Teacher gives students limelight
Jenna Downing may never get an Academy Award. Her production of “Cinderella” will never go into widespread distribution. Her actors and crew worked for nothing. And all of the shooting was done in one location. It does not matter to Downing, who took on the task of making the video production because she cares about her special needs students at Suburu School and their families.
“We were studying California in our class, and I wanted my students to learn about the entertainment industry,” said Downing who is a special needs teacher with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. “So, I wrote a production of Cinderella for my students to star in. The goal was to get it done in two weeks, just before their May 25 graduation, so the parents could see them in costume and discover what they learned putting the production together.”
Producing a movie in two weeks would be a tall order for any producer. Downing had a few more challenges. All of her students require either a wheelchair or walker for mobility. Most cannot verbalize their lines. So, they had to activate assistive technology devices with pre-recorded voices when their turn came up to speak in a scene. Downing wrote more than a dozen scenes for the production, each one requiring costume changes that took about five minutes per student.
Downing allowed videotaping of the last couple of scenes so we could get a feel of what the production was like. It was a tour de force with every student playing a part. All of Downing’s instructional aides, a school nurse and even a substitute were recruited to narrate, to perform costume and set design, assist with costume changes and to play minor roles such as the Cinderella’s coach mice.
One of the more poignant scenes involved Cinderella played by student Shea McAtee and student Raymond Lara in the role of Prince Charming. They played it so well, that you could see it in their joyful expressions during the dance scene and again in their disappointed looks when the clock struck 12 and Cinderella had to make a hasty exit from the ball.
Adding to the drama, two of Downing’s students were out sick during the last week of shooting. But the show must go on, and it did. One student even reached a goal of his Individual Education Plan to recreate part in a book by acting out that role in the movie.
Downing said she wrote, directed and videotaped the production because she loves her students. The staff also motivated her. “This really boosted their morale,” Downing said. “Letting them get involved, you could see they were having just as much fun as the students.”
Suburu’s Cinderella Movie Excerpts