Mythic Challenges


[Winner of the c3 2012 FutureVision Award]

In 2011 the c3 hosted a special THINK TANK, led by Kate McCallum and Jerome Glenn, to introduce The Millennium Project’s STATE OF THE FUTURE report and the 15 global challenges to the creative community.  Artists, media makers, academics, educators and others participated in the conversation around how this important information could be addressed creatively through the arts, media, storytelling and entertainment.  During the think tank, colleague Brian Dyer and Pamela Smith of Mythworks, suggested creating an educational curriculum designed to use mythology and storytelling to bring awareness to the 15 global challenges and solutions that could create a better future.  They teamed up with Jill Gurr, the founder and Executive Director of CREATE NOW and designed MYTHIC CHALLENGES.

Here is the post found on the CREATE NOW website describing the project:

Mythic Challenges Program

Our youth are in crisis. Dropout rates and gang involvement are at record highs. Students’ literacy scores are far below their peers in other parts of the world. Kids would rather play video games and watch TV instead of developing talents that can help them to advance in their lives and to make a real difference in their communities. They need motivation and encouragement in order to succeed.

Create Now and MYTHWORKS have partnered to address this concern by developing the Mythic Challenges curriculum to inspire students to enhance their literacy skills, plus build self-esteem and gain confidence. Our program helps prevent gang involvement because youth collaborate on their projects, which cultivates friendships and enhances pride through teamwork.

Mythic Challenges is a fun and educational program that is composed of two parts: (1) Screenwriting, and (2) Video Production or Theatrical Performance. These components can also be independent projects. The curriculum was co-created by our Founder and Executive Director Jill Gurr with Producer Brian Dyer and Mythology Expert/Author Pamela Jaye Smith, who has published several highly regarded books on integrating mythology into stories, especially screenwriting.

Pamela teaches youth how to create short scripts that focus on some of the 15 current challenges that we face around the world, such as Energy, Peace/Conflict, the Rich/Poor Gap and the Status of Women. We learned about these 15 challenges in September 2011 through the c3:VisionLAB, which organized a special Think Tank at their 2011 State of the Arts symposium. They partnered with The Millennium Project, an internationally recognized global futurist think tank that was developed after a three-year study with the United Nations University, the Smithsonian Institution and other NGOs. Click here to learn more.

Pamela connects each Global Challenge with two (out of many) Mythical Themes. Students write personal stories and create modern characters based on mythological archetypes. They must select at least five of the dozen basic plot points for their five-minute script.

Our Video Production or Theatre workshops are where the students’ scripts come to life. In Video Production, they work with professional actors and crew to learn how to produce, direct, shoot, edit, distribute and promote their video production. The Theatre workshop is where students collaborate with a Director, professional actors, wardrobe and technical crew to produce a live performance that can be shared with family and friends, as well as the public. Create Now mentors are all top professionals in their field with years of experience to share.

The Writing and Production/Performance workshops each take place over ten weeks. Classes are two hours and can be provided after-school or as a supplement during a regular English, Theatre or Video Production class, since Create Now follows the California Content Standards. Students are given weekly assignments that stimulate their imaginations.

Earlier this year, we collaborated with James Gleason, a Media Arts teacher, to bring three sessions of Mythic Challenges to more than 40 students in his Video Production class at Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda. Pamela said, “The students were focused, smart, imaginative, and well behaved. They engaged mentally and vocally in the idea of myths being universal connectors between cultures.”

Seven students elected to attend three of Pamela’s classes so they could write a screenplay that their group will produce by the end of the school semester for a class project. They voted on using the Rich/Poor Gap as the Global Challenge. One student’s story has “Stealing Fire From Heaven” as the Mythic Theme, with modernized plot points of “Robin Hood.” Different archetypical characters and story ideas from the other youths’ scripts will also be incorporated into the final draft to create a true collaboration.

Pamela said, “Both the initial group of 40 students and the select group engaged fully with the material and did not stray off task. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this very worthwhile program.”

