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Sesame Street at 40: A Night of Celebration with the Legendary Cast

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Sesame Street at 40

Except from the Season Program for the William Paterson University Distinguished Lecturer Series 2008-2009.

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Panelists at the event. Front Row (from stage right to stage left): Frank Oz, Caroll Spinney, Sonia Manzano, and Kevin Clash; Back Row: Tony Geiss, Bob McGrath, Fran Brill, and Marty Robinson.

Sesame Street at 40: A Night of Celebration with the Legendary Cast was an event held on January 30, 2009 in the Shea Center for the Performing Arts at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey; the event was the final installment in William Paterson University's Distinguished Lecturer Series for 2008-2009.

The occasion was moderated by Michael Davis, author of Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street and consisted of a panel-style discussion with members of the creative team behind Sesame Street. As originally billed, the panel was to have nine members, including David Rudman. At the actual event, however, Rudman was absent, and the panel comprised the remaining eight members, seated on stage in two rows of four--Front Row (from stage right to stage left): Frank Oz, Caroll Spinney, Sonia Manzano, and Kevin Clash; Back Row: Tony Geiss, Bob McGrath, Fran Brill, and Marty Robinson. Spinney, Clash, Brill, and Robinson brought the Muppet characters Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Zoe, and Telly Monster, respectively. The seating arrangements allowed Oscar and Manzano's character Maria to engage in their trademark teasing of one another; however, on this occasion their tone was notably affectionate, with a subtext of unrequited love on the part of Oscar. At the beginning of the discussion, Davis was seated about five yards stage right of the panelists, although he spent most of the evening on his feet posing questions and otherwise engaging the panel members.

Davis asked questions to specific panelists, who then answered, with frequent interjection of anecdotes and amplifications by other panel members. At the end of the discussion, the panelists took questions from the audience. Interesting revelations from this Q&A session included the following: Frank Oz dismisses the notion that Cookie Monster's penchant for cookies encourages children to eat unhealthily, and Marty Robinson disclosed that one wall in the Green Room of the Sesame Street studio is adorned with defunct Sesame Street Muppets, and is called "The Dead Muppets Wall" by cast members.

In addition to a celebration of Sesame Street’s 40th Anniversary, the event also served as a memorial tribute to Richard Hunt. Several members of Hunt's family, including his mother Jane, were in attendance that night. During the discussion, Davis showed two video clips of classic Sesame Street sketches featuring Hunt characters Forgetful Jones and Don Music. The panelists also waived their speakers' fee, choosing to have it donated to the Sesame Workshop, in Hunt's name.

Immediately after the event, Davis and Manzano signed copies of their new books. A reception with the panelists followed at nearby Hobart Manor, also on the Paterson campus and an easy walk from the Shea Center. However, this reception was open only to invited guests and Season Ticket holders of Paterson's Distinguished Lecturer Series. At the reception, the panelists proved willing to sign autographs, and Caroll Spinney expressed disagreement with the disclaimer offered in the DVD sets Sesame Street: Old School, Volumes 1 and 2 that the early Sesame Street episodes "may not suit the needs of today's preschool child."

Event Program

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