Annie Evans: Wordsmith of Sesame Street

February 15, 2012 at 5:47 pm Leave a comment

By Eleanor Traubman

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 Sesamesince 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 atSesame.

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

Eleanor Traubman is Editor-in-Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC’s performing, visual, and literary arts. She leads Creative Conversations, a goal-setting group for women artists, and is also the arts writer for The Bank Street College of Education Alumni Blog. Her mission? To bring people together through the arts, creativity, and humor. Eleanor’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Brooklyn Paper, Family Circle, and Fitness, and she was listed as one of thePark Slope 100.  Eleanor is on Twitter under her blog name, @creativetimes

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Feb. 21st Alumni Panel at Bank Street Information Session for prospective teachers with TEP

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

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