39 Confetti in the Air – Tiffany Jensen
Author: Tiffany Jensen, Pima Community College
There is no greater thrill than throwing confetti in the air and watching it fall to the floor. Children usually throw it and then scoop it up and throw it again as a means of keeping the joy in the air. I know this because I have had the great honor of witnessing it many times in my life. The children are usually on stage after a live performance of their own original works. In the documentary “Hear Me, See Me,” the director describes the performing theater company Stories That Soar, as a compelling story of what it means to create art and space that is truly inclusive.(loftcinema.org) This documentary was a presentation of the power that Stories That Soar possesses to give voice to students who may otherwise not be able to express themselves. This is the same approach to the ongoing mission of this profoundly impactful community institution and its interaction with youth throughout Tucson.
Creator Sharon O’Brien is the Artistic Director of Stories That Soar and helped to create the Magic Box. The Magic Box is gender neutral and is hungry for stories. It is dropped off at participating schools and kids are invited to write whatever they want. They can ask questions, share stories nonfiction and fiction, and whatever else may pop into their minds. Not only is it promoting kids to read and write, but it is imploring them to use their imaginations in a way they may not be able to. In addition to inspiring creativity, “past studies have shown positive correlations between the arts and academic achievement when the arts were integrated into the literature curriculum” (Inoa, 2013). There is a freedom of artistic expression that children get to feel and see in the presentation of their stories. The actors involved are able to utilize that same freedom in the creation of the performances. This symbiotic relationship is precisely what the Magic Box cultivates.
The experience of bringing stories to life is not just fun and games. Fun is part of it, but the real joy comes from knowing they are making an impact on the children (Pittenger, 2021). In 2011, Stories That Soar merged with other literacy organizations to form Literacy Connects with a reach of over 8000 children a year. Together the mission for promoting literacy in Tucson can be realized with the help of all the creative forces and volunteers of this institution. The office is even located in a part of town that is considered to be low income, and the team of tutors, volunteers, and cast members work tirelessly to be a positive impact in the surrounding neighborhood. During the pandemic the concept shifted to Stories That Stream and we have not abandoned the work simply because live performances were cancelled. On the contrary, the loss of Richard Elias made it so a financial gift was made in his name to the organization and came at a time when it was needed to keep the magic alive during the pandemic. (KXCI, 2020) It has expanded the ability to include cast members remotely from other cities. It also makes me wonder about the possibility of expanding across America and even the world.
“Having this place where kids can write without judgement” is one of the many reasons why this program has made such an impact on so many children over the years (KXCI, 2020). Even though the program has shifted to online, it does not stop me from fondly remembering the special moment of recognition at the end of the live performances. Each child, story and cast member is on its own like an individual piece of confetti. Different colors, shapes, and sizes representing the magic of possibility, literacy, and magic. We hand it to the children as they hear their name being called and, at the end of the theme song, they throw it in celebration for their stories. There is no greater joy than witnessing the magic of literacy and confetti in the air.
Pittenger, Angela. (2021, July 11). Stories that soar: From child’s imagination to the stage. Arizona Daily Star. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://tucson.com/entertainment/stories-that-soar-from-childs-imagination-to-the-stage/article_6a530288-1990-560f-bbed-906a26a74d1b.html.
“Hear me, see me – justice, equality, and the inclusive power of the Arts”, the loft cinema. The Loft Cinema. (2013, October 16). Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://loftcinema.org/film/hear-me-see-me-justice-equality-and-the-inclusive-power-of-the-arts/?fbclid=IwAR2KdYMQVbEF12k-fYQj8w95tS96tH2NJs_2CDCRPTGRaMSYo0P1WopbUBo.
Inoa, R. W. (2013, November 30). A study on the relationship between Theater Arts and student literacy and mathematics achievement. Journal for Learning through the Arts. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1050665.
Kxci. (n.d.). Sharon O’Brien — stories that soar! KXCI. Retrieved December 15, 2021,from https://kxci.org/podcast/sharon-obrien-stories-that-soar/