It has been 45 years since Gordon, Susan, Mr. Hooper and Bob first introduced kids to the colorful characters of a diverse neighborhood in New York City. In honor of the auspicious anniversary, Sesame Workshop has partnered with the New York Public Library to bring the magic of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch back to audiences of all ages. We were there to experience “Somebody Come and Play” this week and let’s be honest, I haven’t stopped smiling since I walked through the doors and came face to face with Oscar the Grouch on the corner of Sesame Street.
“Somebody Come and Play” is installed at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Curators from Sesame Workshop have worked closely with the library to create a five room exhibit that not only honors the huge number of talented artists, musicians, puppeteers, and characters themselves, but also gives visitors the chance to see the cool work the workshop is doing in 150 countries around the world. Each country actually has their own cast of muppets and the exhibit welcomes a delegation of muppets you may have never seen before from Northern Ireland.
There are song scores, an original Rubber Ducky, hand-drawn story boards, short video featurettes on the making of newer Sesame Street videos, historic photos of the show’s writers room, and so much. But at its heart, “Somebody Come and Play” is also about community, and the largest room of the exhibit, which Snuffleupagus and Zoe watch over from what can only be their imaginary dressing room because both are decked out in full Swan Lake costume, is filled with community activities and a Cookie Monster-themed wall where visiting children are encouraged to draw their own idea of a muppet. If you want to learn about what goes into making costumes like Snuffy’s Swan Lake tutu, give a listen to this older episode of the Nerdist Writer’s Panel when Ben Blacker interviewed head-writer/puppeteer Joey Mazzarino and writers John Weidman, Christine Ferraro, Belinda Ward, and Molly Boylan.
In addition to the activities and history, the exhibit brings actual muppets to the people of New York. Oscar the Grouch greets you at the door, eyeing visitors balefully from within his trash can until a button is pushed and he emerges in all his glory. Big Bird is around the corner alongside Count von Count, and Elmo welcomes visitors from center stage just beyond. Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Zoe, Snuffy, Hoots the Owl, the Honkers – who you can pose with in a photo booth (and oh, we posed and posed and snapped and snapped and snapped), the muppets from Northern Ireland who are here visiting, and Super Grover oversees it all from above.
The coolest part of the exhibit, after we stopped freaking out about meeting our heroes, was the reaction the puppets inspired in everyone in the room. There was a line at the photo booth for the Honkers – and none of them were children – and more than one fully grown adult was posing for selfies next to the puppets or just standing and staring in rapt awe before their favorite characters. All the puppets were behind glass so you couldn’t actually touch them, but Sesame Workshop did include a slightly disturbing – but totally cool – feel-board of all the materials that the puppet masters use to make our favorite characters. There is something completely disturbing about running your fingers over swatches of Muppet fur like a weird sample plate of live creatures.
Check out the gallery below, and if you have the chance to visit New York City between now and January 31, 2015, take the time to visit everyone’s favorite neighborhood and see them all for yourself.
Images via Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library