Like a lot of kids, Megan Piphus Peace assumed the puppets on Sesame Street and Lamb Chop’s Play-Along “were real and didn’t know that someone was operating them.” These classic children’s shows were where the Vanderbilt alum first discovered her interest in puppetry and ventriloquism. Of course, at the time, she had no idea that her childhood fascination would lead to her making history as Sesame Street’s first Black woman puppeteer.
Peace attended a puppetry conference when she was 10, then went on to hone her craft through various performances at daycares, churches and festivals when she was a teenager. As an adult, she moved to a career in finance, but her artistic side was still calling to her.
“What I consider the magic of ventriloquism is getting to share that experience with someone else and have them believe that our conversations are real,” she told Vanderbilt University’s MyVU News.
Peace submitted a video audition in 2017, then in March 2020 she was contacted by puppet captain Matt Vogel, who also performs as Kermit the Frog and Big Bird, asking her to join a virtual workshop to learn Muppet-style puppetry.
“It takes time to go through video submissions, but once we do, we earmark people that we’d like to invite to a workshop where we see their skills as a puppeteer and actor in person,” Vogel said. “Zoom is not an ideal way to conduct a workshop, but we made the best of it and Megan was game to learn.”
The popular series was working on a special about racial justice called The Power of We and was looking for someone to perform a six-year-old Black girl Muppet named Gabrielle.
“Megan was our choice from the beginning,” Vogel said. “She already had lip sync skills from her abilities as a ventriloquist, but she did not know the monitor work, which is harder than it looks.”
When she joined Sesame Street in September 2021, Peace didn’t know she was making history as the first Black woman to be one of its puppeteers.
“I would have cried like a baby on the 123 steps if they had told me beforehand,” Peace admitted. “The sets of Sesame Street are like walking into a fantasy. To be there is really something.”
I love the idea that she found her way back to puppetry and is now educating kids on Sesame Street, but it’s still frustrating that it took a show all about recognizing and understanding differences this long to have a Black woman performing as one of the Muppets.