by Ted Zep
Everyone knows that Superman flies the skies of Metropolis to keep its citizens safe. And Batman prowls the back alleys of Gotham, training a hard eye on the criminal elements who reside there. But what about Akron? Who protects the Rubber City?
By day, Barnhart is a 27-year-old communications student at the University of Akron. By night, however, he is the producer of “Akron Avengers,” a university-sponsored action/drama television series that follows the exploits of a group of superheroes as they struggle to keep the city safe.
Barnhart explains how he became involved.
“Ever since I was a kid, my parents would film my sister and me goofing around and putting on little plays,” he says. “I would be the center of attention—and I loved it.”
When Barnhart first came to the University of Akron he looked to study public relations. However, one day a fellow student gave a presentation to his class about the opportunity that the campus television station ZTV offered. It piqued his curiosity.
“I’d always thought about acting. When I heard [the student] speak, it got me thinking. I wanted to see what I could do before going out into the ‘real world.’”
Soon after, Barnhart joined ZTV. New members are allowed to select the show for which they will participate. A life-long comic book enthusiast, the “Akron Avengers” project was a no-brainer for him.
Barnhart is part of a team composed of roughly a half-dozen other students. This small group does everything, read: EVERYTHING, when it comes to churning out episodes.
“Going in to a show, we usually come up with six to nine plot points that we’d like to see happen,” he explains. “We then fill in the script around those points. Generally, it takes five to ten days to structure and fully write an episode.”
It takes approximately two-and-a-half-weeks to film an episode. Another three days is required to add special effects and edit it. It is then presented to full-time station general manager Juan Contreras, who authorizes the episode for release as-is, or he suggests edits. The episode is then posted online for public consumption.
Barnhart laughs when asked what kind of budget the students are afforded.
“We work with no money at all,” he grins. “Any money spent for props, gadgets or costumes comes out of our own pockets.”
Additionally, each student creates the character they play. For example, there is “Fuerza,” a hero from another city who came to Akron for a fresh start. Or “Amaya,” a regular girl who gained powers after a serum was unleashed upon unwitting citizens. Barnhart himself even dons a costume as the affable jokester, “Mach 7,” a hero who moves with unimaginable speed.
The first season of the show is six episodes long. It focuses on the formation of the group and their struggle with the villainous “White Mask Gang.” In the five-episode second season, some new members of the “Akron Avengers” join the original crew to attempt to curtail the reign of terror of “The Shadows,” a group looking to bring The Rubber City to its knees.
During the end of the second season, Barnhart assumed the role of show producer. It came with challenges.
“The hardest thing to do is work with everyone’s schedules,” he says. “We are a group of college students trying to do what a professional production staff normally would. It’s tough.”
“Akron Avengers” is but one of a multitude of student-run shows that fall under the ZTV masthead. ZTV features a number of programs on subjects that range from science and sports to music and the arts. These shows generally have a news magazine format, which allows students to learn production and hosting skills. During the lifetime of the station, ZTV has generated programming that has garnered five local Emmys and 26 local Emmy nominations. Graduates have gone on to work in all levels of the media.
The third season of “Akron Avengers” is set to drop soon. Barnhart revealed that it will break slightly from format.
“Instead of a bunch of shorter episodes, we are looking to put out two longer ones,” he says. “They will probably be around 40-minutes each.”
Can the “Akron Avengers” save us from the criminals plaguing our fair city? Stay tuned to find out, True Believers.
More information and show links can be found on Facebook/Twitter (@AkronAvengers).
To learn more about ZTV, visit: ZTV.UAkron.edu.
Akron Avengers promo video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOFGsylKtlE
(Headshots of Matt Barnhart in front of the movie posters by Ted Zep)
(Photos of Matt Barnhart as “Mach 7” by Jacob Ruocchio-Cole)