Emboldened by last year’s success, the Green Room lecture series returns

The Green Room: Dessa

Englert Theatre — Monday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.

Dessa closes out night one of the Mission Creek Festival at Gabe’s. Tuesday, April 3, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

The Green Room is returning to the Englert Theatre this fall. The six-week lecture series, which kicks off on Monday, Sept. 10 with rapper, singer and writer Dessa, is free and open to the public.

The Monday night series will feature speakers and performers recognized as leaders in their fields, and highlight nonprofits doing important work in the Iowa City area. The name of the series is taken from the traditional name for the room where TV guests wait before appearing on camera.

The Green Room is “where the real conversations take place, and the real questions are asked,” explained David Gould. Gould is administrator of the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development and the director of Programming and Events for the Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement.

Gould created the Green Room as a course for UI undergraduates in 2016. It was designed to encourage students to think of new ways of asking questions about important issues, and help them move from asking those questions to taking constructive action.

The Green Room is still a course UI students take for credit, but last year Gould decided to open the lectures to the public. The Englert agreed to host the once-a-week lectures, and MERGE, the co-working space on the Ped Mall, held receptions after the lectures so students and community members could discuss what they’d just heard.

Gould was hopeful the public would be interested in the Green Room when he moved it to the Englert, but not entirely confident. “It’s the only time in my academic career when I’ve woken up at night before a class, because of anxiety,” he said. “The potential for having a failure in a 700-seat theater was very real.”

“It was a kind of a Field of Dreams ‘build it and they will come’ idea.”

They came.

David Gould poses for a photo outside of High Grounds Cafe. Tuesday, August 1, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

For the first Green Room, with Zach Wahls as the featured speaker and Shelter House as the evening’s nonprofit, approximately 400 people showed up. The average attendance for last year’s series — which had speakers ranging from Iowa City magician and author Nate Staniforth to Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father whose his impassioned speech on American values at the 2016 Democratic National Convention infuriated Donald Trump — was more than 600, according to Gould.

“The receptions at MERGE afterwards to continue the conversations would be attended by 40 to 60 people,” Gould added.

Turnouts like that helped fulfill Gould’s first two goals for the Green Room. First, it was important to actually get people to attend — otherwise nothing else could happen. Second, it was important that members of the community were engaged enough by the ideas they heard in the lectures they would want to participate in group discussions.

“We certainly accomplished out first goal. I think we made good inroads into our second goal,” Gould said. But last year’s series was less successful in achieving its third goal of getting people to engage with the issues beyond that Monday.

“The final piece is to get people to be participants in actions to improve the community,” Gould explained. “We had moments of that. And I would like to try to create more of those.”

To accomplish that goal, Gould has made a few changes to the Green Room.

“I’m asking each of our nonprofits to have an action step ready,” he said. “To show community members how they can help in very tangible ways.”

There are also changes to what the series has been calling “community homework.” It consists of such things as writing prompts and suggestions for action.

“They’re not meant to be time-consuming,” Gould said. “They’re meant for you to think, reflect or act in some small way that will set the tone and connect with whoever is going to be that week’s guest.”

Last year, the Green Room students were tasked with coming up with the prompts, and did so just before each lecture. The prompts were handed out to the audience, and people were encouraged to post their thoughts, reactions and actions on social media.

It was not particularly successful.

“This time, each of our [featured speakers] is creating their own community homework assignment,” Gould said. These will be posted online, so the people can work on them before coming to the lecture. Links to the prompts will be included in the profiles of the speakers Little Village will publish each week.

People are encouraged to bring what they write in response to the prompts to the lectures. Students will collect them, and read them during the evening.

“They’re going to use them to pick out some of the voice in our community to share with everyone,” Gould said.

In response to a question about the potential downside of calling these efforts to increase engagement “community homework,” Gould admitted he did understand many people have a visceral, negative reaction to the word “homework.”

“They’re meant to be fun. They’re meant to be meaningful. They’re meant to be engaging for everyone,” he said. “No one is getting graded. They aren’t mandatory — no one has to worry if they aren’t interested in doing it.”

Still, Gould said he’s going to work on coming up with a name for the exercises that won’t evoke memories of school-day drudgery.

It will be just one more change for the Green Room’s third year.

2018 Green Room schedule

Sept. 10
Dessa, rapper, singer, spoken word artist, writer, and record executive.

Sept. 17
Peter Aguero and Sara Peters, Moth storytellers.

Sept. 24
Dan Lerner, speaker, author, educator who co-teaches The Science of Happiness, of one of the most popular undergraduate courses at New York University.

Oct. 1
Kathy Eldon, author, filmmaker, and founder of Creative Visions

Oct. 8th
Jesse Elliott, Director at The Music District, with Rachel Ries, songwriter, performer, and community choral leader from Minneapolis.

Oct. 15
Casey Gerald, author of There Will Be No Miracles Here: A Memoir and founder of MBA×America.

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