MXO ‘The Arts Unplugged:’ Passion Leads To History As First Black Woman Becomes Puppeteer On ‘Sesame Street!’
FEATURED PHOTO: MEGAN PIPHUS PEACE PUPPETEER AND VENTRILOQUIST
TheGrio.com, Posted March 31st 2023
Megan Piphus Peace voices Gabrielle, a “sweet 6-year-old Black girl muppet” on the more than 50-year-old children’s program!
The first Black woman puppeteer on “Sesame Street” and self-taught ventriloquist watched her enthusiasm develop growing up on the adored program as well as “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” according to CNN.
Piphus Peace voices Gabrielle, whom she describes as a “sweet 6-year-old Black girl muppet,” providing a role model for joy, curiosity and self-love to a new generation of viewers of “Sesame Street,” which has been around for more than 50 years.
The voice actress hopes the character’s confidence, which contrasts with how timid she herself was as a child, will serve as an example for other children. Gabrielle, she noted, is all about her community and her friends.
“Gabrielle loves to sing and to dance,” Piphus Peace said, CNN reported, “and she’s had lots of experiences on ‘Sesame Street’ where she’s gotten to sing about colors, about loving her hair.”
Piphus Peace, of Cincinnati, realized when she was about 10 that puppetry could be an art form, and it has been a passion ever since. She had attended a puppetry conference organized by a woman at her church and said there was something magical about seeing the connection between a human and an inanimate object coming to life.
“Puppets allow us to enter the imagination of a child,” Piphus Peace told CNN. “You think of a child playing. Their toys can talk. Their cars can move. So you’re speaking their imaginative and creative language when you’re allowing a puppet to come to life.”
As a teenager, Piphus Peace performed all over the country. Her skills earned her the moniker “Valedictorian Ventriloquist” during her high school valedictorian speech.
She also gained notoriety as the “Vanderbilt Ventriloquist” while attending Vanderbilt University, appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in 2012 and “America’s Got Talent” in 2013.
Piphus Peace began her journey to “Sesame Street” in 2020 after earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in unrelated fields in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Show puppeteers Matt Vogel and Martin Robinson asked her if she would be open to learning the show’s distinctive muppet-style puppetry.
It was an adjustment for a woman used to performing ventriloquism on stage, which required communicating with puppets without moving the lips. However, despite having full-time employment and expecting her second child, Piphus Peace made time to hone her skills.
She first portrayed Gabrielle in a CNN and “Sesame Street” town hall on racism in 2020, helping kids process George Floyd‘s murder and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Piphus Peace joined the series as a full-time cast member in 2021. She came across a wall covered in pictures of the cast and crew while waiting for her first in-person recording of the program at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. She noted none of the puppeteers were Black women and after she asked about that, she learned of her historic accomplishment, she said, according to CNN.
“I realized that it would open doors for other Black women, women of color, little boys of color” who are interested in the entertainment field, “to really see that they can be absolutely anything, no matter how niche or unique.”