High school students jump into filming action during performances in downtown LS

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Since 2012, Ben Martin has been staging his unusual play, “Cellular ’Cenes,” with live performances in downtown Lee’s Summit. That hasn’t been possible for more than a year. Working with Kenny Taylor, a teacher at Bernard Campbell Middle School, this spring he put together an augmented reality version of his play.

Normally, the audience would walk from location to location to see each scene of the romantic comedy performed.

“They’d get a text message, which would tell them, ‘Go here, and you’ll see first scene.’ At the end of each scene, they’d receive text message that would tell them where the next scene was going to take place,” said Martin, a retired local theater teacher.

That structure allowed him to both try out an experimental theater technique and bring more people to downtown Lee’s Summit businesses.

To make a socially distance augmented reality version, this is how it worked: Martin, Taylor and a crew of three Lee’s Summit North students filmed professional actors performing the scenes of the play in the different locations in downtown Lee’s Summit.

“Kenny, having the idea of doing this, said we really need to have a crew of people to make this happen, and he knew students from his middle school program. … We all thought it would be a great experience for the students in terms of their own interest in media,” Martin said.

Emma Thieme, who graduated from Lee’s Summit North last month, operated the boom microphone, even though she’d never used one previously. She recalled the challenge of trying to film around the sounds of the busy area.

“We were trying to film the fight scene between the characters … on a strip on the busiest part of Lee’s Summit. There was a minor traffic jam, and this guy had his windows rolled down blaring Elton John,” she said. “We just had to stop. There was a ton of noise happening in general, but we got the hang of it.”

The nearby train tracks also presented challenges with the sound.

“Every once in a while, we’d have a train that wanted to be part of the show. We’d have to stop and wait for the train to go by,” Martin said.

Operating the cameras were Beau Flint, 16, and Ella Larson, 18. They found the experience different from what they’ve encountered with film-related classes.

“In high school you’re just working with other peers, and we’re far from professional,” Ella said. “It was cool seeing how professional they were. They knew exactly what there were going to do, exactly what they were going to say. They’re a lot more prepared than some high school students.”

Martin appreciated their efforts.

“They were just super; very professional. They helped make it what it was,” he said.

After the editing process, Martin and Taylor made those filmed scenes available via QR codes on posters at those locations in late April.

This way, the audience still got to feel like they were in the scene by being physically present at the locations of the play, but they weren’t being unsafe in the pandemic. The posters are no longer displayed, but Martin said he hopes to revive them later this summer for a Fourth Friday event.

“Going around and just seeing what it was like to do it in a little bit different way of presenting it, I thought, was fun,” he said.

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