DOWNTOWN — Everyone has a story to tell. And this Sunday, fifth graders from Will Rogers Elementary School will attempt to tell the stories of several Santa Monicans through their third annual Story Detectives show.
The performance, to be held at Magicopolis Theater on Fourth Street at 5 p.m., showcases monologues written by the fifth graders with the help of professional writers that will be performed by professional actors. This year’s show involves more students, writers and actors than ever, organizers said.
“The idea of Story Detectives came about because kids need to understand there are stories all around them,” said Devon Smith, the fifth grade teacher in charge of the project.
The students were split into pairs and given a local business to visit and interview the owner or workers. The answers were recorded and transcribed. With the help of volunteer professional writers, the students looked over the transcription, pulled out the best anecdote and wrote a monologue about it, adding in their own fictional parts to the story.
Each year, the program has expanded. Whereas before it was just Smith’s class of about 20 students along with seven writers and five actors, this year involves the whole fifth grade of 83 students with the help of 25 writers and 21 actors, Smith said.
The scope of the interviews has also expanded, he added. The first year, students interviewed their parents. The second year, they were told to interview anyone in the school community. And this year, the interviews reached out to the Santa Monica business community. The idea of expanding the focus of the interviews was to further show stories are everywhere, said Sitara Contreras, another fifth grade teacher.
For example, one pair of students interviewed the manager at a local bank, Contreras said. The students found that when she was a teller at another bank, she helped foil a counterfeiter in a comical manner. Through the course of trying to cash a counterfeit check, the would-be criminal thought the teller was cute and gave her his phone number. Upon realizing the counterfeit, she gave his phone number to the police, who promptly caught him.
“A professional writer would hear that and say, ‘I got to write that down,’” Smith said.
The idea for Story Detectives came about three years ago when Smith and college friend Donald Bull, a television and film producers, were looking for a way to collaborate with their two distinct careers, Bull said.
Bull and Smith also said the program gives the students more confidence in their writing and shows them there is a real world application for school work.
“A student who doesn’t feel successful or engaged will be blown away from seeing their monologue come to life and put on stage,” Smith said.
Arthur Jolly, a playwright who has been a writer for Story Detectives since its inception, said the program is as rewarding for him and the other writers and actors as it is for students because it allows them the opportunity to rejuvenate their creativity.
“It does make you jealous sometimes of the ease at which kids’ minds work,” he said. “Everything is new and different, so you just have this primacy to all of the experiences. Even though they may have experienced a lot less so far, it’s a lot more vivid and it’s a lot more accessible to them. And I think we lose sight of some of that as we get older.”