Don’t you want to meet the man behind the beak?

By Sara Adams

When I heard “Sesame Street Live” was coming to DeKalb, I jumped at the chance to interview Mitchell Garrett, the man behind, or rather inside, Big Bird. Since my toddler years, I’ve had a weird fascination with that particular character, and I’ve always imagined whoever plays Big Bird. What I found was that Garrett was a pretty normal guy – a quiet and polite actor from Tennessee enjoying his seventh season playing one of the world’s most lovable oversized birds.

Big Bird, along with all the other Sesame Street favorites, will appear at 7 p.m. today at the Convocation Center, as well as Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. Prices vary between $12 for children in the upper bowl and $20.50 for premium seats next to the stage. Tickets are expected to be available at the door. For more information, contact the Convo at 752-6800.

Northern Star: What got you into acting?

Mitchell Garrett: Well, I grew up doing all kinds of little theater things when I was a little kid, and then I started dancing at different theme parks. Then I did dinner shows and other types of entertainment, and then I went on to Florida where I started dancing and performing at Disney World. Then I went to audition for “Sesame Street Live” when I was in Florida.

NS: So you’ve been doing “Sesame Street Live” since then?

MG: Yeah, I’m going on my seventh year.

NS: So was he your first pick or did you get thrown into Big Bird?

MG: They go by your height, so I was 5’11, almost 6 foot, so he’s the character they asked me to play.

NS: So how tall is Big Bird with the suit and everything?

MG: He’s eight feet, three inches.

NS: So did you have to train for that then?

MG: Yeah, after auditions you get picked for shows and we have an East Coast, a West Coast and a theater production, and they put you where they need you. Then you have a two-to-three week production … usually the new show is on the West Coast. So we have production in Minneapolis, Minnesota for three weeks and then we open in LaCrosse, (Wis). and then we start our tour.

NS: How long is the tour?

MG: It’s a 10 to 11 month tour.

NS: So are you on the road non-stop?

MG: We get a little time off for Christmas.

NS: So the show that’s coming to the Convo is the show with Super Grover. What can we expect with that show?

MG: Well, it’s “Super Grover, Ready for Action!” and what we’re teaching through the show is healthy habits and this is what we’re actually doing on the live TV show, and it’s actually good timing that this show came out while they’re doing it on the Sesame Street show on PBS. Teaching kids hygiene and you know, eating healthy and those things that kids need to know. Throughout the show we have all the dance and musical numbers that they can relate to. Super Grover throughout the show actually loses his ‘superness’ and the rest of the Muppets help him throughout the show – beginning to exercise, eat better, get some rest. Then in the end of the show he becomes Super Grover again, so it’s a lot of fun.

NS: So what is Big Bird’s big role in the show?

MG: He has a lot of big roles in the show. He plays a little part of everything. He’s a big part of the show. All the characters have their hands in a lot of it.

NS: So how do you prepare for the show, do you have to drink tons of water to stay hydrated or are there certain rituals you have to do to prepare for the show?

MG: I think throughout the whole touring process, we do the healthy habit thing, too. We all try to stay in the gym and eat very healthy. We drink lots of water. That’s one of the hardest things when you’re on tour. You’re trying to take care of your body while you’re traveling.

NS:> Is it harder since you’re in the big suit and everything? I imagine you just sweat tons.

MG: No, not really. I think your body just gets used to everything.

NS: So did you watch Sesame Street as a kid?

MG: Yes, I did. Everyone asks me if Big Bird was my favorite, and actually no. Cookie Monster was my favorite. I never would have thought I would be playing Big Bird. Just like how I never would have thought that I’d [be] on Sesame Street. I always was intrigued by Cookie Monster, I don’t know why.