Sebastian Killion is a soft-spoken, well-mannered 18-year-old with a head of mousy brown corkscrew curls that spill onto his forehead, hiding part of his youthful face.
The aspiring actor speaks when asked a question, but prefers to observe the scenes playing before him.
Stepping before a mic in a makeshift recording studio at the downtown Tacoma Public Library, Killion surprised his peers as he transformed into the Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland.”
As words from a script spilled from his lips, Killion gained confidence in his voice. By his fourth take, he had transformed from a teenager to a man babbling and chuckling under his breath as he rushed to keep up with his thoughts.
The evolution left his audience in awe. It also left Nicole Fazio, a voice-over artist living in Los Angeles, blown away.
Fazio, who grew up in the South Sound, was at the library teaching kids about what it takes to make it in the voice-over world. Her recent visit was part of a workshop hosted by the downtown library’s StoryLab, a program geared toward teaching digital media to Tacoma’s youths.
The digital program was funded by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation with matching funds from the library. When it was formed, library officials said at the time, it was only the third digital media center in the nation provided by a library.
The grant expired Dec. 31, but library officials say the program will continue, even if the funding isn’t there.
“We’ll find the money to make it work because it’s that important,” library spokesman David Domkoski said.
The library will again apply for an Allen foundation grant, this time $150,000 over two years, to keep the program running.
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll get it, but they respect what we’re doing, and they see the importance of it,” Domkoski said.
In the three years since the lab’s inception, word of its success has spread across the country. Teen Services Librarian Sara Sunshine Holloway has received calls from several library officials, including one from New York, asking about the program.
Holloway, who regularly works with the kids in the digital media lab, said she is amazed by the creativity she sees. She cited a scenario from last month when a group of kids from the Mormon Church, in the area doing missionary work, came to the lab.
A couple of the guys started rapping and singing into the lab’s recording equipment, laying down a handful of tracks on the computer. A few feet away, kids who live in Tacoma’s urban center were doing the same thing. At first glance it might have appeared the two groups had nothing in common, but their love for music and rapping skills gave them common ground, Holloway said.
The fact that kids continue to use the lab and sign up for the various workshops validates the library’s decision to build the lab, Domkoski said.
“All this is about finding one’s voice,” he said. “Beyond just learning how to use a piece of software, you’re learning how to collaborate.”
Focused on teaching middle school and high school age youths digital literacy, StoryLab gives kids the chance to create projects while connecting them with experts in the field. That includes photography, digital recording, poetry, animation and film.
Through different workshops participants learn skills they can hone in the lab outside of the one- or two-day workshops. The lab gives them the creative license to explore artistry, Holloway said.
Devin Campbell uses the lab’s video and editing equipment to highlight his art. In a video on his YouTube channel from this summer, the silhouette of the 19-year-old Tacoma Community College student moves to the beat from a section of boardwalk in Santa Monica, Calif. The scene was captured with a StoryLab camcorder.
Campbell films himself dancing at different locations around town, in Fabitat, a Hilltop dance studio, or in the middle of a residential street in Tacoma’s North End neighborhood. Performing is the Tacoma teen’s passion.
“I’m really glad a program like this exists,” he said.
Campbell wouldn’t reject a chance to dance if industry leaders discover his YouTube videos, but he’s also studying to become a financial adviser in business investment. He wants stability so he has more time to do the things he loves — which right now is street dance.
Fazio marveled at the opportunities presented by the library’s digital lab.
“These kids get to come here, and they don’t have to pay for it,” she said.
While working with the kids, Fazio watched as they gained confidence in their voices. She also was impressed with others who maybe weren’t the best at reading into a mic, but came through when it came time to direct their peers or provide content to be read.
StoryLab, she said, empowers them to see what’s possible.
Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467
The Tacoma Public Library’s StoryLab is in the downtown branch, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S. The lab is open from 2-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Families are encouraged to visit the lab Saturdays. To learn more or to see a list of upcoming workshops, including Jan. 11 and 21 film workshops, visit storylabtacoma.org.