Celebrating Houston's MasterMinds

We pass on a bit of luck to the recipients of our first creativity awards

Each year, about 300 students try to get into the Broadcast Academy, but only 45 new students are accepted. Irving looks at all the applications, reviewing TAKS scores and discipline records, and some students even submit a demo reel of video clips created in middle school.

If accepted, academy students follow a course structure from freshman year to graduation, and they must maintain an 85 average in all classes. Many students in the academy aren't zoned to Hightower High, so if they fail or drop out, they'll have to leave the school.

Freshmen take introductory classes, like media ethics, before learning technical aspects of broadcast and editing as sophomores. The juniors are on camera, working on the live news broadcast, music videos and other projects — this year the community television program and wetlands documentary.

Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson hope to have the Fodice Foundation up and running in three years — although five may be more realistic.
Daniel Kramer
Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson hope to have the Fodice Foundation up and running in three years — although five may be more realistic.
The Fodice Foundation will be located in an abandoned schoolhouse in East Texas.
Katy Anderson
The Fodice Foundation will be located in an abandoned schoolhouse in East Texas.

Seniors make two short videos in the fall, and during the spring semester they work as a class to produce a film. Screenings of the projects used to be on campus, but Irving has expanded the event to the First Colony AMC in Sugar Land, promoting it as the Music, Video and Short Film Showcase.

"Since I've been here, I've been able to accomplish all the ideas I've had for the program," Irving says.

Irving also helps students land internships at places like the Houston Zoo, Missouri City TV and the Houston Aeros.

This past summer, Garcia worked as a paid intern for the national Web site schooltube.com, where he created, reported for and produced several shows.

"Films are what I'm doing this for, and I'd like to be a film writer because I'm really good at that," he says.

Several colleges are recruiting Garcia in baseball, but he says he wants to study video production and will choose the school with the best media program.

"He's one that's going to stick with it," Irving says.

The wetlands documentary is another ambitious project spearheaded by Irving. The idea started three or four years ago, he says, during his morning commutes to Hightower through constant construction, wondering what happens when developers raze and build over the land.

In September, Irving received a letter from the Captain Planet Foundation, a pro-environment program started by media magnate Ted Turner, saying that his wetlands project would receive $2,500 to cover production costs.

The students have started shooting some video, taking pictures and setting up interviews. The Captain Planet Foundation mandates that the documentary be completed by September of 2009, but Irving wants the film finished and premiered by this summer.

"Doing this documentary is a new experience for me and I love it," says Kaether Rosado, a junior working as a producer on the wetlands project.

Teachers from other area high schools visit Hightower three or four times each year to look for guidance on how to start similar broadcast programs, and Irving predicts that in the next ten years, all Texas high schools will have to offer some kind of certification.

"Already, a lot of colleges can't compete with these high school programs," Irving says. "We're offering stuff light-years ahead of what they offer." — Paul Knight

Nova Arts Project

"Theatre naptime is over." So goes the slogan of Nova Arts Project, a relatively new group in Houston's alternative theater scene. And while that slogan might seem over the top, given that some American cities' theater communities are wide awake and kicking, there is a general feeling among theater aficionados that the art form is struggling to stay conscious in our age of high-tech entertainment.

In Houston, we could definitely use a few more reasons to get excited about live performance, especially in the intimate, low-budget settings where our smaller groups are forced to indulge their passion to put on a show. For Nova Arts, that passion isn't a mere hobby. By its own words, at its Web site and Facebook profile, Nova Arts is on a mission to "re-create classics and inspire new works in a fearlessly theatrical way." The organization wants "a new theatre" that aims to "catalyze, provoke or even offend."

Nova Arts might still have to prove itself as a group of trailblazing radicals, but it's doing a great job introducing new audiences to theater in Houston. Formed by Amy and Clinton Hopper, as well as Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, in 2005, after Stephenson and Amy Hopper graduated from the University of Houston with master's degrees in directing, the nonprofit Nova Arts debuted with the original play Stella...Stella for Star and followed it up with planned seasons of shows that included "updated" versions of classic Greek plays and Shakespeare, peppered with contemporary works like Dan Dietz's wild temp­Odyssey and Maria Irene Fornes's challenging The Conduct of Life.

The group followed a pattern many small arts groups feel they need to follow — nonprofit status, board of directors, build a brand, build an audience, plan a season and try like hell to keep on schedule and budget. But now, the group is ready to challenge that model, streamline operations and approach bigger donors. "I think in the beginning we tried hard, maybe even prohibitively so, to follow the rules," says Stephenson.

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