By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
A trio of young Amarillo actors were selected to voice teenage characters in a free educational game available in classrooms around the country.
Harrison Stringer and Emma Martindale were cast in Mission US's "Up from the Dust" as Frank and Ginny Dunn, 14-year-old twins living on a wheat farm in 1930s Texas. Emma's sister, Molly, was cast as Ginny's best friend.
"It's extremely important to try and seek the most authentic voice talent we can find," said Audrey Arbeeny of Audiobrain, which producd the game with WNET and Thirteen, one of the country's top public media outlets.
The game, which is available for free use to any educator at PBS Learning Media, is designed for use by students in grades 5 to 9. Other Mission US games include those set in Revolutionary War-era Boston, slave-era Kentucky and more.
"Our goal is to try to engage young people ... in key areas of US history by taking on the roles of young people in the past," said Mission US executive producer Jill Peters.
In "Up from the Dust," Frank rides the rails and joins the Civilian Conservation Corps, while Ginny helps family and neighbors discover governmental aid programs and meets photographer Dorothea Lange.
Arbeeny said producers searched at Amarillo College and Amarillo Little Theatre, among other places, to find their young stars.
"We were extremely, extremely fortunate that Jason Crespin at the Amarillo Little Theatre Academy really took this project to heart," Arbeeny said. "It's in that kind of grassroots effort that we can really get the authenticity."
Stringer, an 18-year-old senior at Amarillo High School, submitted an audition recording and was cast first; coincidentally, his family was traveling to New York in the summer of 2015 and he recorded his role at the Audiobrain studio.
Emma Martindale, a 15-year-old sophomore at AHS, was cast next, followed by her sister Molly, an 18-year-old senior at Tascosa High School. The sisters recorded their work in Amarillo while linked digitally with Audiobrain.
"I'm so used to being on stage and (audiences) seeing everything I'm doing," Stringer said. "It's hard because you try really hard to focus and harness all that you can bring to life on stage or screen."
Molly Martindale echoed that.
"In theater, when you're saying your lines, you act with it, using your hands, using facial expressions," she said. "When I was saying these lines, I would totally forget there wasn't an audience watching me."
Emma Martindale agreed that the recording process was "really weird" but said she hopes to do similar work again.
"What I loved about the three of them was their maturity," Arbeeny said. "I couldn't believe they were so polite — 'yes, ma'am,' 'no, ma'am' — and they had the right personality and demeanor that made this so special."
A tablet version of the game has been submitted to Apple for purchase as an app; Peters said it should be available by early February.