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Family Values: Dead Men Do Tell Tales


By Andriana Trang '12

Published Jul 1, 2011 8:00 AM

Ahoy, Matey! Arrr, bring on your tall tales 'n' turn 'em into plays.


Photo courtesy of the Geffen Playhouse

Wit' a wee bit o' imagination, any story can be turned into a theatrical masterpiece. And that's exactly what Story Pirates, a nationally recognized arts and literacy organization, is doing together with the Geffen Playhouse.

At the Geffen's Saturday Scene workshops, as well as in classrooms around Los Angeles, young playwrights create stories based on their own ingenuity. Then Story Pirates, a group of "first-rate professional comedians," add a dash of song, costumes and tongue-in-cheek humor.

As Jamie Salka, CEO of Story Pirates, puts it, "the goal of Story Pirates is to show kids that their ideas matter … We help them create a connection between work and play."

Supplementing the lack of creative-writing classes in schools, the program tailors two- to three-week curricula that lead kids through the brainstorming, writing and editing process, with a final assembly featuring performances of a few of the kids' works.

Launched in 2009, Story Pirates is currently working at 30 Los Angeles public and charter schools to "reach underserved youth and help fill the needs not met by the school district," says Geffen Education Director Debra Pasquerette.

The Geffen takes the Story Pirates concept a step further with its Saturday Scene workshops, held every Saturday at the theater's new Kinross Annex. The plays written in these workshops are featured as weekly, family-friendly performances, giving even toddlers a chance to enjoy some Story Pirates fun.

In addition, a "Secret Agent Spy Training" class for older-kid storytellers focuses on time-traveling and code-breaking missions to develop a play.

But it doesn't take sci-fi spies to make a great Story Pirates creation. Salka counts "The Day I Got My Head Stuck in a Bar Stool" as one of her all-time favorites.

"A 6-year-old boy from Chicago wrote a story about a boy who learns the hard way that you shouldn't do everything your dog does, even if he asks you nicely," she says. "It's hilarious and it has a catchy theme song that I haven't been able to shake for years."