Theatre for Youth

Pint-size playwrights: Paramount's 'Story Wranglers' makes student writers into rock stars

Pint-size playwrights: Paramount's 'Story Wranglers' makes student writers into rock stars

In the 1980s, bananas enslaved the human race and made them plant donuts for their nourishment and survival. Eventually, humans rose up to defeat their banana masters and a great dance battle rocked the planet. In the end, the victorious humans won back their freedom and put those nasty bananas back in their place.

This is just one of the fantastical stories dreamed up by one of the third grade writing rock stars who wrote the material for The Story Wranglers sketch show taking the Stateside at the Paramount stage on Tuesday night.

After years of performing their shows only in Austin area schools, The Story Wranglers are ready to present their first public performance for audiences of all ages. The greater Austin community will finally have the opportunity to witness the brilliant results of these catalytic playwritng collaborations that are transforming lives once classroom at a time.

 After years of performing their shows only in Austin area schools, The Story Wranglers are ready to present their first public performance for audiences of all ages.

"With the short sketches and all of the comically oversized props and set pieces we use, a Story Wranglers show is somewhere between Saturday Night Live and a 4th grade Thanksgiving play," explains Literacy to Life Program Manager Pierce Purselley.

"The third graders do a great job using pop culture references, and it's amazing to see how they filter what adults do and what we say. The strangest stories often make us work harder than others, and those typically turn out the best."

For seven semesters now, Literacy to Life has been visiting Austin area elementary schools to run creative writing workshops with third graders. The intention from the outset is to dream big and convert the fanciful stories into full-fledged theater pieces.

A team of Literacy to Life ensemble members are then chosen from the stable of 30; and after weeks of rehearsals and rewrites, a full production of student-generated work is performed for the entire school.

"We really celebrate [the students] as artists," says Paramount Education and Outreach Director Jennifer Luck. "We always try to honor the material the students give us, to recognize how brilliant and poignant it really is. And when these kids see their work up on the stage, they see the rewards that come with writing. Making them proud is the best feeling I can think of."

The Story Wranglers are an ensemble of adult actors, musicians and comedians, who embody these silly and sincere stories that were written by the participating youth of the Paramount's award-winning Literacy to Life program. After winning one of five coveted 2010 - 2012 Impact Austin Culture Grants, the program has expanded to more schools and made this public performance a reality by bringing Purselley on staff at the Paramount.

Luck and Purselley have both been members of The Story Wranglers ensemble for several years; since September, they are the show's producers as well. In their precious free time, Luck is also a folk music artist and Purselley is an improv comedian, both skills they put to good use in this production.

 "Our big finale numbers are all big Broadway style numbers. And we've gone back through all of our productions to collect all the best numbers," says Luck. "It really is going to be an amazingly awesome show."

"We find a good balance in the storytellers," explains Purselley. "We drop all the labels of who does what and we all grow together as performers, building on each other's skills."

All of these skills will be put to good use as The Story Wranglers tackle zombies, dinosaurs, dolphins, Santa Clause, The Tooth Fairy, Big Foot and Michael Jackson in the span of two hours. There will also be sensitive pieces exploring metaphors of families, bullying, illness and loss. "Kids understand a lot more than we realize," says Purselley, regarding the full range of emotional output that appears in the students' work.

Included in the show are the standout pieces and crowd pleasers from all of the previous Story Wranglers shows. And students that attend Tuesday night's performance will have the chance to submit their own writing to be considered for future shows.

"Our big finale numbers are all big Broadway style numbers. And we've gone back through all of our productions to collect all the best numbers," says Luck. "It really is going to be an amazingly awesome show."

"Hopefully it won't be too much awesome," adds Purselley.

With girls saving the world with math and dance parties defeating bananas, how could it not be?

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The Adventures of The Story Wranglers happens Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at The Stateside at the Paramount. Tickets are only $5.00 and available in advance at the Paramount website.