Emilio Delgado has spent four decades playing Luis on ‘Sesame Street.’ The 71-year-old actor is in town this month to perform in ‘Hamlet, Prince of Cuba’ at the Asolo Rep.
Is this your first time in Sarasota?
“No. I was here in 1989, or was it 1990? We were doing a ‘Luis from Sesame Street’ show. I performed a live show at the big center in town. What’s it called?”
The Van Wezel?
“That’s it. The Van Wezel. It’s been a long time and a lot of places in between.”
Aren’t you the longest-running cast member?
“I came on in the third season. Bob (McGrath) and Loretta (Long) were part of the original crew. They were there before me.”
You’re being modest. You’ve been on the show since 1971. That’s a pretty incredible run. Why have you stayed with the series for so long?
“I always kid around … for an actor to have a day job for 42 years is pretty good. It’s been a beautiful project. As everyone knows, it’s been a fantastic success all along. And we’re all still there! It’s like a family that gets together once a year to do these fabulous things.”
Wait. Once a year? You don’t report to Sesame Street every day?
“In the old days, we’d go into the studio and produce 130 one-hour shows. Now they’ve got it down to just eight weeks a year.”
So you shoot everything for the year in just eight weeks?
“Yeah, and there are so many of us in the cast, including Muppeteers, that we don’t work every day. I might only be in three shows during those eight weeks.”
No wonder you haven’t retired.
“It’s amazing. Kids still react to it. Millions of people grew up on the show. My son is 42 and my daughter is 27 and they’re both ‘Sesame Street’ers.’ I meet people all the time who view the show as a flashback to their childhood. They’ll recall their favorite bits on the show, their favorite characters…”
Is Big Bird difficult to work with?
(Laughing) “He’s my favorite character.”
“Caroll Spinney (who’s played Big Bird since 1969) is like Muppeteer extraordinaire. If people knew what he goes through in order to make that bird come alive, they would be amazed.”
He’s not just walking around in a bird suit?
“First of all, (Spinney) can’t see very well out of that suit, consequently there’s a two-inch TV screen strapped to his chest. The screen projects a reverse image, so if the cameraman tells him to turn right, on the screen he’s turning left. His arm is up in the air where the bird’s head is and he’s gotta maintain that hand up there while walking around two huge bird feet.”
It sounds exhausting.
“The thing is, he’s such an agile person. In the early days we discovered what an amazing roller skater he is. If you do a YouTube search you’ll find old clips of Big Bird skating around.”
You’ve appeared in dozens of shows and movies outside of ‘Sesame Street.’ For example, right now you’re in Sarasota performing in a bilingual version of ‘Hamlet, Prince of Cuba’ at the Asolo Rep. What attracted you to the play?
“How often do you get to do ‘Hamlet?’ When something like that comes along, I jump at the opportunity. It’s still a learning process for me, to develop such an expansive role.”
Do ever get tired of talking about ‘Sesame Street?’
“No! It’s been such a big part of my life and it still is. Generations of kids have come up on it. It’s a spectacular thing to be a part of. I never get tired of talking about it.”
How do kids react to you?
“When we traveled around the country with the live shows, we’d do this meet-and-greet thing afterward. I remember one kid asked me, ‘If I wave at you on TV, will you wave back?’ I was like, how do I tell him I can’t see him without bursting his bubble?”
How has the show changed over the years?
“We don’t do a lot of the old bits we used to do: the musical numbers, the comedy bits … the circumstances have changed. Kids have to be more aware of science and math now.”
That’s not very fun.
“Yeah, we miss the fun stuff. As actors, we’re trained to sing and dance and do comedy. The content is different now, but it’s still very potent with the kids.”
I’d say so. I’ve got a 10-month-old son in Big Bird diapers.
“The kids love it. I don’t see any end to it.”
IF YOU GO
Emilio Delgado will host a free bilingual Early Stages program for children ages six and under, at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 28 in the Asolo Rep Rehearsal Hall at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. Enter through the stage door at the back of the building. For more information, call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.