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Meet the puppeteer who puts snap in Elmo’s tap dancing

If you’ve ever wondered who puts the snap in ‘Sesame Street’ muppet Elmo’s snappy tap dancing, here’s your chance to find out.

Bermuda Documentary Film Festival will screen the Sundance award-winning documentary, ‘Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey’, this weekend at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI).

Below every puppet like Elmo, there is a talented puppeteer who supplies the voice, the movement, and the heart and soul. Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash, had a father who didn’t worry about things like sacrificing his clothes so that an aspiring puppeteer could hone his craft.

Mr Clash cut up his father’s overcoat to make his first puppet a monkey. Rather than being angry, his father encouraged the creative ten-year-old to continue on his path.

“‘Sesame Street’ began in 1969 when I was nine years old,” Mr Clash told the website Collider.com.

“Just as soon as it came on, I was glued to the television. I loved watching the show, but I also wanted to get as close as I could to the TV to see how to build the puppets. I didn’t really think of it as a possible career at that stage I was going back and forth from building puppets to drawing characters and maybe wanting to get into animation.

“Then, I gradually began doing it more locally and my mom would say, ‘You know, you could probably do this as a career’. At that point, I was making $25 a show and I was doing it for the enjoyment. Making it a career was just a dream.”

Mr Clash’s first television work was for the CBS affiliate in Baltimore. He joined ‘Sesame Street’ after attracting the attention of muppet designer Kermit Love.

“[Elmo] was thrown to me by this unbelievable, talented performer, Richard Hunt, who was one of Jim Henson’s main puppeteers,” Mr Clash said.

“He was the second puppeteer to perform Elmo on ‘Sesame Street’. I was an up-and-coming, young puppeteer and I said to myself, ‘If he can’t do anything with it, how can I come up with something?’ So, I went back home and hung out with my mom, who was a day care mother, and I watched the kids.

“When I came back up the next season, there was this one sketch that was written for Elmo that was just Elmo imagining that he was going on a trip, and I started doing some silly things. Once I heard the camera guys who have seen everything laughing, I thought. ‘Okay, maybe I’m doing something that might work here’.”

‘Being Elmo’ will screen Sunday at the BUEI at 3pm. It precedes ‘The Women on the Sixth Floor’, which screens at 5.15pm.

Fabrice Luchini stars as a wealthy stockbroker who lives a staid bourgeois life with his perfectly-presented socialite wife. When the family’s maid abandons them, into the residence comes a young, hardworking and attractive replacement from Spain. Maria soon rallies the friendship of the other servants who live on the sixth floor (their bosses live on the first five floors) and soon the balance of the household ruptures into wild, cross-cultural chaos.

Tickets to the Weekend Film Series are $15 and available from Oceans Gift Shop at the BUEI or by calling 297-7314.

Sesame Street muppet Elmo chats with a small child.

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Published March 17, 2012 at 2:00 am (Updated March 17, 2012 at 8:36 am)

Meet the puppeteer who puts snap in Elmo’s tap dancing

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