Strings attached – Lifelong love of puppeteering propels alum to spot on Sesame Street
From streets filled with Trojan fans to streets filled with puppeteer hands, TROY graduate David Stephens has managed to work his way down paths that led him straight to Sesame Street.
Stephens began working for the long-running children’s TV show in December 2007 in a television special called Abby Caddaby in Wonderland.
“Thus far, I’ve performed Anything Muppets (puppets whose features can be altered to create a plethora of characters), a Muppet cow and Telly Monster’s right hand. A lot of Muppets like Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch and Telly require two puppeteers,” Stephens said.
“I get to go to work and watch Carroll Spinney perform Big Bird and Oscar right in front of me; and I get to play music and trade songs with Jerry Nelson, who performs The Count, in his dressing room between scenes,” Stephens said. “It’s like being five years old all over again and feeling pure bliss.”
What put the icing on the cake in terms of golden opportunities is Stephens said Sesame Street couldn’t have called at a better time due to his move to New York, which resulted in financial strain.
“I remember being in my neighborhood laundromat contemplating getting a ‘real’ job when Sesame called,” Stephens said. “When my contract showed up in the mail, I cried out of sheer joy. How would you feel if you got an envelope in the mail with Bert on the address label?”
After graduating from TROY in 1999, Stephens performed in a television pilot called Here We Grow. From there, he started performing in larger roles, such as Jack and the Beanstalk with All Hands Productions. Stephens was also a puppeteer for the Cartoon Network during the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Stephens has received several awards for his performances as a puppeteer.
“In 2004, one of my shows, Billy Goats Gruff and Other Stuff, was awarded a Citation of Excellence by UNIMA-USA, which is an international organization for puppeteers,” said Stephens. “Jim Henson started the USA chapter and established the Citations of Excellence to recognize outstanding puppet work.”
Stephens was also awarded a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation in 2007 and was the recipient of the Artist Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts in 2003.
After earning his bachelor’s degree at TROY, Stephens continued his education at the University of Connecticut where he received a master’s degree in puppet arts.
“I was a theatre major at TROY with minors in art and English, and my professors in each of those departments helped shape me as an artist and as a person,” said Stephens. “My time at TROY prepared me for the work I’m doing now by allowing me to experiment and grow as a puppeteer.”
From the stages at college to the screen with Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster, Stephens has managed to turn his childhood love into a successful career.
“I hope Sesame will continue to allow me to work with them,” said Stephens. “Every visit to the set is a true blessing.”
Godwin, a senior print journalism and public relations major from Loxley, served as the foundation scholar in the Office of University Relations during the 2007-08 academic year.