When you have a once-in-a-career assignment to interview Barney, that famous plush purple dinosaur, you want to ask the right questions.

So it's best to enlist experts such as 5-year-old Kayah Kivett and 4-year-old Sara Routh. They talked to the Purple One via telephone as he prepares to bring his first touring musical stage show, ``Barney's Big Surprise!' to Winston-Salem from Dec. 10 to 14.Kayah and Sara fit right into the core audience for ``Barney's Big Surprise!' - children ages 1 to 5 who know Barney through his TV show on PBS and his videos. They come with their parents and older siblings.

His audience will be treated to 70 minutes of super-dee-duper singing and dancing with Barney's dino-pals Baby Bop and BJ and Professor Tinkerputt, along with a cast of child actors and such nursery rhyme characters as Mother Goose, Little Miss Muffet, Little Boy Blue and the Cat and the Fiddle.

They will hear Barney favorites ``I Love You,' ``Mr. Knickerbocker' and some new songs and can sing along with ``If You're Happy and You Know It' and other childhood standards.

Weekend audiences Dec. 13 and 14 get another treat: they will become part of the ``Barney's Big Surprise!' home video to be released in June.

``We thought the (Lawrence Joel coliseum) would be perfect for our camera shots,' show and video producer Sloan Coleman says. ``The characters interact a lot with the audience. They play 'Simon Says,' they do Mother Goose rhymes, they pretend they are airplanes flying around.'

Like good journalists, Kayah and Sara arrived for their interview with Barney prepared with a list of questions, thanks to a little help from their moms. When he answered the phone, there was no mistaking that goofy ``HellllO?'

(Between you and me, this is Duncan Brannon, one of two voices of Barney. Since the original voice, Bob West, had been tied up shooting ``Barney's Great Adventure' movie in Montreal, producers added Brannon's voice for this season's PBS series).

Kayah: What's your ``Big Surprise?'

Barney: Oh, I don't want to give it away, but I'll give you a little hint, OK? The big hint for the Big Surprise is: BJ is very excited about this special day because it only comes once a year for each and every one of us, and we are going to be celebrating his special day.

Sara: How old are you?

Barney: Well, there's an equation I use to compute that because it's pretty hard to remember sometimes. Let's see, I take the sub-root of the hypotenuse ... I guess I'm about 6,000 years old now, give or take a few. It's kind of hard to come up with, so I round to the nearest tenth. It's a lot of birthdays.

Kayah: Where do you live?

Barney: I live in your imagination. So whenever you use your imagination and want to be with me, I can be there with you.

Kayah: If dinosaurs are extinct, how are you alive?

Barney: Oh, that's a very good question. I guess it comes right back again to using our imaginations, doesn't it? But I guess I am a little bit different than most other dinosaurs. I don't know too many dinosaurs who sing songs and dance and play games with other people. Baby Bop and BJ are like that, too.

Sara: What's your favorite thing to do?

Barney: I like to sing songs and dance and play lots of games just like you do. I also like to go to the library and read lots of books. And I guess my favorite thing to do is to relax, to sit down with a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a tall, cool glass of milk. But most of all I like to be with all of my friends.

Kayah: Do you know Santa Claus?

Barney: Well, I never met him personally but I hear he's a pretty nice fellow, you know, to bring everybody toys every year.

Sara: What song do you like?

Barney: Well, I like all of our songs like ``The Rainbow Song' because it talks about all of the pretty colors, and I like our kite song because it talks about flying kites and I love to fly kites. But my favorite song of all still has to be ``I Love You' because that always reminds me what's important - our friends.

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