Making students into stars

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2011

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – Production is set to begin Monday on a film project involving students who are part of the 21st Century Learning initiative at Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School and West St. John elementary and high schools.

A few weeks ago, a group of players in the show business scene, led by actor Jaqueline Fleming who owns Jaq’s Acting Studio in Metairie, visited the schools to introduce the project and begin the audition process.

The process continued Saturday, when Fleming and other members of the group including director and acting coach Tommye Myrick, casting director Mae Chapman and actor Lawrence Lejohn observed the talents of about 120 aspiring entertainers.

Because of an announcement on WDSU’s morning show, some of the children who auditioned were not from the aforementioned schools, so they were not eligible for the project. But Fleming said any child who wishes to audition for her may contact her at 504-849-9020 or by e-mail at to set up an appointment.

The project the group will be working on for the next few months will be a sort of show within a show, said O.J. Breech, the director of the River Region Multicultural Chamber of Commerce and leader of the 21st Century Program. The project will be called “16 Weeks,” and it will be a reality show about the making of a short film that will also feature the selected students.

The reality show will follow the students as they learn the ropes and prepare for their respective debuts.

“Of course we’re going to do a premiere, a red carpet event,” said Breech.

Just before the group closed shop for the day, West St. John sixth-grader Keiana Miller auditioned for Fleming and Chapman. She read a scene she had prepared for the audition, and although nerves got the best of her in the beginning, Fleming and Chapman coached her into delivering a great performance.

Tears began to stream down Miller’s face as Fleming declared, “You’re in!”

Fleming even compared her to LaPlace native Taylor Ruffins, who was one of Fleming’s first students and now is starring in a network sitcom.

Miller’s story was far from the only success story of the day, however. According to Chapman, “As a casting director, there were a lot of gifted and talented students who came through here. They still need some work, but that’s why we’re here.”

Fleming said they are looking to cast about 150 students in total. Auditions continued at the schools this week.

Fleming, who most recently appeared in the film “Red,” is not originally from the area, but saw the need to develop local talent and opened her acting studio here for that purpose.

Breech said she got the idea to bring the group to St. John the Baptist Parish because she wanted the students to be able to take advantage of the abundance of film projects that have come to the parish recently.