NTPA film debut

Students of North Texas Performing Arts, pictured working on the set of NTPA’s film debut “Digitality.”

North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA) is currently in the middle of production for its first student-led feature film “Digitality,” which is slated for release on June 26.

While NTPA has long been reputed for having an established and respected musical theatre repertoire, this feature film signifies a new chapter in the organization’s three-decade history, as it will be the company’s digital performance debut.

The Plano Star Courier sat down with NTPA CEO Darrell Rodenbaugh and the film’s writers and directors – Senior Technical Director Gregory McKnight and Assistant to Technical Director Tammara Wright – on the set of the film.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Tell us about this new film program.

Darrell Rodenbaugh: Fundamentally, it’s a major pivot for us. Instead of putting them on the stage, they actually go on film. It moves us from that very real environment to the digital environment, which is a pretty big shift given that we’ve done stage work for 32 years.

But the intent is largely the same. We still hold true to what we’re trying to accomplish with the kids. We’re still focused on their engagement and involvement throughout the whole cycle. These kids are tweaking scripts, they’re setting up lights, they’re doing recording, they’re doing the editing and they’re doing the acting. So it’s a really immersive process they’re going through with the ultimate intention that they’ll actually stage a premier on a big screen at a local movie theater.

What can you tell us about this film and how it came together?

Gregory McKnight: Because we wanted the kids to be able to be the actors and be able to write, relate [to] or produce it, we wrote it in a way that it was going to be focused around a high schooler and going to be a coming-of-age story.

Tammara Wright: It’s called “Digitality.” It involves what they would be interested in, so it’s a digital world, a real-life world, it’s the personalities that come out with those two paths of the equation. It’s something that kids really relate to, [so] their contribution to the script was very valuable because they altered some of our dialogue to fit more with what they would say. That was really helpful.

What films, directors or writers were some key influences?

GK: [2007 film] “Charlie Bartlett”

What stage of production is this film in, and when do you anticipate it will come out?

GK: So for this particular project, it was a two-week filming process. So the first three days were broken up into teams – some were working on storyboarding, some were working on the shop list, props, costumes, etc., in the first three days.

Yesterday was our first day of filming, and we plan to be finished by Thursday.

[Film’s release date is] June 26.

Where do you expect NTPA to go in the future as far as film is concerned?

DR: When we were created 32 years ago, this wasn’t even a possibility. But now with the technology costs being so much lower, and the more familiar kids are with the capabilities that are available to them, now this makes a lot of sense.

So I really anticipate this being, five or 10 years from now, a very major component of what we do, and frankly, I can see it rivaling what we do on the stage.

The great news is that we can actually scale this in a way that it [would] be more challenging to scale in a physical theatre environment. One of the biggest issues we face today is finding performance space across locations that we own. We have eight stages that we can control and own that are our own space, but we do a lot more shows beyond what those eight stages can support, so we’re constantly renting space elsewhere.

The one cool thing about this new endeavor is that it’s not limited by our space restrictions. We can video just about anywhere. The editing can take place in a much smaller environment. The instructional work also in a smaller studio kind of environment, and I don’t need a big performance venue in order to stage a production.

So we actually think we will be able to scale this faster and be able to provide more opportunities for kids more readily than we can on the stage, because we don’t have those limitations.

Garrett Gravley is the reporter for the Plano Star Courier, Allen American, Little Elm Journal and The Colony Courier-Leader. Email him at ggravley@starlocalmedia.com with story suggestions.

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