Teacher James Gleason remarked, “My students were immediately engaged and motivated by Pamela’s presentation. In just a short time, the group she worked with was able to go to a higher level of thinking about their stories.” We’re very excited to see the Grover Cleveland High School students’ completed screenplay and video!

Here’s what some of the students had to say:

Raheel – “It’s extremely helpful. It really got me to think in a much more story-driven sense. The best part was listening and being influenced with all of Pamela’s wonderful ideas.”

Yena – “It’s been really interesting. I never considered the recurring themes that are within stories and how they are applied in contemporary stories. I got a first-hand experience in doing so, not just in film but in any type of literature.”

Mario – “I’m more enthusiastic about my story and more concentrated on my film piece. Some of my classmates became less shy and interacted more.”

Tianan – “It gets the creative juices flowing in your head. I’ve noticed my classmates have been more creative and responsible with deadlines.”

Through Create Now‘s international exchange program, Arts xChange, we are collaborating with Evelyn Seubert, another Media Arts teacher at Grover Cleveland High School, who was so impressed with our Mythic Challengespilot project that we are now helping students in her International Media class to create six unique video documentaries (see them below) based on our curriculum, along with students at 13 high schools in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Due to certain sensitivities, the program had to be retitled Global Challenges, since we had to be very careful about using the word “Myth” or “Mythic” with the Afghans, in case it might be translated in a way that’s contrary to their religious beliefs.

Evelyn’s students in Reseda have been corresponding over the Internet with high school students in Jalalabad thanks to support from the U.S. State Department. Using Mythic Challenges’ presentation of three of the 15 Global Challenges, they decided to focus on the Millenium Challenges of Environment, Clean Water and Technology.

Pamela gave several lectures to the Grover Cleveland High School International Media class to help them find exciting literary themes to make their video documentaries more interesting. These seminars were videotaped and shared with students at the 13 high schools in Jalalabad. She said, “Stories span the centuries and cross cultures to inform and inspire us. It is wonderful to see these young filmmakers – from Los Angeles to Afghanistan – team up and create new versions of these timeless stories to offer solutions to the Global Challenges that affect all of us.”

Anna Mussman, U.S. Department of State, Jalalabad, Afghanistan said, “Unique in Afghanistan and through support of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, selected students at 13 high schools in Jalalabad are able to access the Internet and participate in virtual projects that expand their vision of the world. One such project is Global Challenges. These lectures by Pamela Jaye Smith help Afghan students to develop their English language skills, as well as their creativity. The lectures and correspondence with Grover Cleveland High School students also gives them an opportunity to explore three of the Millennium Challenges that have great impact on their daily lives – the environment, clean water and technology.”

Since the youth in Afghanistan don’t have video equipment, they provided written material and photos to be used in each video that specifically referred to how that challenge is felt in Afghanistan. The students in Evelyn’s International Media class in Reseda produced and edited the six videos. The Mythic Theme (or “Literary” Theme for the Afghans) that they selected as the focus for their documentary is “War in Heaven.” The War in Heaven theme is when two powerful factions are fighting over resources and/or power and the regular people are adversely affected by those battles. This concept gave the students’ stories deeper meaning and inspired them to take positive actions.

All six of the completed videos are now online, to be shared with everyone around the world to experience. Watch these videos by clicking below and please send them to your friends and associates to help spread the word about this program:

As youth develop friendships with their peers overseas, they are also able to share their stories with millions of people all around the world. One of the students, Shafiqullah from Abdul Wakil High School said, “The videos with Pamela Jaye Smith were so helpful and important and we learned many things about water.”

Fazeela from Bibi Hawa High School said, “It was very interesting lessons and I hope that Ms. Smith sends more information like this for us. She will help us very much in our English language and we will know better about how to use symbols in our videos and how to use archetypes.”

Evelyn said, “Rather than just doing a ‘talking heads’ documentary about clean water are finding the story structure and symbols that will move their audience to take action.”