The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Story Pirates bring kids’ tales to life on stage

On Wednesday night, the Englert hosted the popular family media group Story Pirates in the first stop of their “Amazing Adventure Tour.” The company takes the stories of kids and adapts them into comedy sketches and songs perfect for the whole family.
Ethan McLaughlin
Members of the Story Pirates perform during a tour show at The Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

Every kid is a creative genius — or at least according to the Story Pirates, a family-friendly media group dedicated to inspiring kids and growing their imaginations.

Throughout the years, the New York and LA-based group has released three middle-grade books as well as several award-winning kid music albums. However, they are best known for the Story Pirates podcast, which takes stories submitted by kids and turns them into songs and sketch comedy acts.

“What we try to do with our podcast is bring back an old, radio show style of storytelling. The stories from kids are always so creative,” Alexandra Nader, one of the Story Pirates, said.

On May 1, the Story Pirates brought their talents to a live audience in Iowa City for the first stop on their Amazing Adventure Tour.

“Iowa City is definitely a place that values good education and entertainment for young people, and that’s what we’re all about,” another member of the Pirates’ crew, Andrew Barbato, said.

Barbato and Nader first met at around 16 years old while doing theater. Eventually, they became roommates in New York and, through different improv communities, learned about the Story Pirates auditions.

Nader joined the “Pirates’ ship” in 2017, with Barbato following a year later in 2018.

“Before the pandemic, the bread and butter of the company was going into public schools across the country and teaching creative writing and programming,” Nader said. “Then, the Pirates would go back into school and perform the stories the kids had written.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, however, this form of storytelling halted, and the Pirates had to do a hard pivot into the media.

“Both Alex and I had produced our own videos outside of Story Pirates. During that early part of the pandemic, I was like, ‘I guess I’ll turn my room into a cave, become a dragon, and adapt a story from a kid,’” Barbato said.

These homemade productions caught the attention of PBS, who decided to work with the Pirates to produce a TV show straight from their apartment.

To this day, the two continue to work from out of their studio, both on the podcast and other creative endeavors.

Kids can submit stories to the Pirates through a company called Story Love, which helps them keep their mission statement alive by having various people read every story that is sent in.

At the beginning of the Pirates’ inception, they got about 100 submissions. Now, they receive tens of thousands. While not every story is included in a song or sketch, each one is sent back to its kid with words of encouragement.

For their Iowa City show, the Pirates decided to take some of the fan-favorite song adaptations from the podcast to perform, including one that featured a dragon voiced by famed Broadway musician Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Kids in the audience were also called on to provide details for an original, completely improvised story. Spontaneous characters emerged; including a fox named Guacamole attempting to raise money for his own theme park, and a crab named Biff who couldn’t snap her claws and had a fear of baloney sandwiches.

“I loved it. My favorite part was when all the cats sat on you,” one young audience member, Eva West, said.

RELATED: Inside UI student senior recitals

Eva’s favorite song was adapted from a two-sentence story about cats who “sat on you” and sometimes even took over the school. She attended the show with her brother River, who most enjoyed the song featuring sock puppets who flew to the moon.

“My favorite part of the show was ‘Fart Out Loud Day,’” another young audience member, Eshaal Ahmad, said.

During the pandemic, the podcast worked as a way to connect families and inject a bit of magic into their lives, Barbato said. Now, as podcasts continue to grow more and more popular, they hope to continue to inspire listeners with the magic of storytelling.

“We’ve helped give kids permission to get weird, which is really fun to do,” Barbato said.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Riley Dunn
Riley Dunn, Arts Reporter
Riley Dunn is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in English and Creative Writing and Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her time at the DI, Riley interned for Swimming World Magazine.