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Catherine Borek / Scott Hamilton Kennedy Interview

From a handful of Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies, we got the mantra, "Let’s put on our own show! We can use my father’s barn!" Dominguez High School teacher Catherine Borek decided to do just that, and Scott Hamilton Kennedy recorded it all in his documentary OT: Our Town. Roxanne Bogucka ran into Borek and Kennedy on the street during SXSW Film Festival.

RB: I’m talking with Scott Hamilton Kennedy, director of the documentary OT: Our Town, and I’m also speaking with the teacher from the high school, whose name is–

CB: Catherine Borek.

RB: So. I have not seen Our Town yet. Could you give me a brief rundown on, the sort of 25-words-or-less which I know is cutting you short, but what your documentary is about.

SHK: It’s about Dominguez High School in Compton, California, hasn’t put a play on in 20 years. And with no theatre, no money, Ms. Borek, a teacher, decided to put on the play. And she chose Our Town, Thorton Wilders American classic play, because of a few reasons. She can answer that question. But as they didn’t have a theatre they had to put it on in the cafeteria, and it’s the struggle for these kids and these teachers to put on the play, and also relate and identify with this play. It’s a classic American play. We want to know if the classic American themes are going to be as relevant in Compton and true to the experience. And at first it isn’t, and they think it’s kind of an old play, and little by little they come to find something in it, and that’s not anywhere near 25 words.

RB: Ms. Borek, why had they not put on a play in more than 20 years?

CB: Bad architecture. The school doesn’t have a theatre. It hasn’t had a theatre in, since it was built in the 1950s. So it doesn’t make it very easy to put on a play when there’s no stage, no auditorium of any sort. From what I understand, they put on some plays back in the ’70s, late ’70s. But since then it was just, it was too exhausting to try to put on a play without it. Without the stage.

RB: Is this a situation that is endemic to Los Angeles high schools? Or is it something that’s suffered in Compton in particular? Compton High?

CB: I think Compton is particular to it. I know that Compton High School–there’s three high schools in Compton, two of which don’t have stages. Compton High School has a stage and they do have a theatre program.

SHK: They were a college.

CB: Yes, indeed, they were a community college before it became a high school. But the others, Centennial High School and Dominguez High School, both had a hard time having a theatre program.

RB: So why did you select Our Town?

CB: It’s not a very inspiring reason, to start with. But I just remembered when I took sophomore English, when I was in high school, the one thing that they said about Our Town is that you don’t need any sets. And that was one of the ideas. Thornton Wilder said that this is a play that could be put on anywhere, any time, and you don’t need a set for it. So that was one thing. I’d done it in high school myself, so I was familiar with it. And I had the script. Whoo!

RB: So when you got the idea that you wanted to do a play, did you pick the play first and look for students, or did you find a group of likely students, or how’d it come about?

CB: I think some students were emerging as actors since I’d been teaching there. I’d been teaching there four years at the time. But I picked the play and then put up a poster for auditions and lots and lots and lots of people came out.

RB: And how did they feel about the material when they got exposed to it?

CB: Auditions week is very different from after auditions week. Because auditions week everyone is being very nice to you, and kissing your butt a little and wanting the part, and then after that, things change and people get a little more frustrated. And they’re not feeling the play as much. So it’s a process of building and enjoying the play after stress and drama and all sorts of... Only in the end, after the play was done did I think the kids really enjoyed the play.

RB: Are you doing any more plays at Dominguez High?

CB: Yes. Right, last year we did Stand And Deliver, which was sold out every single night of the performance. This year I have three plays in my bag in the hotel, that I’m deciding between and hopefully auditions will start in the next week or so.

RB: Have some of the students who were in the play moved on to, like, maybe community theatre or things like that?

CB: They have. It’s really exciting. I got a note from one of my students last week, who’s starring in two plays at his Long Beach Community College. And then another one at UC-Northridge, who’s been in a couple of plays up in college. So a lot of them are still in the theatre, in theatre in the communities where they are.

RB: It must be nice to have that type of influence on people’s lives, on young people...

CB: The note that I got from one of my students, George Rodriguez, was just so sweet. He’s like "You can fulfill your dreams!" And it was just one of those bring-tears-to-your-eyes things for a teacher to see, to get a note like that.

RB: That’s great, because it’s sure not the paycheck when you’re teaching.j

CB: [laughs] Not the paycheck at all, though you know, no one does it for the paycheck. Not teaching, anyway.

RB: Great. Thanks very much. Scott Hamilton Kennedy, how did you come to this subject matter?

SHK: Ms. Borek was nice enough to ask me if I would come down to Dominguez and help her put on the play. Help her direct the play and produce it, because it was the first play they’d put on. And I was very happy to do that. I’d come down to her class a couple of times and taught the kids, worked with the kids on acting and things like that, and I just thought it was a wonderful idea. This pushing-the-boulder-up-the-hill story and how can they put a play on after not doing one in 20 years. And it’s a tough place to get things done. And it’s Our Town. Those two things coming together, wonderful American story, and a very difficult story. And luckily within digital filmmaking I could just show up with my camera and do it. I didn’t have to put a crew together, it was just me and a camera.

RB: So how long have you actually worked on the film? [SK & CB bust out laughing]

SHK: Quite a long time. Filming, production started in... it was April 4th was the first day I showed up with a camera, in 2000. And here we are, March 8th, 2002, so just under two years.

RB: Are you a one-man outfit? There’s no other crew?

SHK: It was basically no other crew up until the end. I had a co-editor for a few months, but I shot it, I did the sound, I was the director, I was the producer, I chose the music, and I don’t mean to... but in the end, this past few weeks, getting the film ready, I’ve had some incredibly generous people help me finish the mix and color-correct and do titles. So it opened up a little bit. But mostly it was me and a camera and then me with a computer.

RB: What did you edit on?

SHK: Final Cut Pro.

RB: And can you give us a sort of a range of your budget?

SHK: Zero. [all laugh] I literally don’t know. It was just whatever money I had. It was completely out-of-pocket. I never put together a budget, so I, no there’s no real number. But for you people out there who might want to buy the film, it was very, very expensive.

RB: Was this your first film?

SHK: Yes it is.

RB: Congratulations on getting it into the SXSW film festival.

SHK: Thank you very much.

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