SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG — Lights, cameras and action will soon be taking over a local middle school.
Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School theater teacher Victoria Chatfield earned second place in the national Voya Unsung Heroes competition — winning a $12,000 grant to buy equipment for a new program that turns student screenplays into films.
Chatfield, 29, has been teaching at the school for five years and started the theater program from scratch last year, she said.
The school's 320 students, from fifth to eighth grade, learn everything from acting and theatrical design to playwriting and directing.
But one student bucked the play format last year and wrote a screenplay about a young man's fight against gang culture instead, a story that was applauded and beloved by his classmates.
Chatfield saw an opportunity to teach her students film and applied for Voya Financial's Unsung Heroes grant competition in hopes of winning a $2,000 grant to buy a video camera.
Instead, she won a total of $12,000 for the project, "Screen It," winning second place out of nearly 1,000 applications for school projects.
Chatfield hopes to spend it on additional items so that different students can continue to experience filmmaking each year.
"We're looking forward to getting some Final Cut Pro, getting a boom mic that the kids can use. We want to get a green screen," she said. "The sky is the limit for the kids."
Chatfield has been teaching for seven years and started at Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School as a reading teacher.
But her background is rich in theater.
She graduated from Barnard University with an English major and a concentration in theater. She's the co-executive director for the National Theatre for Student Artists, an organization that brings in students from across the country to create new off-Broadway work.
And as a teen, she started her own theater company, she said.
"It was a big part of the reason why I’m really big on student-run, student-managed work," Chatfield said. "That’s what I was doing at that age."
With money for new equipment, Chatfield hopes that the school will be able host a short film festival at the end of the year, with three to four films produced and created entirely by students.
Ideas for the student's short films go far beyond the gang culture storyline that first inspired her to apply for the grant.
The screenplays include a tale of a dragon attacking a kingdom where the princess — instead of the prince — must save the day to a story of a zombie apocalypse where a young girl must take a boy under her wing.
Students are expected to start filming by December and have a festival at the end of the year, Chatfield said.
"They are definitely creative kids," she said. "Their ideas are just mind-blowing."