Young puppeteer heads to New York for 'Sesame Street' debut

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Even though he's 11, Tau Bennett has not outgrown Sesame Street . On Friday, Tau and his family flew to New York, where he will be filmed on the Sesame Street set. Tau will be in one show next season puppeteering Puna the dog.

Tau Bennett has created 22 puppets, including Congo Bird. He will handle Puna the dog during his Sesame Street appearance.   Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Tau Bennett has created 22 puppets, including Congo Bird. He will handle Puna the dog during his Sesame Street appearance.

"I can't wait for that!" Tau said, pumping his fists and grinning. "I'm so excited."

Tau will work alongside his idol, Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo.

This won't be their first time together. They were filmed together in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah for a documentary on Clash's life. Tau was invited there by Leslie Carrarra-Rudolph -- the voice of Abby Cadabby on Sesame Street -- after she met Tau at a puppet show in Atlanta and said he reminded her of Clash.

"There was no script. We just acted natural," Tau said of the experience. "It was very wonderful. I think both of our lives are parallel to each other. I think I'm just like he was when he was my age."

Tau's mother, Lisa, said she and his father, Mahess, were worried when they noticed their son engrossed in Sesame Street after he should have outgrown it.

"So I asked him," she said. "And he told me he wasn't watching it for the stories. He was watching the puppetry."

Because they are both artists and encourage creativity in their children, the Bennetts got Tau DVDs and books on how to make puppets. Lisa Bennett taught him to sew by hand and with a sewing machine.

Tau made his first puppet when he was only 8.

"The first one was simple," he said. "I just sewed it up and put some features on it. But the second one was more involved, with foam and different types of fabric."

There are now 22 self-made puppets in Tau's collection. Some are replicas of Sesame Street characters, while others are exclusive creations of the Sue Reynolds Elementary fifth-grader.

Tau rapidly fires out descriptions of his characters -- Congo Bird from the Jungle of Smartypansous, Question Heir, Juice the Hippie and Herbert the Hobo -- before stopping himself and holding his palms out as if he can't find enough words.

"I live for puppets; they're fascinating," he said.

Tau's ideas for characters come from voices he hears on the radio and people he observes in public.

His inspiration came from a preschool show, but the scripts he writes contain lessons many adults have yet to learn. A story he's working on now called I Need Workers features a boss who fired his lumberjack because he wasn't as productive as the boss thought he should be. Then the boss is unable to find good replacements.

"It's crazy," Tau said. "The lesson is just because someone isn't meeting up to your standards, doesn't mean you should kick them out of your life totally."

Though his puppet shows are usually performed for family and friends, Tau has done a couple of shows at the Ronald McDonald House and at school.

"I love a big audience," he said. "They laugh a lot and make me feel comfortable."

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rmwhitley
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rmwhitley 03/19/11 - 09:35 am
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Congratulations, Tau Bennett.
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Congratulations, Tau Bennett.

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