Story Pirates tell students to ‘use your imagination’

 Performers from the arts education and media company Story Pirates act out stories written by Ridgebury Elementary School students in the school’s gym Dec. 18. Story Pirates was founded in 2004 to celebrate the words, ideas and stories of young people. The performers have visted more than 130 schools and received stories from more than 28,700 students. —Steve Coulter photo

Performers from the arts education and media company Story Pirates act out stories written by Ridgebury Elementary School students in the school’s gym Dec. 18. Story Pirates was founded in 2004 to celebrate the words, ideas and stories of young people. The performers have visted more than 130 schools and received stories from more than 28,700 students. —Steve Coulter photo

A sun king and a star queen, a submarine the size of a dragon, and a planet where tacos rain from the sky — those were just some of the images in tales told at Ridgebury Elementary School Thursday, Dec. 18, when a comedy troupe called the Story Pirates performed stories that were written by students.

The Story Pirates performed at all six of Ridgefield’s elementary schools, collecting several hundred stories from students earlier this fall and improvising a few dozen of them live into musical sketches last week.

“We had an initial fall assembly early in October and got a ton of stories from all the kids,” said Amanda Borson, a producer for the service program based in New York that has worked with more than 250 school districts nationwide.

“There are no parameters for them in what they write,” she added. “The only thing we tell them is ‘Use your imagination,’ because we don’t want them borrowing characters or plots from other stories.”

There was plenty of originality on display at the Story Pirates’ performance in Ridgebury, where they started the show with an untitled story that they called “Captain Meadowbeard and the Santmumreea” that was written by first grader Ava Ward.

Aston Hollins McClanahan, one of the lead performers, introduced the story’s plot to the students in the school’s gymnasium.

“Captain Meadowbeard is a pirate — like us,” she said.

Her fellow actors — Louie Pearlman, Mark Vigeant, Lauren Brickman, Woody Fu, and Dave Broome — brought Ava’s story to life with different costumes and exaggerated settings.

The second story performed was titled “I Need a Dress” by third grader Paige Shepard.

The story was about a horse named Snowflake who was threatened to be put into “fashion jail” by the fashion police if she didn’t find a dress to wear for her town’s “fancy day” celebration.

The third story was written by fourth grader Grace Hooker and was also untitled, but Ms. McClanahan told the room that the performers were going to call it “Fluffy the Dragon.”

“We need a submarine the size of a dragon!” Mr. Vigeant screamed in the middle of the story, which drew lots of laughter from the kids.

Eventually, with the help of a sun king and a star queen, Fluffy the Dragon gets what he’s looking for and is able to travel to the planet Earth.

Fifth grader Nicholas Sobliski’s story “NASA Wants Me!” was selected next as the actors improvised the plot about a daydreaming student who leaves class to become a NASA scientist and flies to Mars.

The final student story performed was written by second grader Kiernan McGuire and was titled “Once There Was a Group of People Called the Story Pirates,” which drew more giggles from the crowded room.

Before the show was over, Ms. McClanahan told the students they’d be taking part in a special performance.

“This story hasn’t even been written yet,” she said. “We’re going to write it together right now — do you think we can do it?”

Mr. Pearlman went into the audience to pick up details of the story, like the story’s title, characters, location, and plot.

With zero hesitation, the Story Pirates improvised every detail given to them from the students — the main character’s name would be Louie and he would be a “pickle-shaped noodle who wants candy canes.”

“Where does Louie live?” Ms. McClanahan prodded.

One of the students in the crowd had a good idea and raised a hand.

“Waffle land!” exclaimed Mr. Pearlman rising up after the idea was whispered into his ear.

As the troupe started acting out those details, Ms. McClanahan called for a break.

“Freeze it,” she said. “Louie needs a friend.”

In the final version of the story, Louie travels with his best friend, Xavier, to “Eyeball Land” to find the elusive candy canes.

“Anything can happen when you use imagination,” Ms. McClanahan told the room at the conclusion of the performance.

“Thank you so much for sharing yours with us and letting us perform these incredible stories.”

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