We were a few minutes late for the Story Pirates’ performance Saturday at Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre. Fortunately, so were the actors. As we took our seats, the one member of the troupe on hand was explaining that the rest of the actors hadn’t yet arrived. And suddenly, they did.
The first burst onto the stage to say that a seagull at the beach had stolen his bagel. The second came along, out of breath, claiming that a flock of seagulls had flown off with her car. The final three arrived together with quick-and-crazy tale about establishing democracy in the underground seagull kingdom, and the show was off and running. And from that point on, there were no more excuses from the actors. It was all about the kids.
The Story Pirates are a nonprofit arts and creative writing organization, based in L.A and New York, and their mission is to celebrate the words and ideas of young people through their work at theaters and in schools nationwide. So aside from the opening bit, every story sketch in the 45-minute show was written by kids, and brought to life by these six grown-up actors (who clearly haven’t lost their childhood sense of humor) with wild costumes, a smattering of props, catchy tunes and a stage-side keyboardist.
There were zombie carrots, a fugitive classroom skeleton, pirate dogs on a sausage boat, a castle made out of cheese, an emperor called “My Bed Has Lumps” and some really good dancing. Many of the skits were about kids, with characters who transformed into helicopters, vanquished “real” vampires and got horses – named “Pumpkin Spice Latte Should Be a Year-Round Thing” and “Gift Cards” – for their birthday. The actors introduced each skit with the name, grade and city of the child who wrote it, and one of the young writers even came on stage for a Q&A at the end of the show.
Finally, to the delight of the young audience, the Story Pirates and the crowd collaborated on an improvised tale. Kids – my 7-year-old companion, Elsie, among them – were invited to name characters, suggest settings and pick plot points from their seats, then watch their ideas played out on stage. The resulting story, about a chicken and a pepper shaker who traverse an enchanted forest to steal cheese from Emperor My Bed Has Lumps, had the crowd howling with laughter. And it got to the heart of what makes a Story Pirates show such a great experience. Asked about her favorite part of the performance, Elsie didn’t hesitate. “When I made them steal the cheese,” she said with a grin.
The Story Pirates’ permanent home in L.A. is the Geffen Playhouse, where they perform periodically. But they also tour and work with local schools throughout the year. There are upcoming free shows Nov. 8 at Golden Road Brewing in L.A. (RSVP required), and you can learn more about other shows and Story Pirates programs, and your kids can submit stories, at www.storypirates.org.