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Dancer brings newest member of the Muppets to life

Sesame Street Live

Meet Maya Monster, the latest resident of “Sesame Street.” Maya appears before the show this weekend at the Charleston Civic Center.

Moving somewhere new can be very exciting, but it can take some time to learn about the neighborhood, get to know everyone and find a way to fit in.

Enthusiasm helps.

“I’m so excited that I just moved to Sesame Street,” Muppet Maya Monster said, earnestly. “I’m still meeting everyone, but I’m volunteering with the community center.”

Children (and parents) who go to “Sesame Street Live! Let’s Party!” at the Charleston Civic Center, Saturday and Sunday can meet Maya at the community center before the show.

Maya said she has the best job ever.

“I get to meet the kids as they come in and see our show,” she said.

It’s not a bad job for Liz Sanford, either. Sanford is the actress and dancer behind Maya.

Slipping out of her Muppet stage voice, the 24-year-old explained that she’s playing a brand-new character.

“Sesame Street wanted a character in the lobby kids can talk to,” she said. “She was designed by the Jim Henson Company and the Sesame Street Workshop up in New York.”

They gave Maya her name and her backstory, but Sanford got to bring her to life.

“I do the voice and puppeteer her as well,” Sanford said.

It’s Sanford’s first job working with Muppets.

“I’m primarily a dancer,” she said. “I have danced my whole life. I went to college to dance and was dancing professionally in Atlanta, Georgia when I did this audition for Sesame Street Live.”

Sanford said it was an unusual, but exciting job.

After she was brought on for the tour, the actress and dancer spent six weeks in New York rehearsing and learning how to make Maya move. She spent time with some of the puppeteers who work behind the scenes on “Sesame Street.”

“These are some of the best puppeteers in the world,” she said.

Before this, Sanford said she really didn’t have any experience working with puppets, but she’s learned a lot — not enough to consider herself on par with the veterans who bring Grover, Elmo and all the others to life on television.

She said she considered herself a beginner. Still, what she does before the shows on the tour requires some quick thinking and ability to improvise.

“I’ve worked with kids before,” she said. “And it’s true: you never know what kids are going to say.”

Sometimes, they’re just mesmerized by seeing a Muppet character actually talking with them. Other times, they want to talk with Maya.

“They’ll want to tell me about their pet dog or how excited they are to see Elmo,” Sanford said. “It’s different every day, which is great.”

Sanford said she grew up watching “Sesame Street.” The show was something her mother watched as a child, too, and passed along to Sanford.

“She always preferred that to the cartoons,” the actress said. “She thought it had a better message and was educational.”

Kids loving “Sesame Street” is almost a no-brainer, but Sanford said a lot of adults like to come to the show because of nostalgia.

“It’s a high energy, musically driven show,” she said. “We do a lot of the songs from TV, just updated for a modern take.”

Sanford said she’s had a good time on the tour with “Sesame Street Live!” Maya has, too.

“I’m still new,” Maya said. “But everybody has been so kind.”

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette mail.com, 304-348-5195 or follow @lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at instagram.com/billiscap/ and read his blog at blogs.wvgazette mail.com/onemonth.

Funerals for Saturday, September 21, 2019

Abodeely, Malakee - 11 a.m., St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Charleston. 

Ayers, Helen - 11 a.m., Belcher Family Cemetery, Pinch Ridge.

Backus, Ernest - 2 p.m., First Baptist Church of Rainelle.

Bailey, Jerry - 5 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Carney Jr., Chester - 2 p.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Carter, Blanche - 11 a.m., Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, North Elkview.

Copen, Louise - Noon, McRoss Baptist Church, McRoss.

Fizer, Donna - 3 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Fowler, Jeannette - 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Goard II, Mitchell - 5 p.m., Central Community Tabernacle, Charleston.

Hammack, Barbara - 2 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Kessinger, Wilma - 4 p.m., Canaan Baptist Church, Charleston.

Knight II, James - 6 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Lymon, Daniel - 1 p.m., Grace Bible Church, Charleston.

McKown, Travis - Noon, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Wallback.

Miller, Alexander - 4 p.m., Roane County High School, Spencer.

Mitchell, Emma - 2 p.m., Calvary Baptist Church, Hurricane.

Montgomery, Betty - 11 a.m., Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Charleston.

Pfeil, Ruth - 2 p.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home Chapel, Poca.

Roush III, George - 12:30 p.m., Tyler Mountain Funeral Home, Cross Lanes.

Samuels, Hazel - 1:30 p.m., Dunbar Kingdom Hall, Dunbar.

Slonaker II, Harvey - Noon, Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Starks, Henry - 11 a.m., Lantz Funeral Home, Buckeye.

Stooke, David - Noon, Henson & Kitchen Mortuary, Huntington.

Thompson, Thomas - 2 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

White, Duane - 1 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

White, James - 1 p.m., Cedar Grove Middle School, Cedar Grove.

Woodson Jr., Lewis - 1 p.m., Abundant Life Ministries, Charleston.