The KCACTF sponsors workshops in each region called the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA). The ITJA was established to assist in elevating the level of arts criticism and to provide writers the opportunity to grow at the same pace as the artists, whose work they review and interpret.

Like the Critics Institute before it, it works to train good writers, but ITJA does more. Criticism, especially with the advent of technology, has changed radically, and the remounting of the ITJA reflects that. In the past, critics from the regional institutes who were fortunate enough to study at the O’Neill National Critics Institute rarely explored just criticism as a field. Instead, they sought work in all aspects of theatre.  A few headed to graduate schools in criticism, sure, and many work as journalists, but just as many become dramaturgs, art administrators, public relation/marketing specialists, and writers of plays and screenplays, among other jobs. Those who do become critics rarely work using over night deadlines, and most of the writing is sent electronically. Many graduates from the old Critics Institute are now working in radio and television, orally expressing their opinions using sound clips from the plays or movies they are reviewing.

The New ITJA veers from the classroom model of just writing reviews and critiquing them in round table format. Students who participate are inventive within this framework; they write blogs, previews, interviews, and position papers; they frame their ideas orally (often even in radio assignments); and they work with media specialists who currently embrace the technology of the 21st century. The New ITJA asks the critics to connect with dramaturgy, possibly even sharing a workshop or an assignment. It means we interview, observe, and reinvent, responding more actively to and with invited productions.

In the past, the school hosting the festival has provided the majority of the student critics who have participated in the institute, but in the last many years, we have encouraged each of the participating schools to publicize the Institute more enthusiastically. The process is simple and the rewards are many.

ITJA invites the best writers in your theatre program–and outside of it–to participate in the newly, revised institute, writers who have an interest in advocating for the arts in a myriad of forms. The students selected will meet in daily workshops to look at professional and unprofessional theatre critiques with critics and media specialists with diverse backgrounds in theatre, journalism, criticism, and writing. They will also traverse among the festival, participating actively as reporters, interviewers, and recorders/interpreters of the events in which they actively critique and analyze. Their workshops are no longer limited to a table like an English class, but they use the entire festival as their canvas, upon which they write, comment, and critique, all as theatre advocates. And they no longer post the reviews; instead, they find electronic means to share the best writing, often embracing the region’s website or other means of communicating that incorporates technology.

After the Institute is concluded, the participant who illustrates the most promise will be invited advance to the Kennedy Center. From the eight critics selected (one from each region), at least one writer (and often as many as three) will be chosen by ITJA director and Washington Post critic Nelson Pressley to attend the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center during its national playwriting conference (usually in early July), where he or she will work with leading professional newspaper and magazine critics from across the United States. All expenses will be paid. But all eight will be in Washington studying with critics such as Peter Marks from The Washington Post and Bob Mondello from NPR and the City Paper.

As Associate Director of the National Critics Institute as well as National Coordinator of ITJA, I invite you to find as many promising theatre advocates as you can to join our newly reframed workshop. If you think other departments have students who would be interested, please have them contact me directly at, but they must have a pressing affection for and knowledge of theatre. 

Remember, we’re not looking only for students who want to be theatre critics, although we welcome them too—we’re looking for students in ALL disciplines who want to explore how they can best advocate for theatre.


Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy

National Coordinator of Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy:

Mark Charney