The Striking Viking Story Pirates
Pirates pillage, plunder and sail the seven seas but beware-these swashbucklers now steal your children and turn them into…storytellers! The Striking Viking Story Pirates is a non-profit group of adult actors who perform musical sketch comedy based entirely on stories written by kids. The Story Pirates offer an in-school creative writing and drama workshop series, called the Play/Write Program that has lead to the award-winning sketch comedy show performed every Saturday at The Drama Book Shop in New York City. The show features the group’s “Greatest Hits” comprised of the funniest songs and story adaptations performed in the outrageous spirit of Saturday Night Live.
The Story Pirates’ Saturday show turns The Drama Book Shop into a miniature Broadway boasting a photograph Wall of Fame dedicated to the kids behind the stories personalized by hand-scrawled autographs. The show is hosted by pirate puppet, The Striking Viking and begins with the catchy rendition of The Day My Head Got Stuck In a Bar Stool about a young boy who follows his dog’s lead which begs the question of “why would you do what a dog does” from his exasperated parents.
The adult cast is a hilarious ensemble that’s able to mix handcrafted costumes and at times, even genders, to capture the unadulterated wonder of children’s imagination. The Story Pirates appeals to the humor of both kids and parents alike as evidenced in the musical about the miracle of money sprouting on a boy’s head in “Money Head Allan”. The boy comically panics at his discovery while fleeing the clutches of money-grubbing Goldman-Sachs. The Story Pirates is highly entertaining and interactive allowing both the brilliance of the cast and the impressive talent of the children, to truly shine.
Story Pirates, produced by Jamie Salka, first introduced its program in 2003 and has primarily been showcased in the tri-state area. It has recently taken to the road in a national tour spanning ten states in three weeks. I caught up with Jamie shortly after he returned from the tour to learn more about the story behind the ‘Pirates’ and its treasure trove of kids’ tales.
Please tell me about how The Story Pirates came to be.
JS: Story Pirates grew out of a theatre company that me and my friends were apart of at Northwestern. Our goal was to create theatre for kids that didn’t feel like children’s theatre. We were trying to create something that was not only non-condescending but also something that was genuinely entertaining for both children and adults.
How did Story Pirates expand to now, a 100 story pirates?
JS: It just really started to build over the last five years. We started out with a cast of 12 actors and we started with a pilot program at a public school in Harlem. That was the first year. Last year, we were at over 100 schools around the country and it has steadily built over time. We have not spent a lot of money on marketing. What happens is, one teacher has talked to another. One principal has called another. Parents come to see our show at the Drama Book Store and they call their relatives and they call their friends and they tell them about it. It grows by word of mouth.
Tell me about how the workshops work. If a school contacted you, where you go from that point?
JS: The program we are most well known for is the public “Play/Write” program. The word “play” and the word “write”. It’s really a combination of those two things. When we go into a school, we present a three-part process. The first is a “greatest hits” version of our sketch comedy show, followed by a series of writing workshops, followed by two story performances featuring stories that kids have written in the writing workshops. The greatest hits show is a series of 8-10 of some of the funniest sketches we found from kids all around New York and all around the country. It’s intended to allow the students to get excited about their own imagination and the possibilities for stories that they want to write. It’s intended to inspire and entertain them and prepare them to create their own story. We try to capitalize on the excitement that the show built by teaching a series of writing workshops shortly after the greatest hits. The writing workshops can last anywhere from a series of four workshops over four days or four class periods to a series of 12 workshops over the course of a semester. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can have a residency for an entire year. Then we have a culmination of all the writing that the kids have done and a celebration of the work we’ve created.
What are some of your favorite stories that kids have submitted?
JS: It’s almost a trick question. In my heart, I have loved every story that a kid has ever submitted to us. We really believe that every kid has a story to tell and that every kid’s ideas are worth hearing. It’s our philosophy that Story Pirates is not a writing contest. I certainly have stories which I think have made terrific adaptations. There is a story called The Day That I Got My Head Stuck in a Bar Stool that is one of the quintessential Story Pirate stories that we perform at almost every school we visit. It’s a story that we’ve been doing since the beginning of Story Pirates. It’s so funny. It’s our opening number and there are schools that we’ve been going to now for five, almost six years. When we go into these schools and perform the song, the kids are screaming the lyrics along with us and they’re dancing the choreography along with our actors.
What are some things that you’ve learned about children since you started Story Pirates?
JS: The lesson that we keep learning is how smart these kids are. How powerful their imaginations are. How sensitive they are to the world around them and how original they are as writers. When you take kids seriously and give them an opportunity to really express their words and ideas, it is amazing how far they can go.
Tell me a bit about the Ranger’s Apprentice National Tour.
JS: We were approached by Penguin Books Young Readers Group. They had seen our show and were trying to put together an authorless book tour. The Ranger’s Apprentice is a wildly popular young adult book series and the author, John Flanagan, is in Australia. We wanted to do a different book tour so instead of bringing John out from Australia, they asked Story Pirates if we would create a show based on the Ranger’s Apprentice book series. We said that we would take the assignment on the condition that we could create a show that was really interactive-that was based on participation from the kids in the audience. The kids would be really shaping the show. We ended up creating a piece that is very much based on the first book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series but is never the same from show to show because the kids in the audience create the experience.
The Ranger’s Apprentice series starts off with a section about tests and challenges that these young apprentices are put through in order to figure out who will be their mentor and who they will apprentice for. We created a show where kids from the audience volunteer and that our brought up on stage and subjected to challenges where they either have to prove their strength or prove their intellectual ability in front of an audience. It really honors the kids in the audience. Any kid who is watching and, particularly the kids who are brought up on stage to go through the tests and challenges, are appreciated in front of a big group of people for their own ideas.
Thanks to Jamie Salka and The Story Pirates for inviting me to one of their fabulous shows and to Optivion for the fantastic photos!