The folks at Juniata College are poking fun at academia.
The college's digital media program, alumni, faculty and staff have collaborated to create "Office Hours," a six-episode situation comedy that parodies life as a university employee - in any and all capacities. The show, which debuted in October 2010 and ended its first season on Jan. 10, is divided into segments called "webisodes."
The series was written by Kevin Ott, a 1997 Juniata College graduate who worked briefly for the Huntingdon Daily News and the Altoona Mirror. Currently, he is a writer with the Writers Guild Foundation in Los Angeles, Calif.
Marci Chamberlain, a 2010 graduate of Juniata College, Huntingdon, looks off camera during filming. She plays the central character, Jenny Clancy, an idealist adjunct anthropology professor, in webisodes of “Office Hours.”
Working on the set are (from left) Ryan Wetzel, director and multimedia specialist at Penn State; Jay Hosler, associate professor of biology who plays Mark Deacon, a history instructor; crew member Wylie Earnhart and Nathan Wagoner, director of new media communication. Wagoner is checking footage.
"I saw this first as a comic strip like 'Dilbert' set at a university," Nathan Wagoner, the college's director of new media communication who organized the production team and conceived the idea, said. "However, as the cost of cameras and equipment came down and things like YouTube made it easier to find an audience on the Web, it made sense to try this as a comedy webisode."
Hence, welcome to Juniper College, a fictional liberal arts college - one that looks suspiciously like Juniata College, according to the show's press release - where gossip, one-upmanships, condescending behavior and gastrointestinal upset competes with the educational aspects of college life.
"I just want people to enjoy the world of academia from the standpoint that it can be funny," said director Ryan Wetzel, a 2009 Juniata College graduate who works as a multimedia specialist at Penn State, University Park. "I wanted to give a voice to academics within the system ... to show how they can feel like they're getting crushed by the weight of things like the hierarchical structure of tenure. This can be poked fun at and looked at from different perspectives."
Wagoner, 53, of Huntingdon also realized that Juniata College's liberal arts-based educational model had produced a number of alumni who have worked in film, theater, writing and other Hollywood-style jobs. He is in charge of creating the college's marketing videos and teaching parts of the college's digital media curriculum.
The "Office Hours" project was created and completed during off time for its many participants, which includes about 50 cast and crew members.
"There is a sense of this project being experimental, that we're making it up as we go along," he said. "It's a huge, long-term training exercise for all of us and a community building project that has students working side-by-side with faculty, staff and alumni."
The entire series can be seen online at http://junipercollege.gloriousrobot. com.
Many of the participants in the project either work at Juniata or recently graduated from the college.
The series follows the adventures of an adjunct anthropology instructor named Jenny Clancy as she experiences her first semester teaching at Juniper. Jenny is played by 23-year-old Marci Chamberlain, a 2010 Juniata College graduate in theater who works as an enrollment counselor at the college.
"It has been an absolute blast," Chamberlain of Huntingdon said. "This is really the first film acting experience I've had on this level. It's just a totally different experience than theatrical acting - quite eye-opening to be able to develop this skill.
"It's been great and very unique, and it really says something about Juniata as a college and as a community. I really don't think anyone else is doing this ... having as much fun as we do."
Other Juniata College employees in the cast include Jay Hosler, a biology professor who plays an overeager "faculty guide" for Jenny; Jim Tuten, a Juniata historian who plays a professor with very stringent office hours; Katie Dickey, assistant director of alumni relations, who plays a severe, politically correct politics professor; and David Hsiung, another Juniata historian, who plays a condescending psychology professor.
"There's not a lot of entertainment out there that looks at the college as an environment," Dickey, 35, of Huntingdon said. "You have plenty of doctor dramas, police and courtroom dramas ... this just seemed like it was sort of uncharted territory. We know something about it, so it was easy for us to go there. It's an intercollegiate experience bringing us all together and having a good time."
Wagoner is considering a second season for the sitcom, which has received media attention from the Chronicle of Higher Education and a few other media outlets.
"In the long run, I would like to see the show take on a life of its own," he said. "We have a chance to do something bigger than any of the individuals who are part of it, and I think we're moving toward that."
Mirror Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.