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    Rudolph takes a holiday

    Two storytellers weave animated Christmas tales, but not the usual fare. Their repertoire involves family harmony, St. Nicholas, snowflakes, magical warm moments and memories.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


    There will be a concert at Heritage Village on Saturday. But there will be no live music.

    Instead, two women with aliases borne of fantasy will give a "story concert," carry on the ancient tradition of storytelling -- without the aid of books or cheat sheets.

    They know their stories so well, they see them in their minds. They will lose themselves in them. Their voices will rise and fall.

    They will look deeply into the eyes of those gathered around them to gauge their reactions -- the fear, love or loathing the audience members feel for a character or situation.

    Karin Welcher and Karen Teets, who respectfully wish to be known only as Karin LilliStarr and Sylvia StoreeBrooke, will spin Christmas tales, but not the usual fare.

    You will not hear about Rudolph's troubles or Frosty's adventures. You will not hear about the Grinch and his scruffy little dog.

    The Worldwide Wonders and Holiday Traditions Story Concert is something a little different, a little more enlightening, Teets and Welcher hope.

    Teets may tell a favorite Christmas story written by a writer in Texas about a boy who lives on a farm.

    "It's about family harmony," she said.

    Children and their parents will also hear about "St. Nicholas, snowmen and snowflakes, legendary flowers like holly and poinsettias, magical warm moments, memories and new ideas about celebrating the special season," Teets said.

    She and Welcher also will focus on traditions of other countries' culture and food during the winter holiday. For example, in Australia, "it's like the Fourth of July here. They go surfing and have picnics" at Christmastime because the weather is hot, Teets said.

    Storytelling is far different from story reading, Teets said.

    "When you put a book down, there are no barriers between you and the listener," she said. "You can respond to your audience. If you're telling a story and see a lot of quizzical looks, you know you have to explain things. If you see fear in their faces, you have to bring them back to a safe place."

    Teets, 47, was the oldest of five children, so "I became a storyteller a long time ago."

    She used to listen with awe as her grandmother spun family stories. But "we didn't know whether to believe them, they were so good," Teets said.

    She had a career as a teacher, instructing visually impaired students at Pinellas Park High School before starting a company, BK Group, a business and educational consultants enterprise, with her husband. She has two grown daughters, Karla Thompson, 28, a teacher, and Brenna, 25, a flight attendant.

    Welcher, also 47, works with Teets, and together they are attempting to start an oral storytelling renaissance.

    The two are becoming regulars at Heritage Village.

    "I think they are excellent," said Ellen Babb, curator of education for Heritage Village. "Storytelling is really important to our cultural heritage. It binds us together."

    When she's not telling stories, Welcher works at Western Reserve Life insurance in the billing department. She is single but has a 7-year-old nephew, David, who loves to hear her stories. He's become pretty good at telling them, too.

    When she lived in Georgia, she created the Atlanta History Center's Storytelling Guild, and was a resident storyteller and facilitator there.

    She describes her parents as "great readers, great storytellers," and said her favorite Christmas stories are those that talk about the meaning of the season rather than Santa and the elves.

    Her favorite story is Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Australian author Mem Fox, "a beautiful story about a little boy who asks, "What is a memory?' and his search."

    "At Christmastime, people reminisce, sharing memories," Welcher said. "The children learn to deal with life by hearing how grown-ups handled situations when they were growing up. They absorb it."

    At the story concert, she plans to tell the Brave Tin Soldier, a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen.

    "It's about a tin soldier told from the soldier's perspective," Welcher said. "He was made from a spoon. He only had one leg because the tin ran out. (The story tells) of his adventures, how he falls in love with a paper ballerina."

    Then she plans to recite a short poem about a candy cane, how it feels to eat and taste it, letting it melt into sugary liquid on your tongue. It makes for a sweet ending.

    If you go

    Karin LilliStarr and Sylvia StoreeBrooke will tell multicultural folk tales during Worldwide Wonders and Holiday Traditions at 11 a.m. Saturday at Heritage Village, 11909 125th St. N, Largo. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students ages 8 to 17. Wear your favorite wacky winter hat. The crazier the cap, the better your chance of winning a first-, second- or third-place prize. For more information, call (727) 823-9131.

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