Reflections on GRR’s second year

246451_360379124042041_1342385842_n.jpgWhen coming to Syracuse last July, I was skeptical about the amount of theater the tiny metropolis could offer 15 arts journalists. That said, I was even more wary about the amount of worthwhile productions that we’d have the opportunity to see. I had a relatively small understanding of the lay of Central New York’s theatrical landscape before arriving, truly not knowing how deep that acting community ran, nor how impressively eager the local theaters would prove to be.

I was constantly surprised how many shows this town could crank out in a year. There was at least one show opening every weekend—and as my staff and I learned, quickly, sometimes three or more. Between the professional and community theaters in Central New York, the schedules were diverse and exciting — and crammed.

Syracuse has so much theater and not enough time.

Taking over Green Room Reviews has been a highlight of that past year at Syracuse. Founder of GRR, the amazing Lauren Smart, told me I was in for a ride. She also said that if the site ever gets to be too much, to take a step back. Luckily, it never did.

Almost instantly, the staff of GRR fell in love with the theater scene. We felt welcomed, and we felt that our opinions mattered. We got to know the community in Syracuse and the surrounding regions (travelling to Ithaca, Rochester and Auburn for shows as well). Reviews led to conversations and these conversations led to relationships.

When I took over GRR, I wanted to brand the company so that each year when a new batch of students comes in and starts fresh with the site, they would have a solid jumping off point. It’s our hope that directors and actors are sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for GRR to start back up in the fall.

It started with a logo designed by Nick DeSantis.

The ideas kept pouring out from there. The staff and I wanted to make GRR the official theater site of Central New York. Audio previews came about, T-shirts and certificates and lastly a segment with WCNY called “The Green Room,” which won a Telly Award this year, all with the intentions of fostering a relationship between students and artists. And of course, producing criticism that would matter and make a difference to the theater community in Syracuse.

I have never met a group of individuals who were so open to allowing student critics into their theaters. Not only that, but allowing us to keep coming back after a potential negative review. I have found that the troupes in this town are willing to work and experiment right alongside the students. Each time we pitched an idea, every theater we spoke to was on board and willing to learn with us.

Still, we’ve gained just as much from watching and working with the artists. GRR was fortunate enough to provide coverage to the first ever District Festival (an incredible, and growing, theater fest between The Redhouse, Rarely Done Productions and Appleseed Productions). We were around for the start of the Central New York Playhouse and we were able to see Syracuse Stage’s original work “Cry for Peace: Voices from the Congo” before the production headed off to New York City as well as Garret Heater’s new play, “Playing God” at The Covey Theatre Company.

In short, it’s been an incredible year.

As the rest of the GRR staff and I move on from Syracuse, we will forever be grateful for all that you have done for us: helping to transform us from students into critics. You have helped make Green Room into something substantial in this town, and my hope is that each theater will value and learn from our opinions as much as we (and future students) value and learn from your productions. I know I have.

GRR will take its annual summer hiatus until fall when a new Arts Journalism student and staff take over. With a new staff coming in each year, it’s exciting to think about how far Green Room is capable of going, never mind how far it’s already come from its inception.

Thank you so much for a great year of entertainment and inspiration. Thank you for sharing your commitment to the arts with us and allowing us to invade your homes and try new things with you.

An audience member once said to me, “Why go to New York City. We got all this here.” How right she was.

– Josh Austin

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