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Tommy Awards Student Critics Program

Among the students taking part in the Tommy Awards Student Critics Program this year are, seated from left, Lillian Norman, Teagan Davis, Elijah Genda and Blythe Callahan; and standing from left, Sydney Hansing and Olivia Osinski.

High school students are learning how to look at Broadway theater with a critical eye through a program offered at the Overture Center.

Students in the Tommy Awards’ Student Critics Program attend Broadway shows playing at Overture and then write critiques. Their writings are then discussed at the group’s meeting preceding the next show they attend. Excerpts of the critiques also are printed in the Tommy Awards newsletter.

“This really forces you to take the time and really think about it,” Emily Newmark, a sophomore at Janesville Parker High School, said about critiquing shows.

Newmark, who has performed in musicals, said she was interested in critiquing the shows because it would allow her to see a different side of the theater experience.

She said it also gives her a chance to work on her writing while doing something she loves.

The critics program, which includes entrance to the shows, is offered free to students. It is part of the larger Tommy Awards program, an education initiative by the Overture Center and named for former “Dukes of Hazzard” television star and Broadway actor Tom Wopat, who is a native of Lodi.

Educators, industry professionals and theater experts review productions at more than 60 high schools, provide feedback and advice and honor schools’ and individuals’ achievements with category-based awards.

Blythe Callahan, ninth-grader at Waunakee High School, said the critics program has helped her communicate what she likes. Lillian Norman, a junior at Madison East, said the program has given her an opportunity to see shows and learn more about writing in a journalistic style.

“I have a whole new knowledge of what goes into it,” said Elijah Genda, Waunakee sophomore.

Lindsay Christians, a fine arts critic and reporter for The Capital Times, has volunteered to run the critics program for the last several years. This year, nine students from high schools around south central Wisconsin are participating.

“I am hoping that they learn to look at theater in a deeper way,” Christians said. “I want them to go beyond, ‘I liked it’ or ‘I didn’t.’ I want them to cultivate a passion for this art form but also learn the language to talk about it.”

Christians also said she hopes the program creates energy around theater and that students learn to talk about things from a different perspective.

“It’s a way to get other students involved who might not be performers and give them an opportunity to see these big Broadway shows and look at them critically,” said Karra Beach, programming and community engagement manager at Overture. “We have really enjoyed seeing the critiques we get back from them, too. It is really interesting to hear what those students have to say.”

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