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High School Students Dedicate Summer to Film and Stage Productions

Calen Moore - July 14, 2023 9:51 am

Communications teacher Micah Howery directs his production crew for student film. Students and staff have spent the summer making the film and stage productions.

LIBERAL, KS– Even in the summer, the Liberal High School hallways are still filled with drama. Students at LHS dedicated their summer to make a short film, and a dual language stage production, both premiering this summer.   


The drama department and the media department joined forces at the beginning of June to start production on the 15 minute liminal horror short film, written by the Thespian Club throughout the school year. Shot by the video production class, the students have been involved in every step of the process from writing and filming, to editing. One month later, students are still huddling together around a camera to finish the film in time for the premiere on July 29.


Despite coming to school multiple times a week during summer break, the students were not hard to convince to give up some of their time. Valeria Martinez, who will be a sophomore this year, says she wants to be an actress or be involved in filmmaking somehow in the future, she hopes starting now will benefit her later.


“We knew what we were getting into, but it has been worth it just for the experience, some of us really enjoy acting and filming,” Valeria Martinez said.  


Brent Lansden, who teaches various video and media classes, some alongside Bill Van Wyhe, the audio and visual technician at LHS, has been excited to see the growth of his students this summer.


“We love to brag on our kids and this is a real good group of kids we got here, we started shooting back in early June, and of course sometimes it is hard to line up schedules, but these are good kids,” Lansden said. I am a passionate person and I like to get fired up and get them fired up.”


Micah Howery, the communications teacher at LHS, who wrote the play and aided with writing for the movie, trusted his students to work collaboratively on making something they would be proud of. 


Behind the Scenes


Howery and Lansden came to LHS the same year back in 2019, last year Howery approached his colleague and friend Lansden about an idea to have the Thespian Club write a short film and have the video production class shoot it over the summer. 


“It’s important to be here for our students even in the summer, especially in today’s world, so I don’t mind at all taking time out of the summer for projects like this,” Lansden said. “All my kids are raised, so enjoy being around the students and being a positive influence in their lives.”


Howery and Lansden have used these summer projects to build relationships with the students for the next year. 


“I find the time we have and the slower pace over a summer helps allow the students to be more creative and those relationships we build help in the classroom the next year,” Howery said. “Students are a lot more creative than people think.”

Lance Bickerstaff acts in a scene for the upcoming summer student film ‘One by One’ a liminal horror film. Bickerstaff along with students Krystal Zubia (left) and Valeria Martinez (right) have spent the summer acting in scenes. (Photo by Calen Moore.)


The actors and actresses welcomed interviews, the spotlight and the camera without hesitation, while the production crew of students hung back, more reserved, enjoying the behind-the-camera nature of their position. A few students had already graduated, but still saw value in the production and wanted to be part of it. 


One of those students was Conner McElroy, who graduated back in May, and now is operating a boom mic because he still really wanted to be part of the movie. 


“I like the editing process and just hanging out with everyone. I have been filming stuff on my own with my friends, I think it would be cool to get into the field of directing and writing and this was good experience,” McElroy said. 


Tucked behind the small crowd of students was senior Bella Dunnam, crouched over the small LCD screen, working as one of the film’s camera operators. Even though she and McElroy spoke the least, their teachers spoke highly of both of them being integral parts of the production of the movie. 


“I would like to pursue a career out of this, and it gives us more experience with the cameras and the whole process and get better at it,” Dunnam said. 

Bella Dunnam checks the screen to ensure everyone is in frame, while Conner McElroy extends the boom mic. They have helped the film this summer as the production crew, and both hope to make a career out of it. (Photo by Calen Moore.)




Stephanie Cruz and Jennifer Reever are two graduates helping with the production of the movie. Reever said she hopes to “get a good laugh” from the movie and take advantage of the opportunity before she leaves. 


Valeria Martinez, Krystal Zubia, and Lance Bickerstaff all three are acting in the film and have acted in multiple stage productions, and were excited to have the opportunity to act for screen.


“I feel like projects like this are worth it because it helps my confidence in acting, every scene’s performance is something different especially compared to live acting,” Zubia said. 


Bickerstaff and Martinez added they enjoy “staying creative over the summer” and expressed an interest in continuing to participate in opportunities like this. 

Could be a Wrap


Although the students and staff are excited and want to continue making things over the summer, that is not going to be a guarantee.


Howery explained this is the third year doing a summer production and a first for the movie, however, the funding may not be there next year.  


“We have been able to do the movie and the plays in the summer due to money given to us through COVID funding, however, that is over,” Howery said. “If it doesn’t receive funding that will be fine, but it is popular, I think it will be up to the school board.”


According to the CDC, in the last 10 years, thoughts of sadness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors have increased by 40 percent, making teens most at risk for a decline in mental health. 


Providing teens with opportunities to be creative, especially in the summer, can benefit their overall well-being. A study done by Newport Academy found that letting teens be creative helped with their development, identity, and mental health. 


 “What I really want for these students is to make connections between existing ideas, and take those and combine them with other ideas, which makes them more capable of complex thinking,” Howery said.  


From the Screen to the Stage


Howery also wrote a play that will be performed this summer called ‘A Tale of Two Worlds’ on June 14 and 15 at the Black Box at 7 pm for free. The performance will be dual-language in English and in Spanish with subtitles provided. 


Howery said he had students approaching him explaining their parents come to the shows but do not speak English, Howery decided their summer production could resolve the issue. 


“The students helped translate it and they also helped point out cultural inaccuracies to me that I may not have known otherwise,” Howery said. 


Howery said he feels it is important to have conversations around culture, and let students be in on those conversations to force his students to think more deeply about their characters and themselves. 


Howery decided to write the play as a comedy because he felt that it would be the best way to address touchy subjects of different cultures living amongst each other.


This topic was not randomly chosen, because Liberal Kansas as of 2020 had a population that was 62.7 percent Hispanic, which is more diverse than the surrounding areas.


Lansden and Howery are hoping for large turnouts to support their students this summer. The students were laughing at how funny both productions were, and want people to come out and enjoy the events. Howery plans to roll out the red carpet for the students and give them their moment. 


“People complain about having nothing to do in small towns so I think it is cool to give them something to go to and enjoy, have a laugh, or a good scare,” graduated student Jennifer Reevers said. 


The short film ‘One by One’ will premiere July 29 at 7 pm at the Black Box. 



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