Midway Theater is NOT closed—part two

After a little chat with Doug McDuff of WNTA-1330-AM last week, one wonders if perhaps a little more clarification could have been taken after the July 26 on-air conversation in which a caller stated the Midway Theater was closed. Even though another listener called in to the show after the conversation occurred to say the theater was indeed not for sale and was still operating, it could be argued that the damage had already been done.

Erin Gilbert, executive director of Midway Urban Visual and Performing Arts Center (MUVPAC) at The Midway Theater, said she feels the rumor is one of the reasons ticket sales and show attendance have declined since the summer. She does, however, put equal blame on the State Street road construction that blocked the view of the marquis between April and July.

Last week, McDuff said it was surprising to him that no one from the Midway called him about the mistake, or discussed it publicly until last week’s article was published. Gilbert said she was the caller who identified the problem, but that she only had about 30 seconds (or less) of air time.

“He didn’t ask me any questions, who I was, or anything…I basically interrogated him, and then it was over,” Gilbert said.

McDuff commented last week: “I’m just a sounding board for others’ opinions.” He also offered to interview Gilbert on the radio, and suggested I have Gilbert contact him.

One topic Gilbert will probably mention if she is interviewed on the radio is Midway’s after-school programs. The programs are clear examples of the continuing cultural advancement the theater strives to encourage in Rockford. An array of local artists, poets and teachers conduct classes at the Midway from 4 to 7 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.

On Mondays, local author and poet Debra Jo Howard instructs a poetry class, taking up such topics as performance and writing, meter and rhythm. Howard happens to be one of my local idols, and her intelligence on the topic of verbal art is astounding.

Tuesdays feature a vocal class by Charles Matlock, which covers projection, breathing, and presentation, as well as the production of a résumé and studio work.

Wednesdays, Maya Simmons teaches visual art, and encompasses the use of papiér maché, black and white charcoal, inks, and pastels.

Thursdays have Geri Carter and Jaimie Turner conducting an acting and theater course. They will cover the basics of monologue and dialogue writing, character development and “therapeutic theater.”

Each day, students enrolled in the programs are given homework assignments, and students are encouraged to take advantage of the library to research topics of interest. These programs are for middle school and high school students. Each class is $2.50, or $10 per week to enroll, which makes it reasonable for any parents wanting to give their children a little something beyond what the public schools can afford.

In addition to these programs, Talent Night, held every Friday, features the kids in the after-school program, as well as anyone who feels like signing up. A majority of the performances seem to be rap, hip-hop, dance and singing, but local poets and musicians drop by to give it a shot as well.

All these programs occur in a facility that is just under 100 years old. Erected in 1918 as the Midway Amusement Center, the theater was one of the largest movie cinemas in northern Illinois. Although there hasn’t been a movie shown since 1981, a fund-raising project is currently under way to purchase a new screen. MUVPAC was officialized in 2003; prior to that it was known as The Midway Not-For-Profit Center and was founded and incorporated in 2001.

MUVPAC has redirected the focus of programming toward “under-served” youths between the ages of 12-21. No one is excluded from these programs.

Seating capacity is 1,500, and the theater can be rented for events for $1,500. That’s $1 a seat, and it’s well worth it. MUVPAC also offers rates for promotions of these shows.

Pay attention to the marquis in front of the theater as you drive into the downtown River District. It is always lit up in the evenings, and the advertised events displayed are not a joke; unlike the Times Theater, the words across the board update the public about events.

The Midway Theater is still open, still conducting business, and it is hoped that it will continue to do so with more attendance and attention from the public.

For more information about the Midway and upcoming events, call 965-2511 or visit www.midwaytheatre.com.

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