One day, Makenzie Mason was sitting on the floor of her Bucks County, Pa., home doing what any normal pre-school kid would do: watching “Sesame Street” on television.
A couple short years later, Mason was up on stage dancing, singing and interacting with the same characters she’d seen on TV — Grover, Elmo, Cookie Monster and more.(tncms-asset)ddf69000-3419-11e7-aced-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
No, Mason wasn’t selected from the crowd the join the Sesame Street gang on stage. She was actually playing a costumed character in the “Sesame Street” live touring show known as “Make a New Friend,” which will come to historic Boardwalk Hall 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 20, and 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 21.
“It’s definitely a surreal job to have,” Mason says. “When I tell people what I do, it brings up a lot of questions and intrigues a lot of people. But it’s definitely not your typical job or a typical company to work for.”
Growing up with Sesame Place
Mason, who just turned 19, has literally been surrounded by “Sesame Street” her entire life.
She grew up and still lives in Langhorne, Pa., which is the home of Sesame Place, a children’s theme park based on the long-running PBS series. The park features shows, amusement rides and water attractions for young children.
A dancer since age 3, Mason — who always wanted to work at the theme park — auditioned for a job at Sesame Place the moment she turned 15 and met the minimum age requirement. She was quickly hired as a costumed entertainer and spent the next three summers working there.
Last year, having just graduated high school, Mason was planning to enter Elon College in North Carolina to begin working toward a degree that would help her achieve her vocational goal in life.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a teacher,” Mason says.
But teaching would have to wait. Sesame Street threw Mason one of life’s tantalizing curve balls that interrupted the careful plan and tight schedule the motivated teenager has been following all her life.
She was asked to join the cast of the touring show. That would mean taking a gap year between high school and college, because “Make a New Friend” began rehearsals last September and has been on the road virtually non-stop ever since.(tncms-asset)3f912d30-372a-11e7-91fe-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
The tour ends in late June, after which Mason will put in a few more weeks at Sesame Place, then pack her bags and head to North Carolina to begin her freshman year in college.
“This definitely put a wrench in my plan, when I got the call to be on tour,” she says, “but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Although it’ll be her first time performing at Boardwalk Hall, Mason is no stranger to Atlantic City. She used to vacation in either Atlantic City or Ocean City and has fond childhood memories of walking on the Boardwalk and catching the annual Miss America Boardwalk parade.(tncms-asset)116abf60-3677-11e7-8b2a-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
“So it’s going to be like a homecoming when we (perform in Atlantic City),” she says during a chat from Connecticut, where the cast was performing recently.
What Mason enjoys most about Sesame Street Live is the quality and caliber of the production. There’s also a message behind the show, which has become a signature of Sesame Street ever since the TV series debuted in November 1969.
“Make a New Friend” — in which Mason plays the role of Abby Cadabby — centers on a character from India named Chamki, who’s a friend of Grover’s and gets to visit Sesame Street for one day.
“So all the characters get to meet her, and because she’s from India they get to explore all the differences between the culture on Sesame Street and the culture in India,” Mason says in preview of the show. “I think that’s what kind of sells the show for a lot of adults.”
Call it ‘Broadway Lite’
Mason is especially impressed with the show’s production value, the script and all of the elements that surround the program.
“We like to say it’s like a kid’s first Broadway show, with lighting designs, sets and props and scene changes, so that keeps it interesting,” she says. “Also, a lot of our music is spoofs of current songs, which makes it really fun for the audience when they recognize those popular songs.”
Mason knows her touring experience will give her an advantage over many college freshmen. She’s already gotten the homesick thing out of the way, and she’s learned lots of ways to make her way in the world by picking up little life hacks here and there.
“We (cast and crew members) always joke that we could brainstorm and write a book called ‘Tour Hacks,’” she says with a laugh. “There are just so many tips and tidbits we’ve picked up on how to really live out of a suitcase, how to bus from city to city, how to really make the most out of hotel amenities. It’s definitely an interesting lifestyle to have, for sure.”