One Question for Sarah Jones by Anne Kreamer

Sarah Jones is a Tony Award winning playwright and performer. Her multi-character solo show Bridge & Tunnel was originally produced Off-Broadway by Oscar-winner Meryl Streep, and went on to become a critically acclaimed, long running hit on Broadway. Educated at Bryn Mawr College and the United Nations International School, Sarah recently returned to her UN School roots by becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, traveling as a spokesperson on violence against children, and performing for audiences from Indonesia to Ethiopia, the Middle East and Japan. Winner of the 2007 Brendan Gill Prize, Sarah has also received grants and commissions from The Ford Foundation, NYSCA, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and others, and theater honors including an Obie Award, a Helen Hayes Award, two Drama Desk nominations, and HBO’s US Comedy Arts Festival’s Best One Person Show Award, as well as an NYCLU Calloway Award in recognition of Sarah as the first artist in history to sue the Federal Communications Commission for censorship. The lawsuit resulted in reversal of the censorship ruling, which had targeted her hip-hop poem recording, “Your Revolution.”

SARAH JONES, Bridge and Tunnel Tony Award Winner

Q: What’s the most significant risk you’ve taken professionally?

Sarah:   I always thought the most significant professional risk I'd ever taken was dropping out of Bryn Mawr College as an aspiring lawyer to instead place my destiny in the hands (and voices) of an unruly bunch of fictional characters who lived in my head. But over the years my 'people'  have had more of a steadying influence on my life, both on and off stage, than I'd ever expected--or have ever given them credit for.  So I thought I'd ask a few of them what they think my most significant professional risk has been so far.

Rashid, an African American ("Why can't I just be black, son?") hip-hop head, sometime rapper, and full time Brooklynite still recovering from the gentrification of Bed Stuy, had this to say: "Sarah Jones' biggest risk? I'ma have to say turning down a couple of different TV shows cuz of her principles and whatnot. I'm like, yeah, you gotta have your morals and all that, but if them dudes in Hollywood ain't worried about it, why you gotta be all Holy Dalai Lama and whatnot--just get that check, you feel me? If you still feel bad at the end, at least you got some loot, you could pay for a therapist!"

Lorraine Levine, an octogenarian Jewish bubbie with Eastern European roots who has been in nearly every performance I've given, shared the following: "You want risky? I always say Sarah is a very nice young Black performer, but I remember one time she was pale as a ghost--the poor thing, such agita she had--because she agreed to perform in Israel at an Arab theater as part of a multicultural event, trying to be all things to all people, and instead she ended up stuck in the middle. I had told her, with some situations, no matter how much your heart is in the right place, you can't win.  But did she listen?"

Nereida, an ambitious young DominiRican (half Dominican, half Puerto Rican, all proud) who grew up in what she calls "the capitol of the Dominican Republic, otherwise known as Washington Heights" opined: "Sarah Jones' riskiest decision has to be when she sued the FCC for censoring her feminist poem/song from radio airplay. I mean, I agree the FCC was clueless, but suing the US government? And on top of that, her lawyers eventually won the battle by forcing them to reverse their decision--I think she really got on their bad side. I mean, not that they would ever retaliate.  I'm sure the IRS audit a few years later was a total coincidencia!

Ms. Lady, an older black woman and self-described PhD (Poor, homeless, and disabled) wanted the last word: "I think the riskiest thing Sarah Jones ever did is what she doing right now--trying to write a commission for the Lincoln Center Theater, and they ain't gave her no deadline, no subject she gotta stick to, no rules at all. Not like most recent things she been writing. So she got to go someplace she scared to be at--the place where she started from--total freedom, to try, to risk failing, to tell the whole truth like she see it, to let go of fancy expectations if she brave enough. Ain't nothing and nobody in her way. So naturally, all this freedom got her acting more like she got a prison sentence than a commission. But I tell her everyday, keep on feeling that scared feeling, and when it gets to be too much, lean on into it a little bit more. Then wake up the next day and do it again. The risk gon' be worth it.

Why Big Bird Remains Powerfully — and Globally — Significant by Anne Kreamer

Big Bird has had a big presence in the collective conversation lately, thanks to mentions in the first two presidential debates. The outpouring of support for the giant yellow puppet that followed the first debate is a testament to his and Sesame Street's continued relevance in people's lives. Sesame Street, in fact, is a great case study of a brand that has managed to remain powerful over decades and across cultures. In the 1980s, I was part of the team that sold Sesame Street around the world — either licensed and broadcast in English or in locally adapted indigenous-language co-productions. Long before "think global, act local" was the conventional wisdom for how corporations should operate in

the international interconnected marketplace, we at Children's Television Workshop (CTW), as it was known then, pioneered the development of a flexible global brand. Our approach to programming was to maintain the values, look and feel of the parent company and its main product, Sesame Street — carefully crafted live-action and animation and puppetry segments, woven together with a curriculum designed by educators, writers, producers and artists to help pre-school kids learn basic cognitive skills, to appreciate cultural diversity, and to achieve broader goals, like learning how to handle conflict. At the same time, we wanted to enable our co-producing partners to work with local educators, writers, and producers to craft the specific early childhood educational goals unique to their own countries. For example, in those early co-productions, the North American urban street of the original series was replaced by a plaza in Latin America, a strassa in Germany, or a rue in France. And those international stageset streets were populated by original puppet characters — parrots, hedgehogs, bears, and camels characteristic of the region and created by local producers.

