Outside Voices: Storytelling


Students from Community-Word Project’s Storytelling for Film and TV program recently presented a collection of vivid, imaginative screenplays centered around their memories.

Group of high school students in the spotlight of a black box theater after their performances

It was a joy to see their work, envisioned and written across ten sessions, come to life, and to watch various people come together to support them.

This includes CWP Teaching Artist Lily Sarosi, who guided students through the writing process, the group of dedicated actors who read the screenplays with enthusiasm and care, and CWP’s Associate Board, who helped fund the reception for the event.

Student work transported us, their audience, through moments including a family card game of WAR written by rising Virtual Innovators Academy Junior Ashanti, a teenage girl processing the loss of a good friend written by Long Island City High Graduate Abril, and a comical mother-son argument over a magic rock discovered on a vacation to Cancún imagined by Bronx Envision Academy Junior Jermauri.

The Storytelling Program began back in early March, and from the first session, Lily asked students to explore their memories using all of their senses, down to details including what clothes they were wearing and how they felt on their bodies. Mel, recent graduate of The Young Women’s Leadership School (TYWLS) of Brooklyn, remembered the day she took a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a friend, a moment she ended up developing into her screenplay, “Jay and Em.” This profound focus on memory led many students to write compelling scenes of childhood, including Alex, a rising senior of TYWLS Queens, whose script beautifully captures the range of emotions involved in trying to make friends as a kid.

In tandem with the Screenwriting process, we were able to offer students connections to professionals in careers including journalism and sound design. During the second Program session, CWP Board Member Dave Wolfe welcomed students to his state of the art post production studio, Mr. Bronx Audio Post, for a tour and conversation with Lily about the role of sound in filmmaking and scriptwriting. Dave shared clips of his work, including mixes of Beyonce’s Lemonade and the English Dub of The Boy and the Heron in a surround sound mixing room, and encouraged students interested in the world of sound design to reach out.

High school students touring professional audio and post production studio for media arts

In April, NBCUniversal, who funds the Storytelling Program, invited students on a tour of their studios. We viewed the sets of various television programs, including the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and learned about the history and inner workings of NBC. We then got to create a recorded segment of the “Tonight Show,” during which our hosts Alex and Mel, who joined the second tour group, showed off some impressive improvisatory acting abilities that I certainly couldn’t compete with.

Group of high school students touring NBC studios at 30 Rock in NYC

The highlight of our visit to 30 Rock, however, was after the tour, when CWP Board Member and NBC Executive Josh Kleinbaum and Multimedia Journalist and Producer Ashley Chaparro welcomed students to the 53rd floor of the NBC Offices. Students ate pizza while enjoying impressive views of the city and Ashley shared her work creating and hosting her own show, GOAT Conversations, and reporting bilingual NYC news. Students were very open in sharing their passions and challenges they encountered while pursuing their goals, artistic and otherwise, and the conversation was frank and generative.

High school students and execs from NBC Universal gathering a lounge at 30 Rock to talk about careers in media.

The last weeks of the program were wholly dedicated to the writing process. Students had joined the Storytelling Program with a variety of artistic perspectives and priorities: Jayden, a rising senior at Bronx Envision Academy, is a photographer, and Aniya, a recent graduate of TYWLS Brooklyn, is a multimedia artist attending New York University in the Fall. It was gratifying to see how students’ passions and skill sets played out as they envisioned their scripts and gave each other feedback. Lily created an environment that encouraged connections between students and sharing of interests, particularly through weekly discussions of students’ favorite movies, books, and TV shows.

On June 8th, as students and actors trickled into the Black Box theater ahead of the Showcase, the overwhelming atmosphere was confident and prepared. Every student stood up to read their synopsis and stage directions during the show, and I was blown away by the detail most every student put into framing their setting and characters. M, who recently graduated from Long Island City High School, opened their script with a depiction of a house: “the wood of the steps…overgrown with moss and vines…the polish of the front door stripped away by the weather…the once white paint of the window exterior chipping and peeling…left untouched since the first day her father painted it.”

Students and actors in a table read of student's work

It is also hard to imagine a group of actors who could have done the students’ work more justice. The cast included EPIC Theatre Company affiliates Devin E. Haqq, Yannibel Rodriguez Perez, Amara James Aja, Justin Medina, and Stephanie Jusino along with Teaching Artist Program graduate Tatiana Birenbaum. During TYWLS Astoria Junior Ruby’s script, Stephanie, while depicting Ruby’s main protagonist Eden at a variety of ages, energetically mimed opening doors, hugged Yannibel (playing her friend), and ultimately captured the emotional rollercoaster Eden experiences as she finds out she’s losing a family bungalow.

Students and actors stayed after the showcase to chat with each other and Lily, say goodbye, and enjoy refreshments and snacks, which included a special request for Gardetto’s snack mix. Several Storytelling students will be joining CWP 2.0 later this summer, and some will be off to other adventures. I’ll continue to be impressed with their dedication, demonstrated in particular by Saturday morning commutes to Manhattan, frequent humor and silliness, creativity, and ultimately very enjoyable screenplays.

Written by Miranda Agnew
CWP’s Young Adult Program Manager