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The Power of Perspective: How Content Changes with Students Behind the Camera

By August 9, 20234 min read

Editor’s Note: After 16 years of teaching secondary English, including years of coaching speech and advising the yearbook staff, Heather Zaruba learned something new about perspective. She took a GoPro to a local high school’s staging of Beauty and the Beast, where she had permission to go backstage before the start of the performance. In this blog, Heather takes us along for the ride. 

For the first 15 minutes or so, I walked around backstage taking video of teenagers doing mic checks, making adjustments to the set, and doing hair and makeup. Students kept about their business, but most were on unknown-adult-in-the-room behavior. My video backstage was okay, but it had the same outsider perspective I felt when I recorded it. Then, I saw my in.

One of the cast members was doing an Instagram takeover for the theatre’s account. I asked if I could follow him around and record him as he filmed impromptu interviews with the castmates and crew. He was kind enough to allow it, so I became his shadow for the next 10 minutes. I was able to get a little more student-to-student interaction and felt a little more included. 

As showtime approached, I was reaching the calm before the stormmajor preparations for the performance were finished, and the cast and crew were enjoying some unstructured time to socialize and be silly teenagers. Not the kind of thing that provides great insider footage if you’re an adult they don’t know well. So, my video was better with my student chaperone, but I wanted a more immersive experience.

“The depths of the students’ friendships and connections were clear, reflecting a different side of the school’s theatre program—one that maybe even conjures up memories for viewers who were once part of student theatre productions themselves.”

Finally, my 17-year-old (who was part of the tech crew and seemed to be doing everything possible to avoid me) took pity on me and began to acknowledge my existence. Once Belle’s (no, not that Belle) group of friends took me in, I felt more included, but I still wasn’t getting good video. Until Belle decided the GoPro looked fun and took over. After a brief tutorial on how to run the GoPro and a very general direction from me to get “a variety of backstage footage,” Belle took the GoPro, and I took my seat in the auditorium. 

The Authenticity of Student-Generated Content

Three hours later, Belle returned the video camera, and I anxiously looked through what she captured in the last moments before the musical began. The first few videos were short and included a lot of extreme closeups of teenagers channeling their nervous energy into funny faces and loud noises. There were a few pretty hilarious scenes: one cast member lounging across a chair in full costume and character (despite an obvious lack of backdrop and no set in sight); another student lying on the floor as a castmate playfully pulled her around by the feet.  

In the presence of their peers, the students opened up. Their creative energy was on full display. The depths of the students’ friendships and connections were clear, reflecting a different side of the school’s theatre program—one that maybe even conjures up memories for viewers who were once part of student theatre productions themselves. At the same time, the tenor of the video clips shifted to something altogether more authentic, more interesting, more engaging.

Then the videos changed again. I’m moving undetected through the makeup room. I’m feeling the tension of the tech crew realizing that goof-off time is over, and we’re moving from the open music room to the dim hallways cluttered with elaborate props and costumes. One of the actors is taking a quiet moment to himself before going on stage. And then a couple of cast members approach the camera, sticking out their tongues and making silly faces. Then, back to business.

Belle sets the GoPro on a shelf at the end of a hair and makeup room and leaves it recording for the next eight minutes.

Powerful Transformations

Watching the video on hyperlapse, I see crew members dressed all in black setting up their workstations. Cast members in villager costumes filter into the room and sit in front of the mirrors at each station to have their hair braided and colorful wigs pinned on. Wait, purple bobs?! I realize I’m seeing the transformation of villagers to the characters in the enchanted castle (forks, spoons, napkins…) just before the elaborate “Be Our Guest” performance.  

The performance is continuing on the stage with the main characters, while the ensemble and crew get ready for the number most of them describe as their least favorite because of all the preparation it takes.

Now I get it. Watching from the audience, “Be Our Guest” is phenomenal.

Putting students behind the camera can feel risky and overwhelming, especially if you don’t have the proper systems and controls in place. Class Intercom is fundamentally designed to do exactly that: Empower students to capture moments and bring stories to life without losing control. Interested in learning more about the technology that makes experiences like Heather’s possible across the unique and diverse areas of your school or district? Get in touch to learn more.

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Heather Zaruba

Heather Zaruba is a former educator who is passionate about helping schools share their stories and instill digital citizenship skills in their students and staff. She worked directly with schools in her time with Class Intercom and continues to serve the sector in higher education.