Elmo and Friends Entertain, Educate Families

By Cheryl Harrison
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Aug. 26, 2008 - Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind the program "Sesame Street," and the United Service Organizations joined forces to bring "The Sesame Street Experience for Military Families" to 43 installations across the country.

"The tour travels for four months, and is for military families only," Kelly Mariska, tour manager, said during the show's visit here. "The 'Talk, Listen, Connect' theme helps kids learn to cope with a deployed parent and how to adapt to a family member being away. Also, it deals with their emotions when that person returns home."

The free tour held performances here Aug. 10 and 11. The 60-minute experience consisted of a 25-minute mini-show and opportunities for military families to connect with outreach organizations.

Show preparations started with a set-up that involved an extreme makeover. What once looked like an auditorium began to look like something right off Broadway. Spotlights went up, enormous speakers were stacked and tested, and a backdrop was hoisted.

Even the cast and crew's bus driver went to work hooking up spotlights. Lewis the driver, as he is known, said, "I am the least-hardest-working person here. I only drive the bus, but help out when I can."

When the scene was finally set, the magic began. Tables were loaded with free information, stickers, magnets and postcards, not to mention twirling toys topped by "Sesame Street" favorite Elmo.

As the excitement of the day's event began to build, the cast began warm-ups to the unforgettable tune of the "Sesame Street" theme.

Antwaun Steele, a St. Louis native, took a few minutes to rest from his warm-up routine.

"I have been with the touring company since 1996. Performing has always been a part of my life, but it is the look on the children's faces that energizes me," he said.

Steele, a dancer and performer, leads a double life. The cast and crew know him as Antwaun; the children he entertains know him as Cookie Monster.

Sesame Street fans began lining up outside the building at about noon Aug. 10 for the 3 p.m. show. Once the doors opened, the auditorium filled quickly, and the full house was not disappointed.

The next day's performance didn't disappoint the audience, either. More than 600 people -- child development center children, warriors in transition, child care providers, and children with parents, friends and family -- enthusiastically awaited the appearance of their favorite TV characters.

Grover, Zoe, Rosita, Cookie Monster and, of course, Elmo, entertained the wide-eyed children with songs and dances depicting ways to handle their feelings.

"I enjoyed the singing and dancing," Sandra Salinas said. Salinas' 3-year-old nephew, Noah Salinas, exclaimed, "I saw Elmo!"

A few teens spotted among the crowd didn't want to appear too enthusiastic about seeing the furry celebrities. "My mom made me come," said 13-year-old Marcus Pratter. "I kind of wanted to come, and I kind of didn't." Pratter's buddy, 13-year-old Brodrick Hill, wasn't as shy about his feelings. "I loved Elmo when I was a little kid," he said.

Whatever their expectations, the capacity crowds left the auditorium with smiles on their faces.

USO is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.

(Cheryl Harrison works in the Army Community Services marketing department at Fort Sam Houston.)

*Related Sites:*
Sesame Street Workshop's Sesame/USO tour  [ ]
United Service Organizations  [ ]
Elmo and Friends Entertain, Educate Families [ ]