She’s been doing this since she was a child!
The “Vanderbilt Ventriloquist’ has now made history as the first Black woman puppeteer on Sesame Street, Vanderbilt University reports.
Megan Piphus Peace was first introduced to puppetry at the age of 10, attending a puppetry conference in Illinois with her Vacation Bible School teacher. She fell in love with the artform and ventriloquism, relating it to her favorite childhood TV programs like Sesame Street and Lamb Chop’s Play-Along. Her mother saw Peace’s passion, supporting her with VHS tapes of ventriloquists to study and a doll from famous entertainer Edgar Bergen so Peace could practice. It all paid off and Peace began performing when she was just in elementary school. By the time she was 15, she was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
“What I consider the magic of ventriloquism is getting to share that experience with someone else and have them believe that our conversations are real. I realized what an impact the writing could have on the audience, and that every age could learn something from the show. From then on, my goal was to have a theme…woven into every performance,” Peace explained.
She continued her work through highschool and when she started college at Vanderbilt University, she became known as the “Vanderbilt Ventriloquist,” performing on major platforms like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and America’s Got Talent. Peace graduated in 2014, subsequently earning her master’s in finance from Vanderbilt as well and beginning a professional career in real estate finance.
Peace continued doubling as a puppeteer, continuing performing across the country and abroad, working on various television shows and collaborating with the University of Cincinnati in 2019 on a musical series that taught children basic financial literacy. For her work, she received two Emmy awards for best composition and best children’s short. Now Peace has landed her biggest deal yet, joining the cast of Sesame Street in 2020 and making history last September as the first Black woman puppeteer, playing the role of 6-year-old Gabrielle.
The puppeteer said she had no idea the role was historic and she is so grateful for the opportunity.
“I would have cried like a baby on the 123 steps if they had told me beforehand…The sets of Sesame Street are like walking into a fantasy. To be there is really something,” said Peace.
The process to be on the show was arduous, Peace submitting her first audition tape in 2017. She wouldn’t get a call back from Matt Vogel, the show’s puppet captain, until March 2020. He suggested she enroll in a virtual workshop to learn Muppet-style puppetry. She did and it paid off.
“It takes time to go through video submissions, but once we do, we earmark people that we’d like to invite to a workshop where we see their skills as a puppeteer and actor in person. Zoom is not an ideal way to conduct a workshop, but we made the best of it and Megan was game to learn,” Vogel explained.
During that time Sesame Workshop was working on their racial justice initiative and Vogel, who voices Big Bird and Kermit the Frog, said Peace was on a shortlist to play Gabrielle.
“Megan was our choice from the beginning. She already had lip sync skills from her abilities as a ventriloquist,” said Vogel.
Once Peace perfected her monitor work, it was a perfect match, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, another puppeteer on the show calling her “incredible.”
“We needed authentic representation, and Megan is incredible. She’s got a light inside her,” said Carrara-Rudolph.
Congratulations Megan! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Megan Piphus Peace/Vanderbilt/Sesame Street