Tracey Ellert has a story to tell, and she spins quite a yarn.
She has been weaving her tales on television, on stage, at private parties and even on Madison Street where she stars on Monday mornings at the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor. Ellert has been missing from Forest Park for several months, ever since she moved to Mexico with her husband and the ice cream shop was busy relocating a few blocks to the west.
Come mid October, however, Ellert is scheduled to give another performance at the Brown Cow that’s sure to feature some of her favorite characters, including the Licking Monster.
“The best thing I like about storytelling is that it makes people feel good,” Ellert said from Cancun, Mexico, an interview conducted via e-mail. “The kids are laughing and having fun and then the parents enjoy watching them, which brings them to the present moment with their kids. I love that energy.”
Ellert’s stories often impart lessons in sharing, being kind, helping, and learning how people are different. She played Dancy Nancy on an episode of Jack’s Big Music Show on Noggin, and was featured as The Storyteller for an episode of Curious Buddies on Spiffy Pictures/Baby Nick Jr.
She has played character puppets Sherman the Shoebox Monster and Popcorn Super Heroes on Activity TV.
She also wrote two episodes of Bunnytown for the Disney Channel. In 2004 she was a workshop writer, director and performer for creative storytelling at the Concordia University early childhood education conference. She’s written a parent workshop for the Uptown East Head Start program.
While living in Mexico with her husband, Ellert is recounting the adventures of her character, the Licking Monster, and holding children’s attention with tales of damsels in distress, spiders and bravery. A new life in a new country could have been a chance to practice a new gig, but she decided to stick with telling stories. She likes it best when children and their parents listen to her together, she said.
Though she speaks Spanish, she has never performed in the language, said Ellert. She learned that young audiences in Cancun laugh at the same jokes told in Forest Park.
“I find it fascinating that I am in a totally different country speaking another language but the kids still laugh at the same parts,” Ellert said. “The Spanish language is very literal so some of my names have to be worded differently. For example … the Licking Monster, he is this cute, furry little puppet with a long pink tongue that likes to lick the kids. We talk about how we can lick ice creams and lollipops, but not people. … So here the word lamer, ‘to lick,’ but I have heard that it just sounds gross in Spanish. So I just kept his name in English and decided that could be a good thing to have some words in English to teach the kids some English.”
Disney princesses and other American stories entertain her Cancun audience, but Ellert said she mainly makes up her own. She takes inspiration from toys and from parents’ requests.
Ellert also played Extra Technician Tracey at her weekly game show, “Body Parts,” at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. There, she met storyteller Dot Kane.
“I saw her style and loved it,” Ellert said of Kane’s work. “She gave me her old in-home daycares that she was too busy to go to. So I went and bought some toys and made up some stories.”
But everybody seems to want a visit from The Licking Monster.
“When I arrive [the children] ask for him and wonder if I brought him. I think kids in general like to know things and if they know something about what’s in my bag they are excited to share that information with me,” Ellert said.
While in Mexico, Ellert is investigating Mayan ghost stories and folklore based on themes kids can relate to. She returns for a visit to Forest Park this month, and is scheduled to perform at The Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor, 7347 Madison St., the week of Oct. 13.