When "Elmo's Healthy Heroes" come to Bemidji this week, one thing is certain - those who have grown up with Sesame Street want to pass on the magic to their children and grandchildren.
When Super Grover loses his "superness," "Elmo's Healthy Heroes" come to the rescue during three shows in a quest to teach healthy habits through song and dance. The performances are at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 28, and Wednesday, Dec. 29, and 10:30 a.m. Dec. 29 at The Sanford Center, 1111 Event Center Drive N.E.
During a recent phone interview, Christopher Ellis, the actor who will portray Big Bird during the Bemidji show, said he knew when he was 5 years old that he wanted to perform. Ellis had no idea that he would become beloved Muppet character Big Bird, who is like a 6-year-old child with a curiosity that doesn't quit. Big Bird does make mistakes, and when he fails, he doesn't give up, even when he gets sad and needs to rest in his bird nest for a while. All children know that he'll come back and try again, perhaps with a different angle, for Big Bird always finds a solution to the problem.
Ellis also said that he and Big Bird have lots in common.
"I also grew up in an inner city neighbor in Minneapolis," he said. "I am the oldest of seven children and my mother, Kathy Ellis, was very strict, and my pastor at our local Baptist church insisted that I stay in the choir. All that kept me off the streets and out of gangs. I was able to attend a magnet school, North High School in Minneapolis, and study the arts - music, dance and acting. Even though my peers would call me weird, my 10th grade teacher, Ms. Melissa Borgmann, helped me build my confidence as a performer."
Ellis said performing for him is an "out of body" experience, a rush or as some also say, "staying in the zone." He participated in many talent shows, high school recitals and local events in the Twin Cities and when the opportunity came to audition with VEE Corporation he grabbed it. That was almost eight years ago.
"I mean I love it. I love performing and connecting with the audience," he said. "I had no choice of character when I auditioned but I am tall. It takes a lot of stamina to play the part because the costume is heavy. That's why I tell young performers to take as many dance classes as they can endure to build up their strength. The cast becomes your family so it's also important to pick positive friends."
Someday, Ellis said he would like to go to college and study journalism, but after the Christmas break, he'll be back entertaining children and their parents in cities across the United States. This young man, 28 years old, is living a life that many aspiring actors dream about and loving it.
When Sesame Street began in November 1969, it set a standard for children's entertainment and education that exists to this day. The show celebrated its 40th anniversary and is still going strong with devoted fans and equally faithful original characters like Elmo, Ernie, Bert, Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird. Some new Muppets have arrived on the scene: Prairie Dawn, an "A" personality who knows how to get things done and done right; Abby Cadabby, the daughter of a Fairy Godmother, whose magic skills are not quite up to par; and Rosita, who comes from Mexico and speaks both English and Spanish and sometimes gets them mixed up.