|Sesame Street writer Annie Evans with husband and Muppeteer Martin Robinson and their two daughters.|
As Sesame Street enters into its 43rd season, it's high time we fans look behind the scenes of this juggernaut to take a peek at the humans who create all of the fun and magic.
I've shared some information about the hard-working Muppeteers: Elmo's Kevin Clash; Snuffy and Telly's Martin Robinson; Zoe's Fran Brill. And then there's the contributions of long-time cameraman Frank Biando and storyboard designer Louis Henry Mitchell.
But who are the people who write the scripts for the shows? The folks who make educational content fun and interesting for young people and adults alike?
One of those wordsmiths is Annie Evans. She's been writing for Sesame since 1993.
I had the honor of meeting Annie and finding out just what it means to be a writer for Sesame Street.
Q: How did Annie arrive at Sesame Street?
A: Since young adulthood, Annie had been a playwright and screenwriter. One year, she was invited to the O'Neill Puppetry Conference, where she met Martin Robinson (the man who would later become her husband.) Annie helped Martin with a show he was working on and eventually Martin submitted some of Annie's sketches to Norm Stiles, then head writer at Sesame.
In response to the submitted sketches, Norm invited Annie to participate in an intense year-long audition process for a writing position at Sesame Street. At the end of the year, Annie was granted a spot!
Q: What does a Sesame Street writer have to be able to do well?
A: A Sesame writer has to be able to provide two key deliverables. One of those is comedy for adults; the other is education for very young people that relays content without being dogmatic. You also have to be curriculum savvy, so that content is informed by an understanding of social-emotional development, cognitive development, and school-readiness.
"The bottom line is that you have to write well," states Annie. "The writers here come out of writing for comedy, advertising, theater. You can always learn about curriculum and add educational components, but you have to have that basis of strong writing."
Q: How does Annie combine both tradition and innovation with a show that has such a long history?
A: The show is not a static one; it is always changing. Writers attend curriculum seminars, and learn about new research topics and formats. There are always new parodies to write. Other work includes writing for live shows and helping with the international productions of Sesame Street.
As Annie shares, "In such a vast, creative environment, the work does not get stale."
Working collaboratively with the production staff is one way writers keep content fresh. The show is currently focusing on math and science by showing "Super Grover 2.0"segments where his character uses science and technology to solve problems.
Q: What is challenging about writing for the show?
A: It's a struggle to constantly find good stories, and new things that have not been done before.
Q: What does Annie view as her unique contribution to the show?
A: Annie recognizes that she brings a keen sense of humor as well as a dedication to the mission of the show. "It's not just about bringing in money or ratings, " Annie says. "The mission is why people tend to stay here for long periods of time without leaving. We get to teach children, and teach with a sense of humor. When I tell people what kind of work I do, I watch their faces melt. Why go anywhere else?"
Q: Has being a parent influenced Annie's work as a writer? (Annie is the mother of twin three-year-old girls.)
A: "Parenthood has had a huge impact on my writing. I see the way my daughters react and see what worked for them, and focus on that. It's a reminder to me to keep topics clear, simple, and funny."
Q: What advice would Annie give to people who want to make a living from their craft?
A: "Be persistent. Keep options open for all kinds of opportunities. I didn't foresee writing for a children's show. Also, find a like-minded tribe of people. I was always involved in theater companies as a writer and a performer even if I wasn't getting paid to do it. Doing that made me own my craft and feel part of the entertainment industry. It also helped me create a huge family of friends."
Be sure to check out Annie and Martin's Sesame Family Robinson Blog