StoryKids is a podcast by kids, for kids!
Inspired to fill a gap in the primary school audio market, StoryKids is brainchild of performers and educators Verity Hunt-Ballard and Amelia Christo. The podcast transforms stories written by children into immersive audio storyscapes read out by some of Australia’s finest. StoryKids has just commenced its second season and have partnered with The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.
Verity is best known for her award winning performance as Mary Poppins in the Australian production. Other credits include Sweet Charity (Hayes Theatre), Vivid White (Melbourne Theatre Company), and Hello Dolly! and Guys and Dolls (both with The Production Company). Verity has also taught at instutitions such as Monash University and Showfit.
Amelia is an actor and teacher, with a BA in Music Theatre from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), as well as a Bachelor of Laws and Graduate Diploma in Education. The pair met when studying at WAAPA, and have now decided to start the StoryKids podcast together in June 2020. The first season of the show was met with over
What inspired you to start StoryKids?
Amelia: I had my first baby in 2012 and my second in 2015 and found the rigours of live performance difficult to maintain with a young family. I felt that I had all of these skills in storytelling that were going to waste! Verity has children the same age and we had lamented the lack of quality audio content for kids once they reach primary school. (Pre-school aged children are very well served by ABC Kids Listen and Kinderling Kids Radio.) We had collaborated previously on a charity video highlighting the plight of asylum seeker families as part of the #BringThemHere campaign and found working together to be a delight! We are both passionate about storytelling, young people, marginalised communities and literacy. We thought there could be a way to harness digital technologies (like podcasts) to highlight the creative work of kids – whilst also teaching something about the craft of storytelling. I have a background in education and advocacy and had lots of contacts for stories. Verity has come into contact with many high-profile artists in the course of her work and we thought that we could get famous Aussies to amplify the work of ordinary kids and their stories!
Verity: Amelia and I have primary school aged kids and bonded very quickly over the fact that in Australia we just don’t have enough well-produced audio content for this age bracket. We have so many wonderful stories to share. Australian children so often are listening to stories in an American accent, which has its place, but it’s very important to hear and participate in the creation of Australian stories. We both come from performing arts backgrounds and felt this idea hadn’t been done before. It’s been so exciting being able to create with our fellow performers and use their skill set, particularly at this very strange time in history. It’s a great way for everyone to be able to process and express what’s happening. It’s so wonderful hearing the feedback when our child authors hear who will be reading their story! It’s pure joy!
How have you both grown or changed since starting the podcast?
Amelia: We have learned so much since starting the podcast! We have continued to streamline the process and demarcate our roles as we go. We’ve had to be very flexible! For much of this second season, Melbourne has been in strict lockdown, so we’ve become very familiar with different software and technologies. We’ve become much braver about reaching out to bigger names and more accommodating with different kids and their abilities.
Verity: It’s certainly been a learning curve in terms of the all-consuming nature of producing a podcast. Lots of growth and continually improving. We’re so very lucky that we’ve been so supported by our colleagues and in particular the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation.
What has been the most exciting part of creating ‘StoryKids’? And the most challenging?
Amelia: For me, the most rewarding part of the podcast is working with kids from disadvantaged communities or circumstances – turning what could be challenges into advantages. Our final episode in Season One featured a boy from an asylum seeker background. He wrote a story called The Leoparoo – which was all about his journey from his home country to Australia. His story worked with metaphor: that of a snow leopard learning how to be a kangaroo and it was incredibly moving. He was hesitant to answer interview questions in our usual format – so we were flexible and got him to submit written answers to our questions. We had another child read them on his behalf and still allowed him a voice in the process. It is the episode I’m most proud of and we’ve had a phenomenal response to it. His family and community are very proud of him.
I’ve also really enjoyed watching some of our most beloved actors and personalities interpret the work of the children. The kids can be so creative with their ideas, and it has afforded the grown-ups the opportunity to play and be silly. Everyone leaves a recording session with smiles on their faces – it’s fun!
Verity: There’s been so many wonderful moments along the journey… coming up with an initial idea and then refining. Creating with a friend (Amelia) who has the same passion for creation and kids as me. Reading and interviewing the children for the podcast and discovering all the ways this process is so beneficial, observing their enthusiasm! Sharing our ideas with performers and it being so warmly embraced, but also knocking on many doors for support with no luck and then meeting the incredible people at the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation! COVID has obviously been hugely challenging for everyone in their relative situation and producing Season Two completely remotely has certainly been an effort, but within that, there has been lots of moments of problem solving which always feels nice.
Why is it so important to shine a spotlight on the work of the ALNF?
Amelia: ALNF is an incredible organisation. They do work at both ends of the spectrum – in advocacy and on the ground with schools and communities. The activities they create in promoting literacy and in helping communities are inspiring and so important. Once children have confidence in literacy and numeracy – the world can open up for them! Empowering people to share their stories is such a gift and can make them feel heard and understood.
They are innovative and their CEO and Director of Communications are such a joy to work with. We enjoy our weekly meetings with them immensely. They have supported us in developing our creative ideas and have expanded our understanding of the business and charity spaces.
Verity: It feels like our partnership with the ALNF was just meant to happen. We are so aligned in our core values in terms of doing everything we can to support kids all over Australia. This is just the beginning and we have lots of exciting ideas in the mix in terms of our partnership. We predominantly work with Kim Kelly and Jasmine Flikier at the ALNF and I feel that we all complement each other’s skill set so well with the ultimate goal being: how do we help more children! We are four women on a mission! Watch this space!