Weekly Muppeteer Wednesdays: Noel MacNeal

Today’s Weekly Muppeteer Wednesdays piece was written by Tom Stroud.
September 15, 1961
Notable Muppets…
Bear, Daddy Snuffle, Madam Chairbird, Mommy Snuffleupagus (1980’s-1990’s)
Noel MacNeal was born in 1961, in Central Harlem, New York. As a kid, he watched the preview episode for Sesame Street, “This Way to Sesame Street,” as well as The Great Santa Claus Switch and The Muppet Show. He liked the puppetry on the programs so much, that towards the end of high school, he decided that he wanted to be a puppeteer. He went to the Pratt Institute for college, attending their theater department, which had a puppeteering program, taught by none other than famed puppet builder and Henson legend, Kermit Love. At the time he was attending the institute, they were phasing out the theater department, and so at his graduation he would be in a class by himself.
Instead of attending his last year of college, Noel became Kermit Love’s assistant puppeteer wrangler on Sesame Street. By 1993, he became a puppeteer on the show, working mainly with the full bodied Snuffleupaguses. He was particularly interested in these full bodied characters due to their ability to walk around without the puppeteer being visible. And so he played many different Snuffleupaguses, including Mommy Snuffleupagus, whom he took over from Jerry Nelson, as well as Daddy Snuffle on the unaired, controversial divorce episode. He also performed in the film Follow That Bird, playing Madam Chairbird in the opening, as well as Big Bird in various wide shots. He has also worked with casting and training puppeteers for foreign Sesame Street productions in countries such as Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Jordan, Palestine, and India.
Noel’s most known role was in the Henson produced Playhouse Disney show, Bear in the Big Blue House, in which he performed the title role of Bear. He got the part after auditioning for a children themed game show pilot the Muppets were doing, after which he received a call from Henson asking him to audition for a different character, a bear. The Monday after the audition he was told he had gotten the part. He also wrote three episodes of the show, and directed one as well. Bear proved to be extraordinarily popular, and made several appearances on other TV shows, including The Wayne Brady Show and Hollywood Squares. After the show ended, Noel came back to perform the character on the spin-off, Breakfast with Bear, in which Bear went to children’s houses to go through their morning routine with them.
He has also done several projects since Bear, including the non-Henson TV show Blue’s Room, in which he performed Blue, and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, in which he performed Sweetums. He has also written a book, 10 Minute Puppets, which teaches children how to make simple puppets. Noel continues to do one hour Puppet Workshops, during which he will teach a group how to make the puppets in his book, and make two of them with him.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, ryguy102390@gmail.com

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