The way Jay Pitts sees it, the productions his staff puts together each year at Palmetto Boys State in South Carolina are just as important as the political elements the delegates learn during the week.
“Over the years we’ve been doing this, I’ve got guys that had no idea that journalism was something they wanted to go into, or that producing television is something they would go into,” said Pitts, the performing arts and production director at Palmetto Boys State. “You never know when that young person that’s experiencing all this, it may turn his mind into something he wants to do.
“Second, if we’re building a state, it’s not just a political state. It’s got to be an entertaining state, that’s why we have the law school, that’s why we have the criminal justice academy, that’s why we have the leadership school where we talk about sensitive subjects like hazing and bullying and discrimination. It’s all of that because that’s part of the real world and real life. And if you’re educating young men in the world … they’ve got to know all this stuff.”
Pitts and his crew of Boys State alumni guide a group of delegates each year through a nightly news broadcast, daily social media posts, and nightly assemblies whose production values rival those of the professional events Pitts has produced, such as the Miss South Carolina pageant — and which come together in almost half the time.
Pitts’ staff brings in additional lighting, sound and video equipment for their productions at Anderson University’s Henderson Auditorium. But those costs are offset by the digital download cards they sell to delegates and their parents.
“We’re shooting hours upon hours of footage and it’s all being edited in the moment and being put on a digital download card so at the end of the week, we’ll have a thousand digital download cards that we’ll sell,” Pitts said. “Those digital download cards have 6-8 hours of video, 2,500-3,000 photographs, and each citizen gets a download card, goes home and puts all of that into his system and his Boys State experience is with him for the rest of his life.
“We used to do DVDs, that was expensive. … it was costing us at least $5,000, $6,000 to do that. These guys introduced me to this digital download card. I have one guy designated to do nothing but take everything we’ve shot every day … so Saturday morning at graduation, the parents will be told, you need to buy this download card. We sell them for $20 a pop, and that money actually takes care of all the equipment that we have to rent — lighting, sound, video wall, video playback, so we’re self-sufficient. We don’t really cost the program any money, we kind of break even. But then Saturday morning when we’re tearing everything down, they’re actually downloading the rest of graduation and the end of Boys State so that when we go home Saturday afternoon, everything is out there. Trust me, they get home Saturday night and they’re downloading this stuff and reliving Boys State,” Pitts said.
The production staff’s work each year begins in earnest in October, when staff are selected and assignments are made for the following year.
“We map out a plan in January and February and we execute that plan in March, April, May and June. We’re very organized and to the point,” Pitts said.
The production needs lighting designers, lighting directors, sound designers, sound directors, stage managers, musical directors, choreographers, videographers, a graphic designer, producers for the social media-focused PBS Today and the news broadcast WPBS, and the digital download group.
“We have a host of multi-talented staff members who — Boys State changed their life when they were Boys Staters. And most of us would sweep the floor to be part of this program. So based on that and the talents that they have, it’s an automatic that they bring their ‘A’ game every year, year after year after year. So we really never have a problem recruiting production staff individuals to come and help us,” Pitts said.
The week culminates with Friday night’s combined talent show and awards presentation, called the Sinkies in honor of longtime program director Sinclair Lewis.
“It kind of blows your mind, because you don’t know these kids on Sunday, you don’t get to know them until Tuesday, you’re auditioning them until Wednesday, and then you pull all this together and they rehearse it in a day or two and we’re doing it on Friday night,” Pitts said.