Launched online on 8 June 2020, StoryKids was created by Dual Helpmann Award winner Verity Hunt-Ballard (Mary Poppins) and educator/actor Amelia Christo (Ned).
Verity and Amelia were inspired to create an audio experience to fill a gap in the primary school audio market, while placing children and their voices front and centre in the creative process. Verity and Amelia interview a child author about their story and then produce a fully realised audio play with some of Australia’s best actors and sound designers.
I spoke with Amelia about how this new project came about and discovered more about their podcast creation.
Verity and Amelia both studied at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) and kept in touch following this; fast forward to now – their children are the same age & at the same school. Having worked together in the advocacy group Mums4Refugees they discovered a unique partnership, their skills complementing each other. StoryKids became their next project.
Amelia has ample experience working with kids, having always taught alongside her performing. She noticed the gap in the market when her son reached primary school age. As many parents of children this age will agree, there is a heavy focus on programming for early childhood, but after this, you are left on your own, and the small offering that is available, is primarily produced outside of Australia. She also noticed, that while various programs highlight kid’s visual arts (think Giggle and Hoot), there weren’t any offering encouragement for beginner writers, i.e. the ‘story kids’. And so the title was agreed.
Seeking commercial sponsorship, Amelia and Verity produced the pilot episode with the help of Tony Award nominee Russell Goldsmith. The story Where Are They Now was written by Melbourne student Inez, a dynamic and passionate young writer. It features Lucy Durack (Shrek, Wicked ) and Don Hany (East West 101, Offspring). However, as many of us have experienced, COVID-19 arrived, leading them down another path.
Amelia and Verity were able to secure funding for StoryKids by way of the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants. COVID-19 was isolating many families in their homes and left parents and carers feeling guilty about excess screen time. StoryKids provides a balm to soothe both concerns – children can listen to other kids voices and ideas and are inspired to draw, write and create in response.
StoryKids allows children to harness digital capabilities to tap into the important ancient traditions of storytelling to become effective communicators, Amelia told me.
She brought my attention to the research that has been done around what jobs will be available to the children of today. The research shows that artificial intelligence will replace many of the jobs that adult currently occupy, however, what cannot be replaced and automated is creative thinking. StoryKids seeks to extend minds and their ability to think creatively.
If we are able to empower young people with the tools and skills to be effective communicators then I think we might be able to to harness those digital capabilities to help them to express themselves and make sure their voices are heard, she added.
It’s not a surprise then that Amelia and Verity sought a diverse team of writers to work with for the podcast. The results are 5 podcasts that showcase kids who have approached writing in different ways – pilot author Inez is clearly passionate about storytelling, brother and sister team Edo and Gabs (episode 2 authors) made their story responding to an image; all with a goal to help inform different ways stories can be created.
While children are front and centre in the creative process, the StoryKids podcasts provided creative employment opportunities for several adult artists. Making the best of a bad situation, with many performers out of work due to COVID-19, Australian performers were approached to lend their vocal talents to rendering the childrens’ story in audio form. Fortunately, many of them had home set-ups with a particular highlight being Virginia Gay (Calamity Jane, Winners and Losers) recording from her studio in Los Angeles. The project also gave them something unique and fun to do. Kids have wild imaginations; they have no restrictions regarding what is possible in a story. The adult performers were presented with the story as written by the young author as their script (with very few edits), and this resulted in some delightful performances. Please do yourself a favour and listen to Don Hany as Baby Bear.
As mentioned, the pilot episode features Lucy Durack and Don Hany. Subsequent episodes star Michala Banas (McLeod’s Daughters, Upper Middle Bogan), Toby Truslove (Strange Interlude, Utopia), Virginia Gay, Rob Mills (Ghost the Musical, Wicked), Mark Coles Smith (The Drover’s Wife, Bliss) and Fiona Choi (Rent, The Family Law). The podcasts’ wizardry is credited to Russell Goldsmith (Exit the King, Bottomless) who layers each story with appropriate sound effects.
Each episode runs for 10 minutes – which is perfect digital snackable content for the primary school audio market. You can listen at home, on the way to school in or at any other time you may need a delightful explosion of childlike imagination, via Apple podcasts or Spotify
Keep up to date with all the goings-on on the official StoryKids Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/storykidsau/