Getting Into Character

A puppeteer describes how she landed the part of Gabrielle on Sesame Street.
By Megan Piphus Peace
smiling woman with puppet

Megan Piphus Peace is a puppeteer who works on Sesame Street as the character Gabrielle. It took many years of learning her craft, and a lucky break, to land the role.

Piphus Peace met with kids at a Your Hot Job career event. Here’s what she had to say.

I am a puppeteer on television. You may have seen me on America’s Got Talent, or Showtime at the Apollo, or most recently, Sesame Street. I absolutely love working on Sesame Street. It is my dream job. I do puppetry there and I play the role of Gabrielle, who represents equality and a love of community. I also assist with other characters.

On a typical day, I wake up early, around 6 a.m. I exercise and meditate, because I’m going to have a lot to do. We record an episode in one day. That’s 35 episodes in 35 days. I make sure I put on deodorant. We work closely together on set, and the workday is 12 to 14 hours. But it’s all lots of fun. I pack an iPad and a notebook, because we have a lot of downtime on set. And I eat before I get to work. 

The nice thing about working for Sesame Street in New York City is that I can walk to work. We record at Kaufman Astoria Studios, in Queens. It’s a ton of fun working with my fellow puppeteers. We’re a family, and support one another. One day, when I walked into the building, the cast and crew were doing yoga. It’s a very physical job, so everyone makes sure they’re stretched out. My friend Abby Cadabby was dressed like a Sasquatch. Fridays are themed days, so everyone was wearing superhero costumes.

When we’re on set, a lot of the time we’ll have two people working a puppet. So, for Cookie Monster, there’s a main puppeteer who has his hand inside the puppet, and his other hand inside Cookie Monster’s live hands. Cookie Monster has live fingers, so he can pick up things, such as a mirror. That leaves one free hand. So I’ll work Cookie Monster‘s right hand. That’s called right-hand assisting. It’s fun getting to do this, because I’m able to learn from some of the masters of puppeteering. For example, David Rudman has been on Sesame Street for more than 35 years. I’m constantly learning from him.

The Road to Sesame Street 

I started puppetry and ventriloquism when I was 10 years old. I could have a 20-minute conversation with myself and a puppet. Now I can do about 20 different voices. When I was 10 years old, I watched women who were ventriloquists and puppeteers. When I saw them tell stories with their puppets and bring them to life, my imagination ran wild! I imagined myself being able to open up and talk to puppet characters. I rented VHS tapes from the library and watched them forwards and backwards. I taught myself how to talk without moving my eyelids. I got a puppet and took it to school, and had my very first performance. I was inspired by seeing the spark in children’s eyes, and I learned that I could teach them anything with a puppet. I always include a message in my performances, usually about character values, like perseverance, honesty, and respect. And that became my passion.

A younger Piphus Peace performs with a ventriloquist dummy.

I attended Vanderbilt University, in Tennessee, on a scholarship. My application stood out because of the work I had done with children and puppets. I never stopped performing, even though I was studying economics (I loved math and learning how markets worked). In my junior year of college, I auditioned for America's Got Talent. I made it all the way to the Las Vegas boot camp. 

I thought that I would be able to go full-time in entertainment after that experience. But I had to work for several years, in real estate. But I kept practicing puppetry and never gave up. In 2017, I took a chance and wrote a letter to the Jim Henson Company explaining why I love puppetry and ventriloquism, and included a reel of my performance. 

It wasn’t until March 2020 that I got an email from Sesame Street. They said that because of the pandemic, they had extra time to go through applications submitted to the Jim Henson Company. They asked if I’d be willing to try out Sesame Street. So I trained in Muppet-style puppetry for a year. And in September 2021, I became the first Black woman puppeteer on Sesame Street.

Piphus Peace performs as Gabrielle, with television personality Al Roker, on the set of Sesame Street.

But until I had made it to Sesame Street, I kept practicing, never knowing where it would lead. I kept dreaming, never knowing what the outcome would be. I always told myself, “Tomorrow, I will be a better puppeteer. The day after tomorrow, I will be better than ever. Someday, I will be the best me that I can be.” And now, working on Sesame Street, I get to inspire young girls like me, when I was 10 years old. My reminder to you is that we all have unique gifts. Keep working hard, keep dreaming, persevere through any circumstances. The right door will open for you, just like the door of Sesame Street opened for me.