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The man behind Ernie speaks up

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The characters of Sesame Street will be entertaining Kelowna audiences at Prospera Place on Wednesday.
We have an ongoing love affair with the furry monsters and fun musicians of Sesame Street - and they're coming to Kelowna.
Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Big Bird, Ernie, Burt and friends take to the stage for the Sesame Street Live production, Elmo Makes Music.
Peeking behind the scenes, we talked to Danny Mendoza, who plays Ernie in the production and calls it his "dream job," although unexpected.
"Not in a million years did I think I'd be doing Ernie," said Mendoza, a little star-struck. Ernie is one of the oldest and best-loved Sesame Street characters.
Mendoza was born in Mexico, trained first as a dancer, then an actor. He got the Ernie part by working hard at ballet, jazz and acting, then he auditioned.
Once in, he watched countless videos of Ernie to learn the character and get the voice right.
Turns out he's a lot like his character. What does he like best about Ernie?
"Ernie's a fun person with a bubbly personality; that's me," said Mendoza. "I get to do things others could not do. Bert is not a joker, he's more high-strung."
No, Mendoza doesn't own a rubber ducky, Ernie's trademark toy, but said, "I should because it's a good feeling after a high-stress day to have a warm bath with a ducky. It's therapeutic."
Mendoza loves the opportunity to travel, see a lot of country and meet people.
"I'd never see some of these scenes, like the Canadian Rockies."
But he admits the travel is tiring.
"The long bus trips are the most challenging," he added. "Those bus seats are not comfortable."
This season, the team will travel at least nine months and do 300 shows.
He's excited about the lessons of Sesame Street, such as kindness and acceptance, being learned by a new generation of children.
"Generally, kids come up and hug us and pull Abby's shirt. It's like a rock concert."
Mendoza hopes to someday open his own dance studio.
As you'd expect, the plot for Elmo Makes Music is pure fun. Jenny, an enthusiastic music teacher, arrives on Sesame Street, but her instruments are missing.
Her Muppet friends come to the rescue and find instruments in surprising places: rubber duckies, trash can lids and even cookie jars.
The razzle-dazzle production offers serious lessons about how everyone can make beautiful music together.
Even grownups will enjoy the high-tech stagecraft and scripts, and toes are sure to tap to Rockin' Robin. The production features two dozen songs, including sing-along classics: C Is for Cookie and The Alphabet Song.

QUICKFACTS
What: Elmo Makes Music, from Sesame Street Live
When: Wednesday, Dec. 18, 10:30 a.m. (kids' matinee) and 6:30 p.m.
Where: Prospera Place,
1223 Water St., Kelowna
Tickets: $20 and $25 plus a limited number of $30 Gold Circle seats and $65 Sunny Seats. Kids' matinee tickets are $10, and are for school or daycare groups with more than 10 children. For tickets see selectyourtickets.com or phone 250-762-5050.

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