Ryan Felton remembers sitting in the back seat of his parents' car, heading home from their family Christmas. The then 9-year-old boy fervently listened to the discussion at hand — why his uncle had stopped the tradition of reading a story or poem to kids in the family when they were all gathered for the holidays. This was the first year in his young life there had been no story.

This memory is what inspired Felton to write The Christmas That Never Was last year for his young cousins, a story poem about what might happen if everyone thought Christmas was off that year.

"I can't remember if I sort of daydreamed it or just woke up one morning with this image in my head of a calendar grid for December that had a square missing and jumped from Dec. 24 to the 26," laughs Felton. "And what kind of panic that would instill in people, especially kids."

Felton wrote the tale as a narrative poetry piece, similar to the ones that his uncle used to tell 15 years ago.

"The original motivator for that was definitely just me wanting to have something special to share with my family," says Felton. "I felt like our annual get-togethers were missing some sort of tradition or flourish."

As Felton is a core member of performance art collective Know No Stranger, he eventually showed the piece to his artistic colleagues. Today, it is the premise for a storytelling show that will debut at the Festival of Trees at the Indiana History Center.

"We all became interested in what it could be beyond the scope of a written word piece," says Felton.

First, they created a partially animated video with original illustrations by Michael Runge, one of the founding members of Know No Stranger. Now, it's a live work that utilizes Know No Stranger members as narrators, along with text projections, shadow puppets and illustrations to make it feel like a storybook come to life.

"This kind of thing is really in our wheelhouse, as far as shadow puppetry and projection ... ," says Felton, referring to the mixed media. "It's definitely in the neighborhood of what we do best."

The Christmas That Never Was

When: Dec. 12, noon, 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m.

Where: Frank and Katrina Basile Theater at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center

Tickets: FREE with admission to the Festival of Trees


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