USO Sesame Street supports military families
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- An announcer gets on stage in front of an audience of children and parents, introducing the United Service Organization Sesame Street tour. A few moments later, to loud cheers and applause, Elmo runs on stage and begins to sing and dance "The Elmo Slide" to a peppy beat. The children hold up light-up toys, jumping and dancing to the song.
"This show has something for kids and adults for every member of our military families," said Nicole Mcclendon, USO tour manager. "The kids don't realize that they are learning something while they are having a good time and the adults get some great tips."
There are six Muppets in the performance; most are widely recognizable: Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Rosita, Purple Honker and a new face. She is fuzzy and purple, and her name is Katie.
"This is the only place in the world that you can meet our friend Katie," said Mcclendon. "And the thing that is really special about Katie is that she is not just a Muppet, she is a military child. Kids can come and see somebody just like them up on stage."
The USO Sesame Street Experience has two parts, both focused on military families. One part highlights Katie's struggle with moving to a new base and the other premieres Katie's transition to civilian life.
"This particular show is very important for military families because it deals with a lot of challenges that are unique to military families," said Mcclendon.
The Muppets introduced Katie as a happy and energetic friend, but when she came on stage she was clearly sad.
"I'm moving to another base again!" said Katie during the show.
"She is getting ready to PCS, which is something that all military children go through anywhere from nine to 15 times before they are even in high school," Mcclendon said "She is understandably a little nervous about it and she is going through what [military children] are going through right on stage."
Throughout the show, other Muppets encourage Katie and help her think of ways to deal with her move.
"She learns some tips through songs and dance," Mcclendon said, "like ways to stay in touch with her old friends and easy ways to make new friends wherever she goes. That is definitely something that all military kids can relate to."
Parents attending the show recognized the similarities between Katie and their own military children.
"[My children] could actually relate to it because they are military kids," said a mother about her children. "Even from our last base she always asked 'Why are we moving?' and she always talked about our old house. This show helps her relate."
The kids got to do more than just watch the show; they had the opportunity to interact with the Muppets too. At several points in the show there was jumping up and down and screaming all around as the furry colorful creatures came off the stage to give hugs and shake hands.
Mcclendon said the team usually receives positive reactions regarding the show.
"I get lots of kids that come up and say that Katie goes through exactly what they are going through," Mcclendon said. "We've had parents thank us for giving them some talking points for their children and what they are going through."
The USO Sesame Street experience has been touring since 2008. In 2015, they have performed at bases in Alaska, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the U.K., Spain, and Japan. The tour is scheduled to perform at Okinawa next, and then Guam, Hawaii, and South Korea.