Story Pirates Gives Lessons for Parents
By: Isa Goldberg
Isabel is nine and she’s not very talkative, but she does like people to know where she stands. Recently, we went to see her favorite theatrical troupe, Story Pirates, which has performed at her elementary school, PS107, in Brooklyn. We had a choice of a few different shows to see, including "Aladdin" on Broadway, but Isabel insisted that she really wanted to see Story Pirates, which she loves seeing at school. Now, to be honest, Isabel doesn’t always talk fondly about "going to school," which she finds "boring."
So, last Saturday afternoon we took the subway to the Drama Bookshop to see the company that performs there weekly. The stories that they develop are written by kids, often put to music by Story Pirates, and performed by their talented ensemble of actors.
But the first piece they did, about a dog that gets its head stuck in a bar stool, left me cold. What was the point of it, and why did another actor, now playing a human, need to imitate that, especially when both dog and human ended up drinking the water from a toilet bowl? While the point eluded me, it didn’t elude Isabel, who clearly recognized the subversive nature of that story, and gloried in the idea of having fun in spite of the rules that adults make. "The Day I Got My Head Stuck in a Bar Stool" was edgy enough to wake Isabel up, along with the other kids in the audience.
Other sketch comedies we saw that afternoon, included "Surprise Birthday," written by a kindergarten girl whose wish comes true when her mother gifts her a stick horse that she can ride on a group outing with her other equestrian friends. Others addressed favorite family outings, as well as social issues such as bullying and braggadocio. Story Pirates are outré about their creativity, creating hip hop style songs, puppets, and generally exploiting every kind of theatrical trick or tool that will help get the message across. They fear nothing, not even vaudeville. In turn, the kids who write their sketches and watch their performances grow equally plucky with approbation.
In the finale, the actors interacted with the kids in the audience to create a new sketch comedy in real time. One child suggested a story title, "Googoo," while another came up with the lead character, an apple, and still another identified the character’s objective: to get a crown. Actors and children in the audience wrote the fable together, building an improvisational piece that escalated from a bunch of unrelated objects to an interpersonal tale in which the actors and the children who contributed the story elements worked together to achieve a happy ending.
More importantly, Story Pirates is a happy beginning for many a child – encouraging their self-expression and self-realization. The group achieves its mission: "celebrating the words, ideas and stories of children," by working with elementary schools – approximately 275 of them in New York and Los Angeles – and through a program called Story Love, which receives 30,000 stories every year. But, there are no contests. While only 2,000 of those submissions make it into the company’s repertoire, each child receives a personal answer to their composition so the exposure to putting words on paper can be supportive and encouraging for all.
As we left the show on Saturday, Isabel became a little chatterbox, filling me in on everything I had apparently missed – the buzz of Story Pirates’ humor, the brutal subterfuge of common sense, and the fun of creating and watching that on stage – with all the other kids, in front of everyone.