The Drama Class Adventure in Multi-Media Land

by Julianne Long

 

Through the marriage of technology, fine arts and language arts the Verdugo Hills High School Drama class was able to produce a short film depicting a scene from the history of California written by an author who had lived in the Sunland/Tujunga area. And because acting is an intellectual, educational and emotional experience, the students learned through their analysis of the script, scene work, costumes and setting something more about the history of California and the Verdugo area.

The adventure began when the burgeoning Multi-Media department on campus asked if the Drama Class would participate in a Workforce LA/Multi-Media project related to the history of Sunland/Tujunga. Recognizing this as an opportunity for the students to experience the difference between the stage and film media, and learn about career opportunities in film, we accepted.

After searching through a good deal of historical and biographical information (Sunland/Tujunga has a lot to offer) I settled on a play called The Mission Play which was written by John McGroarty. John McGroarty was one of the most well known writers in the Sunland/Tujunga area and the Verdugo Hills High School auditorium was named after him, so this seemed to be the appropriate choice. I read the play and selected the scene with the most dramatic impact and the best potential for film and screen translation. Students auditioned for parts and were cast in a variety of roles and jobs, then given scripts to rehearse and memorize. Through this process they were able to analyze the physical, emotional, and social dimensions of the character, plot and setting of this historical and cultural drama. They read interpretively to determine the literal and implied meaning in the text and then applied their knowledge of language arts skills such as speech and articulation to communicate their intended effect. These students were able to bring to the piece their own artistic interpretations and explore the ways in which visual and sound elements conveyed dramatic intent. Using posture and body control, voice projection with pitch, inflection and style they created real presence and distinct characters.

While the students were learning their parts, I was learning mine. I learned how to break down the script into a shot list and to draw overheads of the scene to determine camera angles and set-ups. I passed this information on to Norma Wrege (the project coordinator) who enlisted an art student to draw a corresponding story board.

James Gleason and Evelyn Seubert (of Workforce LA) and I scouted locations for filming the scene and James and Evy succeeded in securing the use of the Loomis House in Pasadena. It was a fabulous old building. Evy was also able to secure costumes from Mission College for use during the filming. Students were given trip slips and insurance papers to fill out, and two days were set aside for filming on location. James and I operated the camera and students who were not performing took on the roles of assistant director, boom holder, and grip.

All of the students, both crew, and cast learned how to work as a team with a true sense of professionalism. They were able to compare and contrast the differences of acting on stage and acting for the camera. They learned of the numerous compounding factors in shooting a film such as camera angles, lighting, background sound and movement. It was an eye opening experience for many of them. Everything went smoothly and we wrapped up in two days with approximately three hours of raw footage. Students viewed the footage a few days later with great enthusiasm.

Then I went to work on the raw footage and whittled it down to about an hour of footage with the best most workable shots for editing it into a short film. With the aid of a friend who is a professional editor I became familiar with the Avid, a piece of editing equipment. Together we cut the hour of footage down to an eight minute final piece. We added a soundtrack and reduced the color to sepia tones for a more authenticated look and named it "The Wedding Scene".

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The Mission Play 

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