Today we take a look inside Teen Underground, a place teenagers meet at the Loussac library to work on creative projects. Candace Blas is the coordinator for Teen Underground. She says the group works with all kinds of media, but on Tuesdays they make videos.
“They all have varied interests. There are groups that like to make action films, there are groups that like to get together and make comedy skits, and there is always a zombie film going on. They like zombies, especially with as much fake blood as possible,” says Blas. I don’t see any zombies on my way into the group’s headquarters, but it is rapidly filling with living teenagers.
“They just sort of walk in and know exactly what they’re supposed to do. They grab their computers and their cameras and go off to continue whatever they were working on last week,” says Blas.
The first kids I meet are Alexis and Patricia. They’re best friends, and they inform me that when they first came to Teen Underground they just knew they were going to hate it.
“Well, my mom picked me up from school one day and she was like ‘we’re going to go to the library’ and I was like ‘but the library is for old people’ and she said it’s just this thing about video so I hope you guys will like it and we said ‘we’re not going to like it, it’s going to be boring,’ but then it turned out to be super fun,” says Alexis.
Today all of the teens are getting ready for next week’s video award ceremony. Jyriel is a student here, and he’ll be hosting the event.
“So basically everyone is doing video, and we have to submit it today. And then we’re just showing off to judges and people here. It’s for fun, and you can get awards,” says Jyriel. He is submitting a video of his own titled, “The Force.” The Star Wars inspired film is set to music, and shows a sequence of events that are played backwards to make it look like Jyriel has Jedi powers.
“I’m throwing the book in the action when I’m filming it, and then once I edit it, I make it look like I caught the book with my own hands like the book is coming to me, and I’m putting it back on the shelf. It’s all backwards,” says Jyriel.
Tuesdays at Teen Underground used to only be about video, but Blas says with the programs growing popularity the focus has expanded.
“Now we have students that are specializing in photography rather than video production. We made a radio PSA the other day, so we have students that are focused on different sorts of media,” Blas says.
More kids and more media forms mean more tutors. For that, Teen Underground enlisted the staff of ATMI, the Alaska Teen Media Institute.
Alexis, the girl who thinks the library is for old people, says she likes getting to use professional-grade equipment to experiment with photography. And she says there is a lot to learn.
“We learned how to take it apart, how to put it together without damaging it, and we learned how to focus and change the depth so when you want to do depth of field and blur stuff out and zoom in on one thing,” says Alexis. Teen Underground hasn’t just taught the girls about photography, it’s also taught them responsibility.
“We take it home sometimes and we act like it’s the president’s or something. It’s not ours, and if we break it its $800, it’s going to be pretty expensive,” says Alexis.
And it’s that kind of growth that makes Candace Blas love her job. She gets to teach the kids, but she also gets to witness them when they’re at their best: having fun, and being creative.
“They come to the library every Tuesday, so they’re committed. So whether they’re at the writing stage, the filming stage, or the editing stage, it’s really inspiring to see them so focused and passionate about projects. And to see that in a young person is inspiring to me,” says Blas.