At Crossroads School, “you don’t have to change who you are to fit in,” says Benjamin “Jamie” Salka ’95. “Crossroads saw me for who I was and said, ‘We like what we see.’”
What the School saw—by his own description—was a highly creative “goofball weirdo with a particular blend of very serious and very silly” who loved performing, songwriting and gymnastics.
Crossroads’ affirmation gave him confidence. “I instantly felt at home,” Benjamin says of entering seventh grade. He jumped into theater classes, plays and assemblies. For him, a major part of the excitement was that students didn’t just perform “other people’s theater,” but they created their own as well.
During his senior year, as student body president, he was impressed that student council wasn’t merely symbolic. “We had ideas,” he says, “and the School took them seriously.”
Following graduation from Northwestern University, Benjamin began directing, assistant directing and producing on and off-Broadway in New York City. He was working for a Hollywood film production company when two friends asked him for advice on a concept they had. But he didn’t want to just give them advice. “I wanted to quit my job and join them,” he says.
So, in 2004, he became co-founder and CEO of Story Pirates, a child-centric education and media company that turns kids’ original stories into wild sketch comedy musicals featuring professional actors “to let kids know their words and ideas matter,” he says.
Story Pirates started as a pilot project in one Harlem school. Since 2005, a group that the New York Times dubbed a “theatrical treasure” has reached more than a half-million kids in 350-plus schools while running a popular live theater tour, a series of books and a No. 1 podcast for kids as well as arts education and literacy programs.
Benjamin, who moved back to L.A. in 2009 to open a second Story Pirates branch, oversees its growing media presence, including a hit radio show, top-10 podcast, YouTube videos, plans for livestreaming and a book series (“Stuck in the Stone Age” debuted in March).
Each spring, Story Pirates’ Adopt-a-School benefit takes place at Crossroads—the perfect setting, he says. “Because of the values this School instilled in me, we’re creating that experience for kids around the world.”