By Cheryl HarrisonAugust 14, 2008
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- With all the construction going on around Fort Sam Houston, not many people would have imagined a transformation happened inside the Army Community Service center as well.
But workers, cast members and ACS volunteers and staff built a street on the stage inside the auditorium the morning of Aug. 10. Not just any street, but one the majority of children and adults would easily recognize - Sesame Street.
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, and the United Service Organizations partnered 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," said Kelly Mariska, tour manager. "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, traveling tour held performances Aug. 10 and 11 at the ACS. 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 resembled an extreme makeover. What once looked like an auditorium started to look like something right off Broadway. Spotlights went up, enormous speakers were stacked and tested, a backdrop was hoisted, the scene was set and then the magic began. Tables were loaded with free information, stickers, magnets and postcards, not to mention twirling toys depicting 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 song, "Can you tell me how to get ..." As the limber actors practiced their steps, one could only sit back and wonder, is that Grover or maybe Zoe' But only time and costumes could answer that question. Perhaps the imagination of a child would help.
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."
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. His co-workers, the cast and crew know him as Antwaun; the children he entertains know him as Cookie Monster.
The first show was Aug. 10 at 3 p.m. Sesame Street fans began lining up outside the building at about noon. Once the public was allowed inside, the auditorium filled quickly. The full house was not disappointed.
The next day's performance didn't disappoint the audience either. With about 614 Child Development Center children, Warriors in Transition, Family Child Care providers, as well as hundreds of children with parents, friends and Family, the crowd enthusiastically awaited the appearance of their favorite TV characters.
Grover, Zoe, Rosarita, Cookie Monster and, of course, Elmo entertained the wide-eyed children with songs and dance depicting ways to handle their feelings.
"I enjoyed the singing and dancing," said Sandra Salinas.
Salinas' 3-year-old nephew Noah Salinas exclaimed, "I saw Elmo!"
A few teens were spotted among the crowd but 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, from Fort Hood, Texas, wasn't as shy about his feelings. "I loved Elmo when I was a little kid."
Whatever the reasons, or the expectations, the capacity crowd left the auditorium with a smile on their faces.