A packed grandstand of bright-eyed teens packed inside the outdoor amphitheater at Mesa’s Westwood High School on a sun-splashed Wednesday afternoon as they were treated to a performance by a band of their peers ahead of a surprise announcement few knew was coming.
The announcement turned out to be the opening of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Alice Cooper’s newest Solid Rock Teen Center.
The center, which joins the Coopers’ other complex at 32nd street in Phoenix, is set to open this summer near Country Club Drive and Main Street.
The facility – which aims to provide people between 12 and 20 a safe space to practice the performing arts – has become Alice and his wife Sheryl’s passion.
The space, which is completely free for teens to use, is fully funded by Cooper and his Solid Rock Foundation.
Alice addressed the impact music, dance and the performing arts as a whole had on his life, dating back to his days at Cortez High School in Glendale.
He said he wants teens in Mesa and beyond to have a place where they can learn the ropes of the music industry without falling into the traps that can come with it.
He was warmly received by the students, most of whom were far too young to ever hear his music when it was new.
Cooper believes teenagers are eager to learn new things, but need a reason to be drawn in. He’s confident the Solid Rock Teen Center facility can do just that, providing a space where their creativity can prosper.
“I think we said a lot of things today that made them go, ‘I can’t wait for this place’,” Alice said. “I didn’t see a cynical audience – and teenagers are basically cynical. Teenagers are basically pretty rough when it comes to showing them why they should care. These kids weren’t going, ‘show me,’ they were into it, and I love that.”
The main aspect Alice preached, both to the audience and in his post-ceremony remarks, was people have to be passionate about their life’s main interest, whether it be music or anything else, in order to succeed in that endeavor.
“If you hear something in what you’re doing you believe in, everybody in our band believed in what we were doing,” he said. “And so, we said ‘we’re going to college and we went for two years, then we went, we got to go, we’ve got to go give this a shot.’ And it worked.”
Mesa Public Schools Interim Superintendent Peter Lesar is one of the believers in Cooper’s altruistic vision.
To Lesar, having the Solid Rock Teen Center in the heart of Mesa, near public transportation, will make it a popular hangout for students – which he called beneficial in the long-run, whether they go on to become superstars or not.
“The Solid Rock Teen Center is intended to inspire students between the age of 12 and 20, to grow through music and dance as you’ve demonstrated here today, that’s a very powerful thing in the Westwood community,” Lesar said, adding:
“That you’re about performing arts, you’re about family, you’re about community, you’re about reaching into the things you enjoy and expressing those things, both to your peers and to your community.”
Sheryl Cooper, who has toured the world as a dancer in addition to her work with Alice’s touring act, believes the center can be a bastion of creativity for Mesa teenagers.
She has seen the impact the Phoenix location had on the community and sees their second location as a natural evolution into the East Valley.
“Change a teen, change a community,” Sheryl said. “Come on in and find your spark and then be the pilot light for the rest of the community. Ignite.”
For Alice, the teen center provides an opportunity to use the power of music to find a purpose in life, which can pay off in ways hard to imagine from the get-go.
“We’ve noticed there were kids coming in and parents would say to us, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but my kid’s getting better grades. My kids are talking to me now. My kids are wanting to do things at home with us because when they get into that school, they open up’,” Alice said.
“It’s easy when you’re a teenager to get introverted because you’re, everybody’s against me,” he added. “I was a teenager. I was like that.”
Cooper said his reason for funding the centers is to give youngsters a calling in life.
There’s nothing like watching a student perform or achieve something in music they never thought possible, he said.
“You can blossom. You have that option to blossom,” he added. “And I noticed kids that blossom are the ones that are really going to do something.”