The Southwest Harbor Public Library went Hollywood last week with an Academy Awards-like gala for the premiere of a film starring the participants of a summer reading program.
Dozens of young actors walked down the red carpet into the library’s reading room where they were introduced and interviewed by Andrew Simon and Brittany Parker of The Barn Arts Collective. Hamming it up to the delight of both actors and audience, Simon and Parker questioned the stars on their roles in the film and, of course, what designer clothing they were wearing. Although names like Dior and Valentino were conspicuously absent, the attire ranged from casually elegant to simply silly. One girl admitted her floor-length gown actually was her beach cover-up. Some actors, most of whom made up the latter category, came dressed in character.
Then it was show time.
“Summer Reading Showtime – The Movie” is a 40-minute series of vignettes where the young readers act out scenes from a favorite book. Judging from the reaction of the audience during the Aug. 13 screening, Academy Award nominations are sure to follow.
The idea for the film came from children’s librarian Susan Plimpton. Having worked with The Barn Arts Collective, she knew just the people she needed to make it happen. No convincing was needed.
“We thought it was a great idea immediately,” Simon said in a phone interview.
The project involved 40 youngsters in summer reading programs at the library and in a collaborative effort with Harbor House’s Camp Max. The youngest is three; the oldest 13. Simon, Parker and the collective’s resident filmmaker Peter Logue began working with the actors July 1 and continued on Wednesdays through Aug. 5.
Simon, who once taught theater at the middle and high school levels, and Parker met individually with the actors to discuss the book they had chosen to put on film.
“It essentially was like an interview,” Simon said. “We’d make them feel comfortable and get them to tell us about the creative vision they had.”
The next step was to focus on a particular scene.
“Some kids knew right away,” Simon said. Others needed coaxing. “We would have a conversation about what was exciting or fun in the story.”
The actors chose the roles they were to play. Their choices sometimes took a surprising turn. During her red carpet interview, one 7-year-old said she chose to play a wicked witch because, in reality, she is “always good.”
By necessity, there was a lot of improvisation. Simon and Parker performed alongside the young actors and proved the perfect foils, reacting to the unexpected line or physical stumble quickly and in character.
Filming was done in front of a green screen, which allowed Logue to add backgrounds appropriate to the story. As a result, mermaids swam in a sea of tropical fish; spells were cast amidst castle walls.
In front of the camera, the young actors were naturals, Simon said.
“It was very rare that we did more than two takes,” he said. “Often, the kids killed it right away.”
The film currently is not available online or available for viewing by other methods. Simon said they are working to get permission from the parents of the young actors in hopes of giving the public access to the movie.