CEDAR FALLS — When a venue hosts a public performing arts event, or performers step on stage to play their roles, they are opening themselves up to a critic’s slings and arrows, as well as praise.
This season, the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center invited participants in the Waterloo Writing Project to review shows on the 2017-2018 Artist Series.
“We want to encourage young writers who don’t get many opportunities to experience the performing arts live. It’s also a great way to have some really enlightening and entertaining reviews of our shows,” says Blake Argotsinger, GBPAC associate marketing manager.
Students are accompanied by a volunteer and generally have full access to get a real picture of the live event. “We’ve sent them backstage for meet-and-greets, sat them in the Gold Zone and in the last row of the gallery. They come for pre-show events and watch the performances from start to finish,” he explains.
Some students have been granted interviews, but not everything goes according to plan, Argotsinger says. Tyler King was prepared with her notebook when she and her volunteer were invited backstage to meet REO Speedwagon, but she never got a chance to ask questions. Band member Kevin Cronin said, “We aren’t gonna do your homework for you girls! It’s a rock concert!”
King, a ninth-grader at East High School, gave the show a positive review: “It was a great time. … I thought they did an amazing job, and the entire experience was really fun. I’m glad this was my first concert, and if I had the chance to watch them live again, I would,” she wrote on the project’s blog.
Some students bring their parents to the show, as well. “For us, it’s a way to connect with the community, showcase what we’re doing at the Gallagher Bluedorn and get new patrons through the door,” Argotsinger explains.
The Waterloo Writing Project began in 2015 with the goal of supporting creative students from kindergarten through grade 12. Students from Waterloo and surrounding areas meet from 4 to 6 p.m. Sundays to collaborate and grow as writers and communicators.
Alyssa Bruecken, co-founder and director of the Waterloo Writing Project, says the collaboration with the performing arts center “has been a truly great experience for WWP students. We feel even more a part of the community as writers.”
The mission, she says, is to provide a space for student voices where they “can put their work out there and receive feedback, which is especially important in building confidence in their writing and communications skills. Collaborating with the Gallagher Bluedorn also gives them an opportunity to witness another art form.”
Other collaborations are taking place with an artists’ group called Eyeodine, and Waterloo’s Youth Arts Team.
Volunteers provide a sounding board for students to share their writing, as well as provide encouragement.
Students have reviewed five shows to date this season. “The reviews have been wonderful. They are authentic and showcase the experience from a different viewpoint than we’re used to,” says Argotsinger.
Alex Sanguino, a George Washington Carver Academy sixth-grader who attended a classical concert by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Ensemble, wrote a stream-of-consciousness review: “The beginning song made me feel like I was in a void of darkness, then I am taken to a land full of nothing but joy and happiness. The next song made me feel as if I were a thief and was about to steal something and I was caught and had to serve time …’”
Young reviewers aren’t afraid to call out the GBPAC, either, on such topics as discrepancies in show programs, concessions and a credit card machine that was on the fritz.