Skip to main content
Ed. Magazine

The Puppet Wrangler

Even puppets need an entourage
Liz Hara
Liz Hara
Photo: Kate Marley

She gave up a semester abroad in college to make hundreds of rubber warts before tackling vines and leaves. When a fuzzy, elephant-antelope named Mr. Snuffleupagus needs your help, that’s just what you do. 

For Liz Hara, a new student in the online master’s program, it’s also what she wanted to do. 

Starting in high school, Hara began building puppets for local theaters in Minneapolis. During her junior year of college at Vassar, she landed an internship with the Jim Hensen Company. This included helping Marty Robinson (aka, Mr. Snuffleupagus) with prop and design work (the warts and vines, among other things) for the Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors that Robinson was involved with at the time. The internship also led to costume work for other Broadway productions, including The Lion King and Shrek

Robinson eventually became her mentor and “puppet dad.” (Her “puppet mom” is Pam Arciero, who plays Oscar the Grouch’s girlfriend, Grundgetta.) A full-time job at Sesame Street followed, doing something few, if any, Ed School students can claim on their resumes: puppet wrangling. 

“It’s basically an art department for the puppets,” Hara explained during a visit to Appian Way in July. “Puppet wranglers dress the puppets and do their hair and makeup.” They also handle rigging — the controls that bring the puppet to life. Hara says it’s a dream job and during the first few weeks as a wrangler, she fell asleep every night “giggling to myself.” 

Asked about her favorite puppet, she jokes, “we never have favorite babies,” but admits a soft spot for Grover, even though, with his big hands, he’s hard to dress. “He’s the only puppet I have ever hugged when no one was watching.” 

In time, Hara also became interested in writing and joined the Sesame writing room. With the team, she won an Emmy in 2018 for outstanding writing (after winning her first in 2015 for costume design). She also started writing for other shows, including Shark Dog, Ninjago, and Life in Pieces

Nowadays, Hara is a full-time writer for Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, an animated series about a 13-year-old genius named Lunella who fights crime in New York City with a 10-ton T-Rex. And she’s become more interested in the learning side of kids’ shows, not just the crafting side. Curriculum, she says, is one of reasons she decided to come to the Ed School. 

“The curriculum meetings have always been fascinating to me,” she says. “I would love to create my own curriculum-based show someday, where we bake the curriculum into the premise and format instead of trying to marry them after the fact, which is how it’s often done.” 

And when she has time, she’s still, happily, taking care of the puppets. As she recently told Maple Grove magazine, with puppets, “Things come to life and there is just a beautiful relationship between the audience and the puppet. That is still the most exciting thing about puppetry. Every performance is an invitation to the audience to come play.”

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Related Articles