AMITE — The audience attending the 19th Annual World Premiere, held Jan. 25 in the Amite High School Theater, applauded enthusiastically at the conclusions of three 20-minute movies prepared by gifted and talented students enrolled in the Talented Theatre Program at Sumner and Amite high schools.
Charley Vance, who has directed the Talented Theater Program since its inception, said before the program the films represented many months of work on the part of the students who conceived, wrote and acted in the three movies. “What you will see tonight is a stunning accomplishment for our students. They started work on these movies last April, and you will see the fruits of their efforts tonight,” Vance said.
He said the process of making the three movies started when the students gathered for their first meetings. “We put up a big white board and the students started throwing out ideas for stories that were relevant to them. At first, we had 16 ideas, and as we continued to exchange thoughts and suggestions we narrowed it down to the three movies you will see tonight,” Vance explained.
The first of the movies, “Hurt,” was a drama that contrasted the lives of six foster girls with the unhappiness of a wealthy student. The theme of the movie was that those teenagers who are gifted with a wealthy family are not always the happiest of young people. The movie also dealt with date bullying, alcoholism and a drug overdose. At its conclusion, the movie showed how the wealthy teen came to realize that his family needed help and that lessons about caring and sharing could be learned from the teenagers who were in foster care.
“Obsession” was a comedy that spotlighted a teenage girl who was obsessed with another girl’s boyfriend. In an attempt to gain the affection of the boyfriend, the obsessed girl uses chloroform taken from her school’s science lab to subdue the boy of her dreams and his girlfriend so that she could spend time with the boy. The movie, which had a considerable amount of physical comedy, was met with frequent laughter from the audience.
The final film, “Valedictorian Wars,” was a comedy that centered around three students vying to be their school’s valedictorian. The three spent too much time trying to sabotage their competitors, which became a detriment to their own studies. A fight breaks out among the three in the principal’s office and all three are led from his office in handcuffs by a policeman.
In his opening remarks, Vance said, “While we hope you enjoy the movies, what is more important is what these movies represent. They are a tremendous accomplishment for the students who created them. I am extremely proud of these students. They learned the process of making movies and they stayed with the process. Today’s students are challenged with more academic pressures than ever before. For the students and their teachers, school is becoming more and more difficult. Despite these challenges, the students enrolled in the Talented Theater Program stayed the course and saw their movies become a reality.”
Vance thanked the parents, telling them, “You sent us some very good material, and it was a joy to work with your sons and your daughters.”
Over the past 19 years, 57 movies have been made by the students enrolled in the Talented Theatre Program. Vance said in an earlier interview he started the program, which is offered through the Tangipahoa Parish School System, to afford students the opportunity to learn self-esteem and self-confidence through creating and acting in movies.
Kyle Primes, a senior at Sumner High School, said he joined the Talented Theater Program when he was in the sixth grade, adding that many participants join the program in elementary school. He said that when he started, he feared speaking in front of others and lacked confidence in his ability to communicate with others. However, he said that after many years working with the film project, he has gained confidence in his abilities. He said he has learned, through the theater program, how to “think on my feet.” He was the “star” in two of the movies that premiered Jan. 25.
Mashayla Dyson, a junior at Amite High School, has been in the program since seventh grade. She said she also learned self-confidence and more from participation in the program. “I learned about being creative … about coming up with ideas for stories … about working with others to come together and create something special,” she said.
Primes said of the experience, “What makes this special is that all of the students have input in what will eventually be filmed. Having that input assures that we are involved in the process from the start. We spend months on this, and eventually you take possession of what it is you are trying to create.” Dyson added, “The joy comes when you actually see your creativity on film. It is very rewarding. Others see us on film, and this makes you feel like you have accomplished something special. It is a fulfilling experience.”
Vance said a typical class in the Talented Theater program has about 24 to 26 students. Vance said the class is most appealing to female students, which poses a challenge when casting parts for the movies. This year he had four male students, so the men had to take on dual roles. “Depending on who is in the class, we have to learn to adapt our stories to fit our personnel,” he said.
For adult roles in the movies, Vance calls on local and area volunteers who have had some experience in acting.
After the process of deciding what stories will be filmed, the class begins the process of writing scripts for each film. When the scripts are finished, shooting starts, usually the last week in October. The movies are filmed and edited by Vivid Video. Butch and Kirk Lee, of Vivid Video, have filmed all 57 movies created by the Talented Theater Program. “They have been a tremendous asset,” Vance said, adding, “without them we just couldn’t have accomplished the things that we have.”
Vance said help from the community is a valuable asset. Several families opened up their homes for filming. One of this year’s movies called for an extensive hospital scene, and Vance said the staff at Amite’s Hood Memorial Hospital was eager to participate. “They were fantastic … they let us come in, set up medical equipment and helped us in many ways to make the hospital scenes realistic,’ he said.
Once the films are shot, they are edited and music is added. The final productions are very professional, and the stories all made relevant points.
Vance makes the premiere evening special for the students. With the help of Dawson Primes, homeland Security Director for Tangipahoa Parish, the students were driven to the theater in black luxury vehicles escorted by two police units. The students, dressed in their best for the occasion, were ushered into the theater’s lobby, where they posed for pictures and greeted family and friends. Reserved seats in the front of the theater awaited them.
Vance said that the program is supported financially by grants, donations and fundraisers. Each year’s program costs about $11,000.
Sumner High Talented Theater students are Emily Phelps, Makayla Taylor, Lauren Mearidy, Kyle Primes, Lee Verret, Hope Brister, ReAnna Gill, Chelsey Kent, Alaina McDaniel, Shelby Parnell, Saylor Myles, Aaron DeBlanc, Abby Smith, Brianna Brown, Trinity Baham, Savannah Carrier, Mary Warden and Becca Cook.
Amite High students are Kasey Evans, Mashayla Dyson, Alexcia Richardson, Kayla McFarlane, Megan English and Alyssa Outlaw.
Adult actors included Donna Gay Anderson, Larry Gray, Ronda Powell, Roslyn Varnado, Wanda McElveen, Sharon London, Matty Ferraro, Jenny Ballard and Ray Gaspard.