What happens when The Simpsons meet Star Wars and the actors from Glee perform it? Well, a bundle of cash gets raised for Hollywood-favored charity Young Storytellers.
On Saturday night, the organization -- which connects mentors in the industry with schoolchildren to help them write short scripts -- held its annual "The Biggest Show" benefit at Santa Monica’s Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences.
Four kids were chosen from around 700 students who took part in the program over the past year, and such actors as Raven-Symone, Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Devon Stock and Glee's Dot Marie Jones, Cory Monteith, Harry Shum Jr. and Jayma Mays did cold readings-performances of the material. Among the highlights was a script by 12-year-old Noam Greenfield from L.A.'s Canfield Elementary.
"Noam’s script was a mash-up of Star Wars and The Simpsons. You had characters like Bart Skywalker and Darth Homer," says Abram Makowka, writer-director of the 2010's Tug, who mentored Greenfield last year. "We do encourage the kids to come up with something wholly originally and not to riff of their favorite show or movie. but this was so beyond his years that we just let him run with it. It’s called The Simpire.”
The Young Storytellers runs program in about 30 Title 1 schools, which are schools with a very high percentage of free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch program participants, a poverty indicator. Ten students per semester are paired with industry professionals, who they meet with for an hour a week for seven weeks. At the end of each session, actors come to the school to perform what’s called "The Big Show."
The group can thank Glee co-creator Brad Falchuk for getting cast members to attend the penultimate "Biggest Show." He co-founded Young Storytellers with Burn Notice exec producer Mikkel Bondesen and screenwriter Andrew Barrett.
"For a lot of these kids in the program, either English is a second language, or they don't have a lot of opportunity to be seen and heard, whether it be by their teachers or peers," says Falchuk. "Oftentimes, they are seen as troublemakers or don't do that well in school or seen as kids who don't have much to offer. Through writing the screenplay, they gain self-esteem. Sometimes it doesn't come together until they show up at 'The Big Show' and suddenly there are these famous actors doing a reading of their play and it's really good. Suddenly everyone sees them differently."
Adds Makowka: "It's exceptional for building their self-confidence and for teaching them that they each have a voice."