Ulster on way to Sesame Street
Five lucky Ulster people have been cast as puppeteers for the new Ulster-based version of Sesame Street.
Soon thousands of children across the province will be asking how to get to the Sesame Tree as the next stage of Ulster's own version of the popular children's programme gets under way.
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation behind Sesame Street, in association with local production company Sixteen South, has just cast the local puppeteers for the Belfast-based show, allowing programme makers to begin developing and designing the 'Norn Iron' characters.
And according to one of the lucky puppeteers, Lesa Gillespie, work on the new furry residents begins within the next few weeks.
"At the moment we don't know who the characters are or what they look like but they are going to have local accents," Lesa said. "I'm very excited about starting work, in fact, I can't wait. I've never had any experience with puppets before and decided to go for it after my agent told me about it.
"I am not one to shy away from a challenge so I decided to give it a go. Now I can't wait. We have been told work will begin over the next few weeks and essentially we will be involved in the development process.
We will also be given the basis of the script and be allowed to improvise to give the characters more life-like qualities."
The 26-year-old from Belfast will be joined by fellow puppeteers Paul Currie, Michael McNulty, Mike Smith and Helen Sloan, who will spend the next five months working with Sixteen South's writers, the Sesame Workshop and local education advisers to develop the series in time for next year's spring launch.
The premise behind the Northern Ireland version is that it is set in a tree, rather than a street, and will feature subject matter which is relevant to local children.
And while the cast have been selected, the new Sesame Tree Muppets are currently still in development at the JimHenson Company in New York and will be introduced to their Northern Ireland audience in the coming months in advance of Sesame Tree's premiere on BBC NI in spring 2008.
Sesame Tree's executive producer Colin Williams said he was delighted with the new recruits.
"We saw a lot of really good people over the past few weeks, but the chosen cast of six really stood out for their enthusiasm and ability to move, act and sing all at once," he said. "Most of the cast are local performers, with performing arts background, however one of the cast, Helen Sloan has no previous acting experience but the producers were impressed with her enthusiasm and improvisation skills."
Besides featuring the new local characters, Sesame Tree will also feature classic Sesame Street segments with characters such as Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster and Elmo.