Today — 44 years into Sesame Street's run — the program airs in 146 countries, with 23 co-productions in places as politically and culturally complex as South Africa and Afghanistan. I was curious to see how Sesame Workshop had continued to grow its operations over the years while remaining true to its mission to improve the lives of kids. I called Shari Rosenfeld, Vice President in Sesame Workshop's Global Education department. As a case study, she pointed to a venture launched in India in 2006 — Galli Galli Sim Sim — to identify a few of the key drivers for how they've remained a relevant, dynamic global brand:

Identifying The Country-Specific Critical Needs First "According to the McKinsey Global Institute's "bird of gold" index, India is entering a period of sustained, but unequal, economic growth with 161.1 million (or 67% of its population) gaining access to mass media. That leaves 33% of the country with limited access to mass media and educational opportunities. And while school enrollment is at an all-time high, UNICEF has reported that the educational system is "inadequately developed." "The scale of this underserved market, coupled with Sesame Workshop's 40 years of expertise in partnering with local educational and programming experts, created an important opportunity," said, Rosenfeld, "for us to meet critical needs on an unprecedented scale, while at the same time building toward a future that would allow our work in India to be financially sustainable."

Being Willing To Try New Operating Models According to Rosenfeld, "unlike most of the other markets in which we co-produce, Sesame Streethad never been broadcast in India. The fact that our audience had zero prior exposure to the brand created both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge was that we couldn't trade on our global brand equity and iconic characters; at the same time, the lack of familiarity with the brand gave us greater latitude in creating a local interpretation of the Sesame experiences. That, combined with the enormous potential for large-scale impact, was a key driver in thinking through a new operational model in India. As always, we built a strong coalition of partners including broadcasters, educators, production companies, foundations, and corporations, but rather than manage the operation from New York, we decided to embark on a new path that would evolve our approach from 'project management' to 'social entrepreneurship,' by building a new 30-person organization from the ground up."

Embracing New And Multiple Means Of Distribution The limited access to broadcast technology (among the targeted 33% underserved target population) has spurred the Galli Galli Sim Sim team to learn from the market, improving and evolving content to maximize distribution. Rosenfeld says they've piloted the delivery of content through mobile phones, including teacher-training videos which are on pre-loaded sim cards. SWI has created community radio with call in from parents and educators, and "Radiophone," which delivers radio episodes via mobile phones. Outreach materials in 9 local languages on topics as diverse as health, nutrition, financial literacy and school readiness have been distributed to millions of children throughout India. And more than 200 television episodes have been broadcast on India's national broadcaster, Doordarshan, and on Pogo and Cartoon Channel, India's destination channels for young kids.

Propagating Lessons Learned Internally The Sesame Workshop India (SWI) enterprise has created a hub for the exchange of ideas and expertise for the region. Rosenfeld describes how members of the Afghanistan and Indonesian teams have attended content and production workshops conducted by the Galli Galli Sim Sim team in conjunction with select personnel from Sesame in New York. "Sesame Workshop India's outreach team has worked on location in Nigeria and Indonesia, supporting local efforts to develop outreach initiatives and explore new business models; having our partners recognize the value of each other's expertise and share their original content keeps all of us more nimble and engaged," she says. The benefit of this shared learning is invaluable across all of their efforts — encouraging a kind of permeable membrane of growth and innovation throughout the entire organization — domestic and international.

Taking The Long View "With SWI, Rosenfeld adds, "Sesame Workshop has extended the horizon line for success by creating long-term development plans that are building toward a base of diversified revenue sources, forging mass distribution through government-run preschools and cultivating a culture of innovation that pilots new content that reaches children across socio-economic and the urban/rural divide. The entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes SWI is born from the latitude to develop new enterprises, like launching a pre-school [classroom] business through a new franchise model, that will not only deliver on core educational objectives, but will also serve as a critical revenue stream necessary to cross-subsidize other work."

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The creators and distributors of Sesame Street were successfully pursuing an aggressive global strategy 30 years ago, before "globalization" was a common concept or phrase in America. It has done so by being clear and steadfast about its essential brand values while also seeking to understand deeply and flexibly adapt to local conditions and norms. It is an important model for 21st century companies as they seek to be relevant in an international marketplace, where being a successful American brand is not in and of itself a guarantee of global success.