a critic is born
San Antonio magazine and theater team up in search of the next generation of critics
Adults ask kids for their opinions all the time, but the kids’ answers don’t always hold their intended weight. “Did you like that movie?” can be a bit of a leading question from adults who expect an energetic affirmation over a thoughtful critique. Forming an honest answer — something kids are both famous and infamous for offering — gives kids a chance to connect more deeply with what they saw, and gives grown-ups a fun and sometimes telling window into their experiences.
Live From the Southside Magazine, a San Antonio publication pursuing “things to do” around Texas, has devised a writing program to capture and validate kids’ opinions on local art — by hiring them as reviewers. In a partnership with the family-oriented Magik Theatre, Southside is sending its youngest critics to get the scoop on selected shows, including The Snowy Day & Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats and the world premiere of Junie B. Jones: Toothless Wonder.
Just like the professionals, each junior reviewer from grades three through 12 will receive a free ticket, watch the live performance on the Magik Theatre stage (on the west border of Hemisfair), and submit their review for consideration. Each reviewer has up to 300 words (a significant chunk equal to about half of this article) to parse out their thoughts. From there, Southside will choose its favorites to publish digitally in the magazine and on social media.
The shows will doubtless inspire some cute reviews, but the publication’s goals for its young writers are serious, and the bar is set high.
“Great art criticism places art in its context,” explains Lisa Walden, director of education at Magik Theatre. “It can turn everything on its head by giving audiences insight into the creative process and its relevance to society. We are hoping to develop their questions of how art is created and seen.”
To help kids deconstruct what they’re seeing onstage and voice their thoughts, both the magazine and the theater are guiding the students while also staying in direct contact with parents.
Past the immediate benefits of helping kids understand and connect to live theater, Southside hopes it will inspire a new generation of journalists and creative writers. This partnership is an expansion of another, more general writing initiative called the Kid’s Korner Writing Program that has already shown growth from its November 2021 inception.
“I went from having 10 writers to having over 50 students to contribute within a matter of weeks,” says CEO and Editor-in-Chief April Monterrosa. “Other schools have reached out to us from the community and we have even received numerous requests from outside the Southside footprint.”
Both plays offered in this partnership are adapted from children’s books. The Snowy Day & Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats (rescheduled to February 20 due to, coincidentally, actual snow) is recommended for children ages 3 and older, and according to Magik, depicts the “joyous discovery and innocent wonder shared by any child delighted by a snowy landscape.” This performance is open to everyone that day in a pay-as-you-wish model that aims to make live theater more accessible for families, and raises some interesting questions families can explore with their reviewers about the tangible value of art and artists’ labor.
Junie B. Jones: Toothless Wonder (May 6) is recommended for slightly more mature kids, ages 5 and older, and may feel familiar to some parents who remember the first book of the series in 1992. In this play, first grader Junie B. Jones grapples with twin dramas: losing a tooth and not being invited to a birthday party.
Student reviewer applications must be sent by Friday, February 11. Southside offers the following instructions for applicants: “School officials and parents who are interested in having their students become contributing writers for Live From the Southside, please don’t hesitate to contact April Monterrosa, Live From the Southside editor-in-chief, at firstname.lastname@example.org.