While the Flying TreeHouse may have grown out of a simple desire to educate and entertain, members of Stanford’s combo teaching/theater/comedy club have sought to do something more in their shows—to promote creativity and imagination in an age of standardized tests and common curriculums.
The club has its roots in a 2011 class taught by both Dan Klein ’91, lecturer in drama and at the Graduate School of Business, and Lisa Barker Ph.D.’12, a graduate student at the School of Education at the time. The class was based on Barker’s experiences with Northwestern University’s Griffin’s Tale club.
Flying TreeHouse offers elementary school classrooms creativity workshops, in which group members teach kids the different components to telling a story.
Director Allie Fijolek ’14 explained that members normally start by teaching different story frameworks but also instruct the students on many other topics, such as dialogue.
“[We ask the kids] what’s the setting, who are the characters and what do they say to one another,” Fijolek said.
According to co-director Will Setrakian ’15, the workshops are ultimately intended to get kids into writing groups and act out what they wrote in front of their friends.
The Flying TreeHouse program extends, however, past the workshops. After the kids write the scripts, the group members will perform them at the schools after adapting the individual scripts and weaving them together into a cohesive narrative.
“We don’t want to constrain the kids’ writings or our adaptations of the stories,” said co-director Christian Murphy ’14, explaining that sometimes they might take stories word for word and other times they might take elements of stories and write their own scripts from them.
So far, Flying TreeHouse has delivered workshops and performances at Escondido Elementary School and East Palo Alto Charter School, which offers a diverse experience for the team members, according to Murphy.
“[The schools] are different environments so I think it’s helpful for us to see that,” he said. “It offers us different material and kids can take something different out of the program. As we grow we can probably expand to more schools but I think that our connection to both of these schools is really enriching and gratifying.”
The club’s reputation has grown quickly among local elementary students. According to Fijolek, second graders badger their older siblings who have participated in the workshops for information about the program.
Fijolek also noted that one of the participants had enjoyed writing for Flying TreeHouse so much that he eventually wrote his own book.
Flying TreeHouse members take on a new challenge, however, when they perform the kids’ shows for Stanford students.
Although they often laugh at different things, according to Setrakian, Stanford students still appreciate the humor in the kids’ writing.
“They [Stanford students] reacted just as well to us and were able to connect with what we were doing and what the kids were writing,” Setrakian said. “After all, they are kids, too.”
Ultimately, it’s that ability to tap into their inner child that motivates many of the members of Flying TreeHouse, according to Oriekose Idah ’15, a member of the club.
“I think what I get out of it is realizing that there is such untapped intelligence in children that I forgot I had as a kid,” Idah said. “Even when I’m performing, I feel like a kid again. I’m doing all of these crazy things on the stage but I know that validating their imagination is such a privilege.”
Contact Angelique Dakkak at angeldak ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.