21st Century Class builds for STAR
Ken McLemore, Hope Public Schools

HOPE – Set design is the most talent intensive aspect of any theatrical production; without the sets and props, even the most eloquent script loses context. And, when the context is the history of Hope, the story requires a lot of talent.

Which is fine with Richard Read, Dr. Linda Clark, Penny Thomason, and Allison Wilson, the adult mentors of the STAR Academy, a collaborative effort of the 21st Century Learning Center of the Hope Public Schools, the Southwest Arkansas Arts Council and the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.

Now in its third year, the STAR Academy provides a summer enrichment outlet for local public school talent and community volunteers through the conception and execution of a theatrical production.

“We integrate it with Yerger Middle School summer school,” Clark said. “We have the students on a rotating schedule during the day.”

During each day, Clark has had students solving math problems, designing artistic concepts, developing contextual themes, and researching local history… in order to build the sets and props for the production.

The classrooms of the 21st CLC Annex on the Yerger Middle School campus are currently littered with cardboard cattle, paper mache prairie rocks, Styrofoam sky and various other set pieces in progress under the direction of artist Bonnie Stubber, and Linda Rowe.

“We incorporate the core curriculum into it so they have to use math to measure and cut, art to draw, language arts, history; even science,” Clark said.

Student teacher Destiny Clark, a sophomore student at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, also works with the project through the 21st CLC program to help the students understand the historical and cultural aspects of the collaboration for the six-week summer program operated by the school district.

“If we didn’t have this program, some of these kids would be on the streets during the summer,” Dr. Clark said. “We get them to feel it and touch it to build it.”

Read, who developed the scripted vignettes for the STAR Academy production that will be the culmination of a one-week STAR camp on July 18-22, could not agree more.

“It’s a real privilege to write and direct this,” he said. “In the end, this is all about the children having a good experience, going away enthused and wanting to do it again.”

Read said having the students build the sets and props is only part of the blended-learning involvement, as other students will become part of the sound and technical crews under the direction of Valerie Sanders, technical director for Hempstead Hall at UAHT.

“That UAHT is allowing us to use Hempstead Hall is really great,” he said. “That means the kids have a part in everything.”

And, that kind of inclusiveness is important to the success of the collaboration between the 21st CLC and its sponsoring partner for the summer STAR Academy, the Arts Council. The SWAAC has provided the grant mechanism by which the Arkansas Department of Education funds the 21st CLC as the sponsor of STAR Academy.

Auditions for the production will be conducted July 13-14, and the STAR Academy Camp will be held July 18-22, with the play performance on July 22 at Hempstead Hall capping the week.

Consequently, Read said more students can be involved in the program.

“The idea was to bring together local talent in a local project and make it inclusive,” he said. “I put this script together so that it was expandable to find something to make each person a star.”

Working with Thomason, Read developed a riff on “The Wizard of Oz” which incorporates musical theater with comedy, history and mime to produce a narrative for “A Hopeful Destination.”

“We even use mime to show how actions speak louder than words,” Read offered.

The play recounts the history of Hope in vignettes entitled: Prairie, People, Possibilities; Cow Folks and Cattle; Hope Begins – The Railroad; Watermelon, Witch and Wiz; Duck! Duck! – It’s the Chickens!; Education, Graduation, Celebration; and You’ve Got to have Hope.

“We have three projection screens, props, music; we want them to say, ‘Wow, I want to do that, again,’” Read said. “They are the hope of Hope; and, they will be heard.”