The Center for Puppetry Arts team recently visited Hollywood, where The Jim Henson Company hosted a fundraiser in our benefit! In addition to supporting the Center for Puppetry Arts, the event was also held to honor legendary Sesame Street puppeteer Caroll Spinney. It was an evening full of star performances, heartfelt speeches, laughter, happy tears, and, yes, lots of puppets! Here are some of the highlights:
When we first arrived, we took a guided behind-the-scenes tour of The Jim Henson Company’s historic lot in Hollywood. The space is turning 100 years old in 2018, and it used to be Charlie Chaplin’s studio. We started at the Henson Recording Studio, which is known as one of the best recording studios in the music industry. Artists like Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Destiny’s Child and Justin Timberlake have all recorded there!
Next the tour took us to Brian Henson’s office, where we were lucky enough to see some actual props from The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Farscape. And check out the cool items on these shelves—those are original movie clapperboards!
Finally, we took a peek into the reception area, where countless awards and plaques are proudly displayed. Further into the reception area, we got to see puppets from Turkey Hollow made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, AND a fully restored Skeksis from The Dark Crystal!
In addition to the behind-the-scenes tour, the sold-out crowd gathered for drinks and appetizers in the courtyard, also popping into the screening room for a special photo opportunity with Oscar the Grouch! After an hour of mingling, we went inside for the performance and dinner. From this point forward, photography was not allowed, but we’ll describe some of the highlights from the show!
The evening was divided into two acts, with an intermission for dinner. Each act opened with fan favorites Bobby Vegan (Bill Barretta) and Samson Knight (Brian Henson). The hilarious sketches were the perfect way to kick off the program.
The evening was emceed by Chris Hardwick, who is the host of AMC’s “Talking Dead.” For Puppets for Puppetry, he rebranded the show slightly to present “Talking Street,” a panel discussion with special guests Cookie Monster, The Count and Bert (dressed as Batman because he thought he was going to Comic Con!). Hardwick asked all three to give their highlights from the past 50 years on Sesame Street: Bert named his bottle cap collection; The Count, after a long pause, tried to count more than 6,000 best moments; and Cookie Monster, because he was not offered cookies, tried to eat the set.
Later, Oscar the Grouch came out with Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan (as “Oscar’s Grouchier Uncle”) for a gentle roast of Caroll Spinney. Among their complaints: How “beloved” Spinney is! “Oh, brother…”
Jack McBrayer, dressed in lederhosen, came on stage to perform “Great Moments in Spinney History,” covering such monumental moments as his early career working on Bozo the Clown, his introduction to Jim Henson, and his first time meeting his wife, Debbie.
Other performances included a live recreation of Frank Oz and Jim Henson’s Java from 1968; Bunny Love by Pam Severns; an excerpt from Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Wood Boy Dog Fish; and an excerpt of Ajijaak on Turtle Island by Heather Henson and Henu Josephine Tarrant.
Beyond all the amazing puppetry on display, the event celebrated Caroll Spinney, best known for puppeteering Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, whom Chris Hardwick called “two of the most iconic characters in the history of anything.”
It was a beautiful evening full of touching tributes to the legendary puppeteer. Sesame Street’s Emilio Delgado shared a story of performing Sesame Street Live with Spinney, recalling that when Big Bird walked on stage, the crowd response would have made you think it was the Rolling Stones. And based on the number of stories we heard from visitors to the Center for Puppetry Arts who tell us they cried when they first saw Big Bird in the museum, we can attest that this level of fanfare continues today.
Overall, it was an incredible night, and we were thrilled and honored to have been involved. We are so grateful to The Jim Henson Company for their continued support of the Center for Puppetry Arts.