Vidyagasar spent six years as a regular on “Sesame Street,” playing the human character Leela, the show’s first character of Indian descent. It was her first major acting role which eventually led to roles in the Netflix movie “Velvet Buzzsaw” CBS’s “The Good Wife” and “Blue Bloods,” and a recurring arc on USA’s “Suits.”
For Vidyagasar, acting was a passion she first discovered as a middle school student. She began as a seventh grader at St. Andrew’s in 1995 having just moved to America from India. She found a sense of community in the arts program.
“The theater and arts community at St. Andrew’s made a huge difference to my experience,” Vidyasagar said. “I found a space and a feeling of belonging while also discovering this thing that I wanted to spend my life doing. I credit that to all the amazing young people that participated in those programs, and to my teachers, Mr. Duncan and Mr. Barber.”
Vidyasagar was fortunate enough to get into the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University where she studied in the Stella Adler Studio. Despite seeking a life in a challenging profession, she never viewed it as a gamble.
“It didn’t even occur to me that it was a risk,” Vidyasagar said. “I don’t think I considered it a risk for many years. My folks, I imagine did perceive it as a risk, but their trust in me to do the right thing and their belief in me both fundamentally to make the right choices but also their belief in my potential as an artist – their trust in that surpassed the weight of the risk. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without their support. I feel incredibly privileged to come from a family and a context where a career in the arts was feasible and acceptable. I feel extremely lucky about that.”
It was a few years after she graduated from NYU before she began booking roles, but her life changed forever in 2008 when she was cast on “Sesame Street.” After a first audition that included a word of the day monologue and a little singing, she was called back into a packed room where she had to prepare material, including a full song, a 10-minute improv with a muppet, and a prepared scene with Elmo. The end result was her joining the cast of an iconic American show that she had never really seen herself growing up, although she was obviously familiar with the muppets.
“I think the values of ‘Sesame Street’ are so intrinsically linked to the characters, so if you know anything about them, you know about the (Sesame Street) world,” Vidyasagar said. “You know that it’s inclusive and focused on kindness and generosity and love and growth.”
On November 9 at 7 p.m., the 50th anniversary special will air on HBO celebrating “Sesame Street,” its history and its contributions. It also reairs on HBO Family on November 10 at 12:30 p.m. and can be seen via streaming. Vidyasagar, who spent six years as a regular on the show and took part in the filming of the special, looks forward to seeing it air.
“It’s impossible to underestimate how meaningful it is to do something that’s contributing to people’s lives in a positive way.” she said. “It can be rare in the field of acting, and other fields to be sure. So to be a part of something that was such a tangible force for good, I don’t think you can overestimate how meaningful that is.”
Certainly worth taking a risk.