Catherine Borek / Scott Hamilton Kennedy Interview
From a handful of Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies, we got
the mantra, "Lets put on our own show! We can use
my fathers 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: Im talking with Scott Hamilton Kennedy,
director of the documentary OT: Our Town, and Im
also speaking with the teacher from the high school, whose
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
SHK: Its about Dominguez High School in Compton,
California, hasnt 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 didnt have a theatre they
had to put it on in the cafeteria, and its the struggle
for these kids and these teachers to put on the play, and
also relate and identify with this play. Its 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 isnt, and they think its kind
of an old play, and little by little they come to find something
in it, and thats 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 doesnt have
a theatre. It hasnt had a theatre in, since it was built
in the 1950s. So it doesnt make it very easy to put
on a play when theres 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 thats suffered in Compton
in particular? Compton High?
CB: I think Compton is particular to it. I know that
Compton High Schooltheres three high schools in
Compton, two of which dont 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
RB: So why did you select Our Town?
CB: Its 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 dont 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
dont need a set for it. So that was one thing. Id
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 howd
it come about?
CB: I think some students were emerging as actors
since Id been teaching there. Id 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 theyre not feeling the play as
much. So its 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
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
Im 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
CB: They have. Its really exciting. I got a
note from one of my students last week, whos starring
in two plays at his Long Beach Community College. And then
another one at UC-Northridge, whos 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 peoples lives, on young people...
CB: The note that I got from one of my students, George
Rodriguez, was just so sweet. Hes 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: Thats great, because its sure not
the paycheck when youre 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 theyd put on. And I was very happy to do that.
Id 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 its a tough place to get things done.
And its 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 didnt 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? Theres no other
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 dont mean to... but in the end, this past
few weeks, getting the film ready, Ive 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
SHK: Zero. [all laugh] I literally dont know.
It was just whatever money I had. It was completely out-of-pocket.
I never put together a budget, so I, no theres 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
SHK: Thank you very much.