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What’s it like being Ernie?


Photo Courtesy Sesame Street Workshop | VEE Corporation
Photo Courtesy Sesame Street Workshop | VEE Corporation

Most people would say they would have never guessed they’d be where they are today if they would have been told ten years earlier.  For Danny Mendoza, if somebody would have told him he’d be playing Ernie on Sesame Street Live, that’d just be insane.

“I used to watch Ernie on TV and now I play Ernie,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza and the rest of the cast of Sesame Street Live will be singing and dancing at Memorial Hall on Nov. 19 and 20 for their performance “Elmo Makes Music.”

In “Elmo Makes Music,” Elmo casts a spell with Abby Caddaby’s wand because he wants to sing all day and suddenly everybody on Sesame Street begins to sing too, and they can’t seem to stop.

“At first, everyone has a good time singing, but then it gets out of control and Elmo realizes he did a bad thing by touching Abby Cadabby’s wand,” said Chris Ellis, who plays Elmo, in an interview with the Ocala Star Banner earlier this year.

As always, the show incorporates two themes. First, Elmo realizes he shouldn’t touch what isn’t his and second, he learns people don’t always get what they want.

“The show is friendly for everybody,” Mendoza said. He sees a lot of grandparents in the audience and parents who grew up watching Sesame Street too. “I’m pretty satisfied with the audience,” he added.

Along with a lot of the old songs that parents will recognize, there are new ones too. Being around for as long as it has, Mendoza said, Sesame Street spans different generations, so everybody enjoys it.

The show is interactive, Mendoza said. They’re constantly going into the audience and giving high-fives and hugs. It’s a rewarding job, he said, “If we get a little discouraged, the people make up for it.”

The cast, consisting of 13 members and around 15 other crew and management members, is on the road for eight to 10 months of the year, averaging 60 to 80 cities on each tour.

An average week for the performers consists mostly of being on the road.

“We get pretty crowded on the bus sometimes, but for me, it’s really fun. You get to know your company and joke around. It’s been a good experience,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza said he has loved to dance since he first began in high school. It was fun and built his self-esteem. He moved to New York for school at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and then began auditioning for roles in different shows.

He started performing and choreographing around New York City and then landed a role on the traveling show for “My Little Pony.” He went from playing a unicorn to playing Ernie.

From his past experience he knew what to expect being on the road a lot. It’s hard to get sleep sometimes, Mendoza said, but ultimately he loves to travel and perform on stage, so working with Sesame Street Live is a dream job.

There’s always so much to do in unexpected towns, Mendoza said. Each city the cast lands in, they find some kind of class to take.

“The funny thing is, with this job you can’t just go home and lie down. You have to keep yourself training all the time,” Mendoza said.

Each costume is around 50 pounds, so a lot of strength goes into the performance. “Character work involves a lot of stamina,” he added.

Mendoza has been with Sesame Street Live for two seasons but the show has been traveling since 1980.  

Sesame Street was first created in the 1960s after Lloyd Morrissett, a Carnegie Foundation executive, told a story at a dinner party about how his daughter, who was mesmerized by television, would sit in front of the family’s TV set early in the mornings to watch test patterns.

This prompted Joan Cooney, a public-television producer, to study how television could be used for education, according to TIME magazine. The rest is pretty much history. Since its origination more than four decades ago, the show has grown to become required broadcast in 120 countries.

Tickets for Sesame Street Live can be purchased on the Memorial Hall website.

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