Young Storytellers is a non-profit that provides public school students with an opportunity to write stories and see them brought to life on stage and in film. Our mission is to inspire young people to discover the power of their own voice. As part of the BGB community, The BGB Studio has been working with YS connecting professional actors with students on this mission.
I’ve been involved with Young Storytellers for nearly 6 years in various capacities: as a volunteer actor, a volunteer mentor and now as a paid employee who runs their ‘POV’ program at Venice High School. I’ve become steadily more involved year by year. It’s a huge part of my life.
For me, the program is an opportunity to foster connection and trust with young people. I really strive to be an adult or authority figure who the students intuitively know is on their side. Young people- especially teens- often perceive the parents, guardians, teachers, coaches, and media figures in their lives as being inauthentic, staid, or oppressive. I make a very conscious effort to bridge the divide between youth and adults by never condescending to my students and always speaking to them as equals. The middle school and teenage years are such a sensitive time in one’s life. I think it’s really important that the students have at least a handful of adults who they feel really have their backs.
The schools that we work in don’t generally have a strong academic reputation. We are providing an alternative way of developing skills like goal-setting, collaboration, problem solving, and communication that is, at its best, really engaging, challenging, and fun. My primary focus is always on building a health self-image, but helping the students develop an academic skill-set is a close second. THE GOAL OF THE PROGRAM IS NOT TO CREATE WRITERS, FILMMAKERS, OR ACTORS. It is to foster self esteem and self acceptance through the process of introspection, long-term goal setting, and courageously sharing one’s voice in an artistic context.
Over the weekend in March we had our ‘shoot day’ at Venice High School. There are five students in the program. All of them are freshmen or sophomores who have written an 8-10 page original script and learned the fundamental of pre-production and directing. I enlisted the help of professional actors and DPs, and collectively we shot 5 short films over the course of one day. Several of my volunteer actors were from The BGB Studio, and these actors exemplified the spirit of generosity required to make our ambitious day a success. Our budget is nil. The campus was the only location we were able to use. That said, we had films focusing on everything from racial identity to schizophrenia to internet dating to bullying. A little imagination paired with a few dozen big-hearted professionals can see a lot get accomplished. Thank you to Risa, Steve, and our BGB community for elevating the entire experience with your levity and formidable skills as artists.
I’ve done 3 shoot days for Young Movie Makers. This was hands down my favorite, largely due to the fact that my students really brought forth good, vulnerable written material and then stepped up to the plate as directors. It is enormously gratifying to watch a shy, reticent teen who rarely speaks at audible levels light up with enthusiasm and confidence when directing a professional actor in a scene. That happened a number of times on Saturday. I’m particularly fond of this group of students for a number of reasons. They are angsty, sensitive, moody, vulnerable, smart, and generous. And they had the courage to come out and do something that they’d never done before with people they’ve never met in a context they’ve never known. That takes courage. For me, watching them push forth into the unknown and then emerge victorious is incredibly moving. Those are the experiences that create lasting self esteem and real confidence.
Lastly, Saturday was a particularly moving due the generosity and humor of the volunteer actors and DPs who came together to execute the students’ creative visions. It was a damp, gloomy Saturday and I had 2 dozen volunteers crawl out of bed to be in Venice by 8AM. Which is impressive. But beyond that, the actors and DPs approached their work like professionals while creating an atmosphere where the students could feel bold, capable, and creative. The students were seen, heard, and validated. Truly remarkable. I count myself lucky to be part of a community that acknowledge and acts upon the essential need to engage with the world around it in a positive and loving way. That’s what keeps it all going.
Fellow BGB folks: YOU ROCK!
The students’ films will be screened at the HBO headquarters in Santa Monica at the end of this school year.
By Mike Faiola