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Co-Pilot for Joy

Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and her Sesame Street character, Abby Cadabby. Sesame Street ® and Associated Characters are owned and licensed by Sesame Workshop. © 2010 Sesame Workshop. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Theo Wargo.Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, "Sesame Street" Puppeteer.
Sesame Street ® and Associated Characters are owned and licensed by Sesame Workshop. © 2010 Sesame Workshop. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Theo Wargo.

Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (B.A., ’87) is living her dream. The "Sesame Street" character she animates, Abby Cadabby, wasn’t yet a sequin in her puppet-maker’s eye when a young Carrara-Rudolph sent her parents a letter from SF State telling them she wanted to be "the ultimate entertainer for kids."

She was so sure that she wanted to use song, dance and theatre to "help kids survive their childhoods," that she created her own major -- a combination of Child Psychology, Therapeutic Recreation and Theatre -- to help pave the way. "My mom was like, ‘You are not going to find a job,’" says Carrara-Rudolph, who not only found a job, but earned herself an Emmy nomination in the process. "People ask me how I got here and I didn’t do anything except what I loved to do," she says. "State really was life changing because it allowed me to follow my dreams. I knew I could make it happen."

The road to playing Abby Cadabby, a 3-year-old fairy-in-training who made her "Sesame Street" debut in 2006, was a long one. It included stops at "Beach Blanket Babylon," Disney World, community theatre, a couple of waitressing gigs, and a stint as Spamela Hamderson on "Muppets Tonight," a short-lived revival of the original "Muppet Show."
At "Muppets Tonight" Carrara-Rudolph met Heather Hensen, Jim Hensen’s daughter, who encouraged her to start building her own puppets, and soon Lolly, a five-year-old with orange yarn hair and lots of "spunkinsass," was born. "I’m kind of like Mary Poppins meets Monty Python," Carrara-Rudolph says of the live shows she now writes and performs with Lolly, her "outreach puppet," all over the country.

Even the process of designing a major prepared her for this work, she adds. "When I prepare a character I always write a mission statement. Who is this good for? How does it work? What is the value of this show?"

By the time she was invited to audition to play Abby Cadabby, she was already well known in the puppet and voice-acting world, but getting cast on the most revered children’s show of all time felt like the culmination of all her efforts. "‘Sesame Street’ embodies everything I’ve ever worked for my whole life. It’s entertainment with a mission. I don’t feel like I am Abby; I feel like I’m a co-pilot for joy," says Carrara-Rudolph in her enthusiastic squeak of a voice.

When she’s not taping "Sesame Street" or doing outreach with its characters, she’s freelancing (she is hoping to be "a background penguin or chicken" in the next Muppet movie), performing with Lolly, writing another live children’s show called "Entertaining a Thought," painting and writing children’s books. "I’m so happy," she says of her kinetic, puppet-filled life. "I still pinch myself."

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