Monday, August 8, 2011

No Scurvy Sea Dogs Allowed: Piratical Opera Fun and Creative Writing with 826 Seattle

As one of the interns in Seattle Opera’s Education Department, I was lucky enough to spend a week at “Song Pirates Ahoy!”—a creative writing workshop at 826 Seattle--which had eighteen 9-11-year-old landlubbers acting, writing, and dancing to the tunes of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. This summer, the workshop is one of three opera camps the Education Department is leading which include another Pirates of Penzance production camp with Seattle Public Theater and a technical theater workshop for students and teachers with Western Washington Theatrical Training Trust.

At 826, participants spent four days creating treasure maps and pirate adventure journals to chronicle their exploits on the high seas. From traditional to non-traditional pirate voyages (buckets of gold doubloons to alien abduction) even the characters in the stories had fun. Throughout the workshop, participating song pirates focused on creating stories with all the elements of a good narrative (character, setting, plot, obstacles) and revising them to be collected and published by 826.


To get the participants thinking like pirates, Sue Elliott, Seattle Opera’s Director of Education, asked everyone to name his or her pirate ship. From there, we brainstormed good pirate names, nautical crew members, ship figureheads, and unique superpowers. Once everyone had a ship, we set sail with pen and paper and started writing our pirate tales.

To create a seafaring atmosphere, we used the format of a travel journal for our sailors to record their adventures at sea. Seattle Opera and 826 staff supported the writers as they took their characters through scrapes with sea monsters, encounters with vampire crews, and vaults of buried treasure. Sue also led activities like pirate charades to get writers to practice using descriptive adjectives and showing instead of telling. At the end of each day, the participants had a chance to read their work for everyone, and we all enjoyed hearing the stories fresh off the page.

On the last day, the writers worked on peer editing and revising their stories in preparation for their publication in a final chapbook. Once the stories were fine-tuned to their writers’ satisfaction, we quickly copied them while the writers warmed up for a final reading.


At the end of the day, everyone walked away with a story, a treasure map, and the music for Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirate King stuck in their heads. The final chapbook will be available soon, recording all the fun these writers had in their wild week of adventure at sea.

Missed this one? Check Seattle Opera’s Education site for information on our upcoming programming for students, including workshops, camps, and activities.

Blog Post by Laura Marris, Education Intern
Photos by Jamal Hussein

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