next time, we're going to change that up again."
Megan Piphus Peace: I've never felt 100% satisfied with any performance and I thought that was a flaw of mine until I started with Sesame Street. Many of the performers that I learned from who've been on the street, some of them for over 40 years have said, "You'll never have a perfect performance." There's always going to be something that you wish you could have done better. You can be your worst critic, but you can't be your own worst enemy.
I think that's a very beautiful thing to be able to see what you could have done better. That way, you're always growing. I truly learned from the masters, and even them, they say, you know, they'll have a recording and they'll look back and say, "Oh, I could have done this." "I could have done that." While they delivered what I would've thought was a perfect performance. There's always room for growth and that's what I'm excited for the most in my career with Sesame Street is just growing with them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: A final question. You've mentioned your own kiddos a couple of times. Do they have any show ideas, characters, suggestions? What are you learning from them about what they'd like to see?
Megan Piphus Peace: Well, I know they would like to see-- They're really into dinosaurs and robots. There is a Cookie Monster segment where Cookie Monster-- it's a parody of Jurassic Park, and Cookie Monster is an extreme scientist and he makes cookie dinosaurs come to life. Anything with dinosaurs and robots, they would like to see incorporated more in this show. They love Mecca Builders. Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster and Elmo become builder robots. They absolutely love that series. We've actually just did as part of season 53 an episode with a robot dog. I'm so excited for that to come out because I know they're going to be so excited to see a robot dog.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I love that. Megan Piphus Peace, the voice of Gabrielle on Sesame Street. Megan, thanks so much for joining us on our street, The Takeaway.
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