STONINGTON — It's not every day you get the chance to get up close and personal with Oscar the Grouch's girlfriend, so puppet lovers — and Sesame Street fans — take note.
Grundgetta Grouch will be available via a Zoom virtual chat this week, and she'll even be accompanied by her "special friend," Leona Lion.
Noted puppeteer Pam Arciero, who has served as artistic director of the National Puppetry Conference at the O'Neill Theater Center for close to 20 years and is a principal puppeteer with Sesame Street — where she has performed any number of characters, most notably Grundgetta Grouch — will be the guest speaker at La Grua Center's "Behind the Curtain" series Thursday at 6 p.m.
Arciero, a Hawaii native, has taught puppetry all over the world and choreographs and directs live walk-around (the big versions of the puppets) shows for Sesame Workshop in such far-flung places as Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Barcelona and Saudi Arabia, as well as Sesame Place and Sea World, USA.
The secretary of the board of directors for the Jim Henson Foundation and a 30-plus year veteran of the Sesame Street puppeteers, Arciero was a dance and drama major at the University of Hawaii when she "found puppetry" thanks to the late Kermit Love.
Love, a costume designer for some of ballet’s most renowned choreographers, was perhaps most famous as a creator, with Henson, of the beloved Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Mr. Snuffleupagus. Arciero said she met Love at a summer conference and "made an immediate connection."
"He was a fabulous teacher and I fell in love with the art form," she said earlier this week in a telephone interview. "It's an art form that includes nearly all other art forms."
In puppetry, she explained, one has to "learn to sing, to act ... know about sculpture and design and fabric, have a good musical sense, know about building and know a good script" for starters.
It can get pretty intense, she added with a laugh, pointing to the intricacies of an "eye-blinking mechanism" and learning to move large puppets in unison with others.
A graduate of the University of Connecticut's nationally renowned puppetry program, Arciero said her work with the National Puppetry Conference at the O'Neill is a "labor of love."
"It brings together all the things I love," she said. "Plus, I'm a grouch."
The O'Neill has a rich puppetry history. Formally launched in 1991, with guidance from the Henson family, puppetry at the O'Neill began in the 1960s when Rufus and Margo Rose — who helped bring Howdy Doody to life — became involved with the renovation of the property. Later, the legendary Burr Tillstrom set up a stage by the Hammond Mansion and performed with iconic puppets Kukla and Ollie, and in 1988, Henson made his first visit. After her husband died, Jane Henson "wanted to do something" in his honor, Arciero said, so she developed the Puppetry Conference.
Lori Robishaw, the executive director at La Grua Center, said she met Arciero at the O’Neill Summer Gala two years ago.
"I was very intrigued by the fact that she was from Hawaii," said Robishaw. "I’d never met anyone who had grown up there before."
"I knew very little about the theatrical art from of puppetry from my studies and own experience, so I am fascinated by it," she added. "All the physicality that goes into manipulating the puppet while still creating a character and a voice adds an intriguing element to the work of puppeteers."
Robishaw said thought hearing Arciero, a woman "at the top of the profession" who has worked on "Sesame Street" for so long, talk about "her career path and what it has taken to get where she is would be pretty interesting."
In addition to her work with "Sesame Street," Arciero has worked on a number of adult and children's programs including "Between the Lions," "Blue's Clues Blue's Room," "Chappell's Show," "Allegra's Window," "The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss" and "The Great Space Coaster." She has also performed in many commercials and films.
Tickets are $10 apiece.