As a raven danced to mandolin music to chase the night away, the cameras rolled and the lights slowly came up on Western Carolina’s new motion picture stage. The recent filming of Cullowhee theater group Whimzik marked the first production on the updated stage in Ramsey Regional Activity Center, and offered an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to gain experience with the facility. “The Whimzik production allowed us to get a sense of the space and how to use the new equipment,” said Arledge Armenaki, associate professor of cinematography.
Last year, an underutilized TV recording venue in Ramsey Center was retrofitted into a modern, 30-by-30, 18-foot-tall motion picture stage. Jack Sholder, director of the WCU Motion Picture and Television Production Program, said then-Chancellor John W. Bardo had first talked to him about adapting the studio in Ramsey seven years ago, and the project recently won approval for $160,000 in funding. “In terms of square footage, it’s not a big stage – not a Hollywood stage – but it’s a real movie stage,” said Sholder. “It’s big enough for us to build a set, and has a separate classroom and tools students can learn to use. This fall, students will build a cabin in the woods on the stage for part of a movie filmed for a senior project. We are excited. It’s fantastic.”
The facility has more capabilities than an older teaching stage in Killian Building and features equipment and lighting systems more typical of today’s movie sets, said Armenaki. “We are so thankful,” he said. “The stage truly offers a higher level of training for our students. The lighting system alone enables us to do lighting effects on camera that were not possible on the Killian stage, such as changing levels quickly and having multiple lighting setups at one time.”
As the first production to be filmed in WCU’s motion picture stage, Whimzik is a mask-and-music group created by Kjelsty Hanson and Glenn Kastrinos. Kastrinos, an assistant professor of recreational therapy, sings and plays wooden flute, a bawu Chinese wind instrument, tin whistles, octave mandolin and guitar. Hanson, who earned a master’s degree in fine arts, accompanies Kastrinos’ music by moving in masks she has made or by playing the bodhran, an Irish drum.
They have found their shows resonate with clients in therapeutic settings. “When we performed for a group of people who had developmental disabilities or psychiatric conditions, several came up and danced,” said Kastrinos. “They really connected to the characters and were right there emotionally – laughing or crying. The performance also brought out the clients’ creativity, and they shared their talents through their reactions.”
The couple plans to send the Whimzik video recorded at WCU to educational and therapy facilities and small theaters to demonstrate what they do. They said they were grateful to work with the entire WCU crew. “The students have been so hardworking, and they just love the work,” said Kastrinos. “You can see their passion.”