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'Sesame Street' makes history by hiring its first Black woman puppeteer

'We needed authentic representation, and Megan is incredible. She’s got a light inside her,' said another puppeteer on the show.

'Sesame Street' makes history by hiring its first Black woman puppeteer
Cover Image Source: Instagram/Megan Piphus Peace

Megan Piphus Peace was 10 when she was first introduced to the art of puppetry and ventriloquism while attending a puppetry conference in Illinois with her vacation Bible school teacher. Having grown up watching childhood TV programs like "Sesame Street" and "Lamb Chop's Play-Along," she instantly fell in love with the art forms and wanted to try her own hand at them. Recognizing her daughter's passion for the same, Peace's mom did everything in her power to nurture it. She arranged VHS tapes of ventriloquists and a doll from famous entertainer Edgar Bergen for her practice. It all paid off soon enough as Peace began performing by the time she was in elementary school.


"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. I realized what an impact the writing could have on the audience, and that every age could learn something from the show. From then on, my goal was to have a theme... woven into every performance," Peace, who has come to be known as the "Vanderbilt Ventriloquist," told Because of Them We Can.


Peace had built enough of a reputation by the age of 15 that she was even featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." After graduating high school, she went on to pursue higher education at Vanderbilt University and during this time, got the opportunity to perform on major platforms like the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "America's Got Talent". Although she began a professional career in real estate finance after graduating from college with a master's in finance in 2014, she continued doubling as a puppeteer and performing across the country and abroad. Peace received two Emmy awards for best composition and best children's short for her work on a musical series that taught children basic financial literacy in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati in 2019.


However, she hit the biggest milestone of her career recently when she got the opportunity to join the cast of "Sesame Street" as the show's first Black woman puppeteer. Peace revealed that she was unaware of the historical significance of her new role and that she is extremely grateful for the opportunity. "I would have cried like a baby on the 123 steps if they had told me beforehand...The sets of 'Sesame Street' are like walking into a fantasy. To be there is really something," she said.


The road to "Sesame Street"—where she plays the role of 6-year-old Gabrielle—was long and arduous. Although Peace submitted her first audition tape in 2017, she only got a call back from Matt Vogel, the show's puppet captain, in March 2020. He suggested that she enroll in a virtual workshop to learn Muppet-style puppetry and it eventually paid off big time. "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. Zoom is not an ideal way to conduct a workshop, but we made the best of it and Megan was game to learn," Vogel explained.

Calling Peace "incredible," Leslie Carrara-Rudolph—another puppeteer on the show—said: "We needed authentic representation, and Megan is incredible. She’s got a light inside her."

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