Elmo talks; OK, not really ...
We tried to get an interview with Elmo in advance of "Sesame Street Live," which lands at the Bradley Center this holiday weekend, but the furry little fella was incommunicado. Instead, we talked to actress Leora Greenburg, who -- don't tell the kids -- plays Elmo in the show.
This year, "Elmo's Healthy Heroes," which encourages nutrition, exercise, getting enough sleep and more, is on tap at the Bradley Center, Friday-Sunday, Nov. 26-28. Showtimes are 2 and 7 p.m. Friday, 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday; and Sunday at 1 and 4:30 p.m.
A native New Englander, Greenburg plays Elmo in the current show, reprising a role she knows well from two previous "Sesame Street Live" tours.
We asked her about what it takes to transform oneself into America's most beloved red monster.
OnMilwaukee.com: How does one prepare to "be" Elmo? How do you get into his head every day?
Leora Greenburg: I have been preparing to "be" Elmo since I was 3 years old! Of course, back then I would have never in my wildest dreams thought I would be portraying the role of Elmo, but watching countless hours of "Sesame Street" when I was younger really made playing him today much easier for me.
OMC: Does being inside a costume make the experience more difficult or does it allow you to get more into the role?
LG: The costumes are built by the best in the field. As with any show, it can get difficult at times, but the costumes are made to be as comfortable and authentic as possible. When I look at myself in the mirror after I am all suited up, it is impossible not to get into the role, because I really am staring at just a larger version of the Elmo that is seen everyday on television.
OMC: Does the costume prevent physical challenges in shows that tend to have a lot of dancing and movement?
LG: The entire show is full of dancing and movement! At times it feels like a rock concert for kids, which is why they enjoy it so much. As most of the performers in the show are technically trained dancers, we learn to adjust our styles to fit the fun and friendly attitudes that all of the Muppets possess. It is a challenge, but a fun learning experience!
OMC: What's the key to Elmo, is it the voice, or the enthusiasm, or the speaking about yourself in the third person ... ?
LG: It has to be his laugh.
OMC: A lot of adults see Elmo and think "fuzzy TV show character" but kids clearly see something more, don't they?
LG: Elmo is always asking questions. His curiosity and determination to learn is what I think drives his character.
He is learning with the kids in the audience, not teaching or telling the kids what to do or how to think. Kids tend to identify with him on so many levels because of this inquisitiveness; I believe it enhances their own curiosity and allows them to not be afraid to ask their own questions in their everyday lives.
OMC: Costume or not do you feel a lot of pressure with hundreds -- if not thousands -- of kids in the crowd? That is, does entertaining kids feel like more pressure than entertaining adults?
LG: Yes! With this job, compared with other performing jobs I have held previously, I feel I have a real purpose. My hope is that once the show is over, kids will go home and be excited about eating their fruits and vegetables and leading an active lifestyle.
This particular message is so relevant, especially in a world where value menus and video games are becoming more of a normality than riding bikes and playing outside. We as performers have to take on the additional role of educators and hold a huge responsibility to make sure children are receiving the right messages.
OMC: Ernie or Bert?
LG: That's a tough one! They are kind of like peanut butter and jelly, you can have one and not the other, but they are so much better together! I guess it is really just a matter of if you are more of a fan of rubber duckies or pigeons; I happen to like both.
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