Armed with enthusiasm, wit and patience, an ensemble of actors and educators known as the Story Pirates stormed the shores of Park School on May 15, bringing to life stories written by the students there.
The group, based dually in New York and Los Angeles, sets out to “celebrate the words and ideas of young people…and show them just how amazing their ideas are”, according to their program brochure.
They believe that “desire drives learning” and that there is a “powerful link between literacy and confident self-expression.”
Over a three-day period, the Pirates first visit classrooms and collect story ideas. The group then returns two days later to act out the students’ stories. The program is intended to teach story telling skills, encourage writing and creativity, and build language and reading skills. The program curriculum aligns with the national Common Core Standards. While the group works with elementary and middle schools across the country, it focuses on middle school-aged children because it believes that age is “the most important time to tell kids their ideas matter”, said Matt, one of the Pirates who worked with Park School.
Park School, located on Main Street, is a school for young people age 2-20 with special needs. A grant secured by Joyce Bartz, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services for District 65, enabled Park to bring the Story Pirates to the school.
While performing at Park, the actors used various techniques to engage the student body. Sign language helped communicate the scenes to the audience. Laminated picture cards allowed the actors to interact with students, enabling them to select objects and ideas for the improvisational part of the show. Costumes and music added fun and creativity to the stories.
The five short plays enacted at Park were filled with students’ visions of talking animals, games and food, particularly pizza. “The Rabbit Jerry” told a tale of animal friends who wanted to read stories on an iPad but were forced to jump through some hoops first and earn the privilege, which involved getting food for their mother and singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for their principal.
“The Very Silly Gorilla” featured Caroline, who was required to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen to earn the three pizzas she desired. “I Love…” and “The Day I Got My Head Stuck in a Bar Stool” were stories written by students in other schools, but incorporated ideas and direction from the Park audience.
Ann Sickon, Executive Director of Center for Independent Futures, attended the Park performance. Duke Doyle, one of the Story Pirates, is an ETHS alum and the son of Jane Doyle, one of CIF’s founders. With smiles and a sense of pride, Ms. Sickon said the program is important, particularly to those at Park because it “allowed these children the opportunity to shine and gave them a chance to be a star.”