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A room filled with children and adults circled up to do theater warm up practices before heading onto the Moss Theatre at the New Roads School in Santa Monica to perform five short screenplays for the Young Storytellers Biggest Show on Saturday night. The group, filled with comedians including Keegan-Michael Key, Jack Black, Judy Greer and more, was set to read these plays for the first time in front of a large audience — without reading them beforehand. The unique element of these screenplays was that fifth graders wrote each script as a part of the Young Storytellers program.
Hosted by the Sklar Brothers, Randy and Jason Sklar, the comedians took the stage as five young students watched the realization of their plays for the very first time at The Biggest Show, an event to celebrate the latest students to become Storytellers.
“This is my third year here. It’s an event that I’m always excited to come back to. It’s one of those if you don’t get asked back to it, you feel saddened,” actor Max Greenfield said. “There’s some really exciting actors who are doing it this year, and you get to just come play and have fun and be totally surprised and spontaneous.”
The Young Storytellers program, founded in 1997, is a one-on-one mentorship program built to encourage low-income students to learn how to write original stories that are then brought to life on stage and film by professional actors. The program begins for fifth grade students; each is paired with a mentor for one-on-one weekly meetings to encourage creative writing in the form of screenplays. With assistance from the mentors, each Storyteller creates and revises his or her first script to get it ready to be read and performed in front of an audience.
None of the actors are allowed to read the scripts before the show starts, acting each play out as they go, with a narrator explaining the different storylines and a band to provide sound effects and music. The result is a hilarious product of spontaneity and improvisation shown in physical and verbal comedy that exemplifies the imaginative creativity of each student.
“It’s not about reaching potential, but also knowing that there are things you can reach for. Some kids will grow up and think, ‘I didn’t even know that was a job, that people wrote movies.’ All of a sudden they’re in a position where not only is that a job, but you like it and we’re going to do everything we can to support your love of doing it,” Key said as he explained the importance of programs such as Young Storytellers.
Young Storytellers works to provide a place for students in public schools to truly cultivate their creativity and promote the arts.
Executive director Bill Thompson explained one of his favorite parts of the event, “The kids sit on stage and you’ll see them watch Jack and Keegan bring their stories to life, and the looks on their faces are pure gold. It’s worth every minute of work that it takes to do this just to see the magic — the realization —that their imagination and their creativity can have profound effects on the world.”
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