Lights, cameras help girls put leadership into action

A two-week film project helps high school students focus on developing teamwork while learning how to get youths interested in the local arts scene.

July 22, 2005|By Danny Jacobs | Danny Jacobs,SUN STAFF

With the camera about to roll, Brynna Evans was having second thoughts. "You look great on film," said Desiree McCormick, one of five filmmakers reassuring their nervous interview subject in a classroom at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville.

Feeling better, Brynna said she was ready, and the St. Paul's School for Girls student talked about her limited interaction with the arts in Baltimore for the five filmmakers.

That's not bad for a group of high school girls who learned just last week how to use professional video equipment and conduct an interview.

McCormick, a 16-year-old rising senior at Western High School, is one of the 13 girls participating in a new two-week program designed to develop girls' leadership skills as they tackle a problem in the Baltimore metropolitan community. The project for the inaugural year is to determine how to get younger people more interested in the city's classical arts.

"We wanted them to learn leadership by doing something," said Jeanne Blakeslee, director of the E.E. Ford Leadership Institute at St. Paul's School for Girls and head of the summer program.

As part of the Summer Challenge project, the students from St. Paul's School for Girls and Western stayed overnight at Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center and took a personality test. They also are writing and presenting a three-minute speech.

"This whole thing has made us get out of our comfort zone a bit," said Molly Shipman, a 16-year-old rising senior at Western.

But the focus of the eight-hour days has been their 10- to 12-minute documentary about the classical arts, which premieres today at the program's culminating tea party.

The girls, with help from Wide Angle Community Media, a local nonprofit group, have learned how to assemble and use video equipment and edit their footage.

They were divided into four groups, with each group responsible for conducting and videotaping interviews at one of four institutions: the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Everyman Theatre and Arena Players Inc.

The Summer Challenge is an extension of a class that Blakeslee began teaching last fall at St. Paul's. The seminar, "Success in the City: Pathways to Leadership," is designed to develop leadership skills in students while exposing them to the Baltimore metropolitan area through field trips and a mentoring program.

"If you're going to be a leader in the future, you have to know everything about your area," Blakeslee said.

Most of the girls participating in the program had an interest in the arts and were encouraged by their parents and school administrators. Some were looking ahead to college, wanting to list their participation in the program on their resumes or gain experience toward majoring in public relations or advertising.

Others were more interested in making a film or practicing the public speaking and interviewing that went along with it.

On Tuesday, it was Marlena Weiss' turn to try out her interviewing skills on a makeshift set in a dressing room at Everyman Theatre. The seven girls in the room quickly set up their equipment, including lights and a boom microphone, and found the best camera angle for taping.

Weiss, who turns 16 next month and is a rising junior at Western, then began the first of four interviews.

Among the questions she asked: How does Baltimore's theater audience differ from other places you have worked? How did you first get interested in theater? How can students develop an appreciation of the arts when arts programs are the first things cut from tight school budgets?

Vincent Lancisi, founder and artistic director of Everyman, was impressed by how the girls carried themselves. "That they're concerned about their professionalism as they approach the project is great," he said.

Lancisi saved his highest praise for Weiss, particularly when she asked him to compare the theater audiences in Boston, Washington and Baltimore. "That was a pretty insightful question for a student that age," he said. "I hadn't thought of that myself."

The girls have developed a few ideas about attracting a younger audience to the Baltimore arts scene. Better advertising was the main suggestion, while some thought parental encouragement and involvement would help.

Others, surprised by how few of their friends had even heard of the annual Artscape festival, which starts today in Baltimore, said interest could be generated by teens.

"Everything's a trend for our age, so if a big group of younger people went to see arts stuff, more will follow," said Olachi Etoh, a 16-year-old rising junior at St. Paul's School for Girls.

But with time running low, the girls were focusing on completing the documentary.

"We have a lot of great stuff. We have to just put it together," said Addie Tower, a 16-year-old rising junior at St. Paul's School for Girls.

Crystal Wheaden, a 15-year-old rising junior at Western, agreed.

"I think we can," she said. "I'll volunteer to stay late if that's what it takes."

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