Carmen Osbahr clearly remembers the words spoken 24 years ago to her by creative genius Jim Henson. He said, “Carmen, would you like to be part of my family?”
Carmen said yes, and ever since then she has been a part of the Sesame Street family. She is the talented puppeteer behind the bilingual muppet, Rosita, on the show. Today she has no regrets, and continues to thoroughly enjoy her work.
Although her lines are carefully scripted by a team of talented writers following a specific curriculum for each season, Carmen’s personality is allowed to shine through Rosita’s character. “I was able to have complete input in the design of Rosita’s muppet and back story,” Carmen says. So she listened to suggestions and put together the beloved bilingual character’s story; a Mexican girl (monster!) who loves to hug and celebrate her bilingualism.
During this, their 44th season, Sesame Street will be focusing in part on Hispanic Heritage and the diversity within the culture. Rosita’s character will be learning about self-control, becoming great friends with the show’s new Hispanic human character, Mando, and celebrating Hispanic diversity.
But Carmen didn’t grow up planning on being a professional puppeteer, although she had an active imagination and loved singing and acting. As a child in Mexico, the kids in her family would all crowd around the television to watch the latest children’s show featuring a talented storyteller. It wasn’t until she was she was older and watched Plaza Sésamo for the first time at her best friend’s house that she was captivated.
“I loved to see those characters come alive,” Carmen says. “I really wanted to know how they did that, and it ignited my imagination.” So in high school she researched puppeteers. Then one day her older brother called her up. He worked for the television network, Televisa, and said that they were planning to audition for a new children’s show for which they had all the equipment. Televisa was hiring some American professionals to put together a workshop to train the person the company selected to be a professional puppeteer. Since he knew about Carmen’s research, he thought she might be interested. She was, and she got the job.
Not long after, 18-year-old Carmen found out that Plaza Sésamo was auditioning for puppeteers. The first in line, she was devastated when they told her that she could not audition because there were only two characters, and neither one of them was female. But at the audition, Carmen met Kermit Love, a designer/builder for Sesame Street who understood her heartache. So he invited her to go to New York for a visit, to observe how things were done at Sesame Street and learn from it.
“That’s where I met Jim Henson,” Carmen says. “He knew my story and that I was there to observe.” His inspiring personality ignited her own imagination. Because he knew that she was a puppeteer, and he was very helpful and encouraging, showing Carmen how the team worked together to solve problems and how they worked with the characters. Before long, Carmen was hired here in the U.S. to go back and work with Plaza Sésamo to train the puppeteers.
A few years later, Mexico hired Kermit Love, once again to put together another show, The Songs of Cri-Cri, with special musical guests like opera legend, Plácido Domingo, and other musicians like Luís Miguel. Kermit agreed, but insisted on hiring Carmen.
All these experiences combined to develop Carmen’s talent and led to Henson asking her that important question. Since then, she has enjoyed being a part of the Sesame Street family.
“Growing up, the most important people in my life were my family,” Carmen says. “We were very close, and some of the most influential moments took place at the dinner table, where we’d enjoy great conversations about architecture, and art, and a whole bunch of subjects.” One of the things she loves about Sesame Street is the way it encourages family closeness and helps parents find the right way to talk to their children about difficult issues.
“My favorite part of working for Sesame Street,” Carmen says, “is the outreach. They have so many outreach projects!” From videos for understanding asthma or lead poisoning or hunger in America, Sesame Street tackles issues that are hard for parents to talk about. And the one Carmen likes best is the project created for military families that put together videos for the children to help them cope with war. “I became so attached to the military families,” she says. “They make so many sacrifices for us.” So often these families consist of very young parents who don’t know how to talk to their children about such a difficult subject. And Carmen can do the videos in full Spanish.
“It’s amazing how many people want and need these videos. The project is very personal,” she says. “It teaches me and helps me be a better person.”