The Creative Alliance at The Patterson honored one of Turner Station’s most famous residents at its annual Marquee Ball earlier this month.
Kevin Clash, creator of Elmo on Sesame Street, received the organization’s 2011 Gold Formstone Award for his outstanding contribution to the arts in Baltimore.
Clash, 50, was born to Gladys and George Clash, who still reside in the Baltimore area. Growing up, Kevin attended Dundalk Elementary School, Dundalk Middle School and Dundalk High School.
“My mother and my father were both very influential and supportive of my career,” Clash told Patch at the Creative Alliance. “Our entire family is very close.”
Clash began developing his puppet-making skills at age 10, as the people who later became most influential in his career were honing their skills and making a name for themselves in the entertainment industry.
In the mid-1960s, Stu Kerr of WMAR television created the character “Bozo the Clown” and by the late 1960s, “Professor Kool” of Professor Kool and his Fun Skool. During this same decade, Bob Keeshan, creator of Captain Kangaroo, was in the midst of great success on the CBS network. And in 1969, Jim Henson, who graduated in 1960 from the University of Maryland and founded of The Jim Henson Company, joined Sesame Street in New York. Clash also became acquainted with puppeteer Kermit Love around this time.
As a result of a newspaper article in the now-defunct News American, Kerr took notice of Clash.
“I began doing shows locally, appearing at Sunny Sundays at the Inner Harbor,” Clash said. “I got my break when I met Stu Kerr of Channel 2 and he knew Captain Kangaroo.”
In 1978, Kerr’s show on WMAR, Caboose, debuted. Clash started on the show while still in high school by controlling “Bartee," a big dog puppet. At the end of the show’s run, he moved to Captain Kangaroo to play “Artie” and from there to The Great Space Coaster. It was on this show that Clash reconnected with Love, who was also a Muppet designer on Sesame Street.
Love invited him to work on a few episodes of the show. The rest is history.
In 1985, Clash began portraying the character of Elmo, the fuzzy, red child monster-Muppet, who has become an icon to kids everywhere over the past quarter century.
Clash was also part of a team that launched a documentary project around his alter ego, which is now being screened around the country.
“We started a documentary about Elmo (Being Elmo) six years ago,” Clash said, “and we’ve traveled all over to the [movie] festivals.”
Being Elmo was produced by husband-and-wife team Constance Marks and James Miller, with Corinne LaPook. Miller met Clash while working together on Sesame Street. A special Elmo compilation that Clash made for the couple’s daughter planted the seed to produce the documentary.
“It’s a lot of fun for the kids,” Clash said. “I’m trying to keep (Henson's) legacy alive.”
The documentary won the 2011 Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Festival. Past festival screenings include SXSW and the Dallas Film Festival. Future screenings include the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival on April 16; the Independent Film Festival in Boston on April 27; and the Hot Docs Toronto Film Festival in early May.
Clash gave a little behind-the-scenes peek into the documentary. He said one of his colleagues had seen a 10-year-old boy named Tau, a budding puppeteer, who reminded people of the Turner Station native.
“Everyone said that he was the next me,” Clash said. At the last minute, they contacted the kid’s mom and included the youngster in the documentary.
Currently, Clash is directing and producing music and more on Sesame Street, hoping to add new music to the show as well.
“We’ve contacted (R & B superstar) Usher’s brother about working together on the show,” he said.
Clash has garnered numerous Daytime Emmy awards throughout his career, as well as the Miss Jean Worthley Award given by Maryland Public Television.
When asked about his career and his feelings about having positively influenced children all over the world, Clash said, “It’s a lot of fun… and it keeps us ageless.”
Clash currently serves as the Sesame Street Muppet Captain and co-executive producer of the show. By continuing to create, develop and discover new puppeteers, Clash honors Jim Henson as he carries the intricate art of puppetry into tomorrow.
In addition to Clash's honor, Beatrice “Beatty” Levi, a lifelong patron of Baltimore arts, was given the Creative Alliance’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Founded in 1995, the Creative Alliance states that its primary mission is to strengthen communities by creating a space where artists can bring forth their forms of expression and share the works with audiences of many cultures.
The Creative Alliance is also very involved with children’s art programs, such as the “Kids & Community” initiative. These arts programs are not only offered at The Patterson; additional programs are held at area public schools, libraries and various after-school neighborhood centers, serving more than 1,000 children around the the city.