Reflections on GRR's first year

When Leah Stacy approached me last summer about starting a theater review website, I remember thinking there was no way Syracuse would have enough theater to fill an entire site. But I'd come all the way from Texas to study theater criticism at the Newhouse School, so why not? We didn't have a name, a structure or even a list of theaters in town, but we decided to launch at the beginning of the fall semester. On a trip to Dallas in August, I attended all the shows in town. In one post-show conversation with my friend Blake, he was saying he spent the time between his 9-10 lines in the green room backstage. He said he brought books, had conversations with the other actors and meditated on the next time he'd be on stage.

That was it, I thought. Green Room Reviews - where you go before the show. It was almost too catchy for its own good. Leah thought it would be fun to wear green to all the shows. And at first all of our writers were female, so we could be the GRRls. I purchased the domain name, started a twitter and a week later we showed up at a preview of Disenchanted: Bitches of the Kingdom, which Rarely Done produced at CNY Jazz Central. We walked right up to Dan Tursi, explained who we were and he graciously invited us to stay.

At first it felt a little like a joke - a sham put on by a few graduate students. Leah's first review was more like an outline of why you should see the show. And we knew we'd have to put something on the site at least once a week if we wanted to build a readership. Thank goodness for Syracuse Arts - I found almost all of those first shows on their website. Shadowlands came next and despite Appleseed Productions'  low budget and Syracuse's penchant for dinner theater, I found myself blown away by the talent -  this was community theater like I'd never seen it before.

From there, reviews picked up. It seemed the shows didn't stop opening. Over lunch with Dustin Czarny (Not Another Theater Company's guru) he said "Syracuse is nuts for theater." And almost a year later I believe him.

We covered  small theaters like Garrett Heater's Covey Theatre Company, local staples like Syracuse Shakespeare Festival and suburban companies like  Baldwinsville Theatre Guild. As we grew to upwards of a dozen writers, we  expanded coverage to all of Central New York, including Rochester and Ithaca.

What a ride it's been. Between musicologist Leah Harrison's critical perspectives on the The Met: Live in HD, to Sarah DeSantis' experience of Red Light Winter (the naked show) at Kitchen Theatre Company to theaters hitting my soft spot with pointed shows about Texas, Red Hot Patriot and A Tuna Christmas -companies here have the courage to do it all. Throughout the year, my co-founder dropped out due to lack of interest, I received several emails amounting to "Who do you think you are?" and we covered more than 65 shows.

As I wrap up my master's degree, I consider myself lucky to have experienced CNY theater in the way I have. I take pride in different theater's successes and better understand why critics are slow to give a negative review in this town - we want theater to grow, to blossom.

Green Room Reviews is not going away. There will be a month-long hiatus of reviews, due to graduation and capstone projects. But I committed to working here this summer and will be appointing a new editor from amongst the Arts Journalism master's students of next year. Even if I move in the upcoming year, I look forward to reading reports of the hits and misses from the theater scene on these webpages.

I just want to extend a huge thank you to everyone in the community for sharing your talent with myself, my staff and your respective cities. Central New York has blown me away with its breadth of commitment to my favorite art form.

A standing ovation from GRR and my greatest respect,

Lauren Smart