'The Rose' wraps production; to go live
Ken McLemore, Hope Public Schools

HOPE – The Hope High School/Southwest Arkansas Arts Council production of “The Rose” goes live on the Bobcat Studios YouTube channel and HHS website this week.

The student-written and produced video play has been in production since January as a collaboration between the HHS English and Art departments, the HHS East Lab, and the Artist in Residence Program of the SWAAC.

“It was amazing to see how it all came together,” Janet Banister, HHS AP language and senior English teacher, said as editing of the video, under the direction of artist in residence Mike Merritt, concluded earlier this month.

Banister said she enjoyed the different interactions within the production process.

“The students enjoyed taking a break from the regular curriculum,” she said. “It was fun watching them learn by creating a play. Although my involvement in the production of the play was limited, I saw students who normally sit back and let others take charge come alive.”

Artist in residence Repha Buckman facilitated the production of the script in Banister’s 10th grade Pre-Advanced Placement classes; and Fayetteville-based artist in residence Chelsye Ginn directed the play from the script produced by the students.

“They enjoyed the acting and the interaction with the producer and director of the film,” Banister said.

Merritt said that was part of the point.

“I’m trying to get something that fits well with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics),” he said. “We’re showing students how to write, edit and shoot.”

Using hand-held digital technology, Merritt produced the video while Ginn directed the principal action; then, Merritt took over to produce special effects and setting action.

“This prepares them to study in college,” he said, noting that colleges take note of students with digital media training.

“Not everybody is LeBron James or Taylor Swift,” Merritt quipped. “But, having access to technology allows them to tell their stories.

Merritt hails from Monticello, and he studied at film school in New York.

“I was a workaholic in college,” he explained. “I had the opportunity to go to my high school reunion or interview Spike Lee.”

He chose to interview the cutting edge director.

Based from Little Rock, Merritt tries to tackle at least one artist in residence student-produced project per year, he said. In his 20 years in the business, Merritt said some of his most satisfying work in film came in the theatrical thriller “Dark Water.”

“Making it rain on Park Avenue in New York in the middle of the day; that was amazing,” he quipped.

So, using the Hope High School campus for the backdrop of the video, Merritt and cast members include Isaiah Glover as Kamal, Alyssa Fincher as Brittany, Xena Kimble as Doris, Phillip Knighton as Eric, Gianni Trotter as Lily, Daniel Dyer as Derrick, A’lecia Conway as Shalya, Dominic Dellaso as Rico, and Geona Ketton as Kattie created a realistic feel to the story of a high school student who is part of a mentoring group, but is faced with personal tragedy which produces a dramatic result as the others attempt to help him.

Art students under HHS art teacher Kendrick Adams worked with multiple mediums to produce set pieces for the production.

“They did things that would be appropriate for a restaurant scene,” Adams said. “They had all kinds of options.”

Some 50 HHS art students worked on individual projects in much the same manner as another project produced by students entitled “Hope Quotes.”

“They featured that film at the college at a film festival,” Adams said.

Currently in his third year at HHS, Adams formerly worked as a professional illustrator for a national religious publishing firm. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Bible studies from Central Baptist College in Conway and a master’s degree in religious education from Luther Rice University in Georgia.

“My emphasis at the publishing house was to draw for teen literature,” Adams said.

At the conclusion of principal photography, the production went into editing in Adrianne Ware’s EAST Lab class, where Ms. Ware facilitated Merritt’s technical expertise.

“I thought Mr. Merritt did an excellent job in presenting the information to the students,” Ware said. “The students will be able to take his expertise and instruction, and apply them to their future video projects.”

Banister said she is pleased with the collaborative nature of the project.

“I am looking forward to seeing the film and hope that the Southwest Arkansas Arts Council will partner with HHS again, so we can continue to discover new talents of our students,” she said.

(See more photos on Facebook.)