Liz Sanford ’11 brings Sesame Street characters to life on national tour

by Annabelle Holman, Communications Intern

Liz Sanford ’11 recently completed an eight month national tour with Sesame Street Live portraying the roles of Oscar the Grouch and her own puppet, Maya Monster.

Onstage, Sanford mainly performed as Oscar the Grouch. “I never thought I would be getting to portray that role,” Sanford said about the iconic trash can-dwelling character. Oscar is the complete opposite of her personality, which makes it “so fun because it’s so different from what I normally do,” she said.

As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, Sanford said she came full circle. “I just love being on stage and making that connection with the audience,” she said. “Performing for me has just always been something that I really loved, so the fact that I get to do that and call it my job is a blessing.”

Before each Sesame Street Live performance, Sanford was in the lobby with Maya Monster to interact with children at an information booth. “As kids and parents come in, Maya can actually interact with them and talk to them and ask them if they’re excited for the show and answer questions and sing songs with them,” Sanford said.

Performing with Sesame Street has turned puppeteering into one of her new favorite interests, she says, with Maya Monster allowing her to explore a talent she never knew she had.

Sanford’s interest in performance has been practically lifelong. She grew up in Mebane, N.C., and followed in her brother’s footsteps to attend NCSSM. Sanford did not know if she would be able to continue to pursue her passion for dance at Science and Math, but she quickly found a home in the variety of dance groups, fests, and musicals available to students. “It was something that I still participated in even though I was concentrating on academic studies,” she said. “I continued to feed that love for performing.”

After NCSSM, Sanford went to UNC-Charlotte, where she majored in dance. She originally planned to go straight to grad school and concentrate on dance therapy or even the academic side of dancing but instead decided to put a hold on grad school to take up dancing professionally.

Sanford auditioned for anything and everything, landing small parts with dance companies, regional theatre and shows at Six Flags. “I just didn’t think I was going to get anything,” she said. “It’s a very tough industry.” From Charlotte to Atlanta, Sanford spent time in those roles and waitressing and babysitting until last summer, when she landed the gig at Sesame Street.

In preparation for her performance, Sanford trained in New York with people from the Sesame Street television show who had been puppeteering for most of their lives. “It was one of the coolest experiences of my life,” she said.

Sanford is excited to continue to explore puppeteering. This September, she will return to Sesame Street Live for another eight month nationwide tour. She will still be puppeteering as Maya Monster, but says she is not sure if she will stay in her role as Oscar. In the meantime, Sanford has been working in a box office in South Carolina and getting ready to perform in a summer show called, “Jukebox Giants” at a regional theater in Atlanta.

Looking back on her journey, she emphasized how important it was not to limit herself. “You don’t have to box yourself in to one career path or one specific job because a lot of times, different opportunities are going to arise,” she said. “Just go for it, because you never know where it’s going to lead you or who you’re going to meet along the way.”