50 Years of Sesame Street

Forever Young... A Celebration of 50 Years of Sesame Street

April 10, 2019 An Eastern Region Special Projects Committee Panel Discussion

On April 10, DGA members gathered in the Guild’s New York Theater for a special evening honoring a classic educational program. Presented by the Eastern Region Special Projects Committee, Forever Young... A Celebration of 50 Years of Sesame Street featured a panel discussion with Director Marilyn Agrelo, Director/Associate Director Ken Diego, Director/Executive Producer Ben Lehmann and Director/Puppeteer Matt Vogel who plays integral characters like Big Bird. The discussion was moderated by Coordinating Producer/Associate Director Mindy Fila.

Sesame Street started in 1969 as an experiment in children’s television and quickly became a cultural landmark by combining education and entertainment through positive messages, lovable characters and a nurturing multicultural community to make learning fun. For half a century, the series has set the bar for children’s programs and talented directorial teams have helped make Sesame Street the most celebrated children’s show in history. Sesame Street has earned a DGA Award in the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs category for Jack Jameson’s 2018 special, When You Wish Upon a Pickle, as well as nominations in that category for Ben Lehmann’s 2017 special, The Magical Wand Chase and Director Joey Mazzarino's episodes "The Cookie Thief" (2015) and "Numeric Con" (2014). The show has also taken home an astonishing 19 Daytime Emmy directing awards in the children's programs categories.

The evening kicked off with a welcome from Eastern Region Special Projects Committee Chair Raymond De Felitta who spoke briefly about the work of the Committee before turning the stage over to Agrelo, Diego, Lehmann, Vogel and Fila.

Illustrated by clips from the show and live demonstrations of the techniques employed to bring the puppets to life, the panelists engaged in an informative discussion where they shared their experiences of crafting the most celebrated children’s show in the history of television. Some of the topics included: what it was like the first time they walked onto the set; the other roles beyond directing that they performed on the show; the challenges of working with young children and celebrity guests; and the nuts and bolts of putting the show together.

Following the panel discussion, the panelists — and one of the Muppets — took questions from the audience. 


About the Panelists:

Marilyn AgreloMarilyn Agrelo
Agrelo is a New York director and producer who made her directorial debut with the documentary feature, Mad Hot Ballroom. Her other directorial credits include the feature film An Invisible Sign; the documentary shorts No Small Parts and Good Muslim Girls; and episodes of Sesame Street, The Electric Company and The Untold Stories of Motherhood for the Oxygen Network. Agrelo is currently at work on Street Gang, a documentary feature about the visionaries behind the creation of Sesame Street. She has been a DGA member since 2006.

Ken DiegoKen Diego
A DGA member since 1986, Diego is currently in his 26th season as part of the Emmy and DGA Award-winning directorial team of Sesame Street. He has been a part of Sesame Street in its many forms including: international productions, a planetarium show for pre-schoolers and outreach initiative videos that provide support for families with autistic children, military families and those challenged by food insecurity or the loss of their home.


Mindy FilaMindy Fila (moderator)
Fila is a Coordinating Producer at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational producer behind Sesame Street. She oversees the creative direction of digital projects, short films and animations and participates in all logistical and creative decision-making for Sesame Street’s US broadcast. Since joining Sesame Workshop in 2001, Fila has contributed in many roles including as Associate Producer managing live-action/animated films and the Abby’s Flying Fairy School segment and recently leading the production teams that created the new segment, Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truck, and a primetime special called The Magical Wand Chase. A DGA member since 2006, Fila has also served on the Eastern AD/SM/PA Council.


Ben LehmannBenjamin Lehmann
Lehmann is the Executive Producer for Sesame Street, where he oversees the creative direction and the production teams for the iconic children’s show. He is responsible for the production of all content experiences across broadcast and digital platforms for Sesame Street and is also a director for the series. Lehmann has been with the show for 16 years and has won multiple awards, including a Primetime Emmy for Sesame Street’s 2017 season-launching special, The Magical Wand Chase, which also earned him a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs. He has been a DGA member since 2006.


Matt VogelMatt Vogel
One of the core Sesame Street Muppet performers, Vogel serves as the show’s Puppet Captain and plays the roles of Big Bird, The Count, Mr. Johnson and one of the Yip-Yip Martians. As part of Sesame Street’s directing team, he has earned seven Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Directing in a Children’s Series” and directed the Primetime Emmy Award-winning special Once Upon A Sesame Street Christmas. His other directorial credits include an episode of the series Little Children, Big Challenges; as well as the Sesame Street-themed videos The Best of Elmo 3, M Is for Mystery, Fairy Tale Fun! and Preschool Is Cool - Making Friends. Vogel has been a DGA member since 2008.


About the Committee:

Special Projects is the educational and cultural arm of the Directors Guild of America. It provides opportunities for creative exchange with programs for members and industry colleagues to celebrate the history and achievements of its members, advance their professional skills, and prepare them for the technological changes of the future. The Eastern Region Special Projects Committee is chaired by Raymond DeFelitta. The Committee Members are Ted Bogosian, Gary Donatelli, Daniel Hank, Dennis W. Mazzocco, and Susanna Styron.

Pictures & Video

event photos by Marcie Revens

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Sesame Street
An AD/SM/PA Council East/DGA 75th Anniversary Event