When Being Elmo premiered at the Charles Theater on November 18, it was a homecoming of sorts.
The documentary focuses on Kevin Clash, who grew up in Baltimore County, graduated from Dundalk High School and Towson University, and honed his skills as a puppeteer at the Inner Harbor. He went on to join Jim Henson at the Children's Television Workshop, where he created Elmo, the beloved red monster on Sesame Street.
"Baltimore was a great place to grow up," says Clash, who still voices and manipulates Elmo on Sesame Street and on countless videos, toys, and public appearances. "My dad would drive me down to the Harbor every Sunday, and I'd set up my little stage and do my thing. Sometimes, my stage almost got blown into the water."
The film, which won a Special Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and several other awards, follows Clash from his childhood, when his mother showed him how to use a Singer sewing machine, and he started making puppets.
The documentary continues through his early work on a local TV station, to fulfilling his dream of working with Henson on movies and TV shows. When no one else could figure out how to voice the little red muppet that had been created for Sesame Street, Clash took a shot and Elmo was born.
"I just did that voice and everyone loved it," he says, though he acknowledges that the high-pitched voice is becoming a problem. "It's getting a little more challenging for me as I get older. I wake up in the morning, and I sound like Barry White."
Clash says the key to Elmo's popularity is his optimism. "That's why the laugh is so important," he says. "Because at that age, everything is positive. And if it's not, in a second it will be."
And, is it just us, or do we detect a Baltimore accent on Elmo?
"I don't know if it comes out," Clash says with a chuckle. "Maybe on the laugh."