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The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

The Institute for Theatre Journalism & Advocacy Scholarship

The KCACTF sponsors workshops in each region called the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA). Once called the National Critics Institute, the newly envisioned 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. Critics from the regional institutes who are fortunate enough to study at the O’Neill National Critics Institute, for example, rarely explore just criticism as a field. Instead, they seek work in all aspects of theatre.

While a few head to graduate schools in criticism and many work as journalists, 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. They interview, observe, and reinvent, responding more actively to and with invited productions, and they interact with the rest of the festival, rather than working sequestered from it.

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 sent to a National Selection Panel, convened by the Kennedy Center, who will choose the most promising four advocates from the eight submitted (one from each region) to advance to the Kennedy Center. From the four advocates selected, one writer will be advanced to work with Chris Jones at the prestigious National Critics Institute in July at the O’Neill Theatre Center during its national playwriting conference, where he or she will work with leading professional newspaper and magazine critics from across the United States. All expenses will be paid. But the four chosen advocates from the regions will be in Washington studying with critics such as Peter Marks from The Washington Post and Bob Mondello from NPR and the City Paper.

The Associate Director of the O’Neill National Critics Institute as well as National Coordinator of ITJA, Mark Charney invites you to identify as many promising theatre advocates as you can to join the newly reframed Institute. If you think other departments have students who would be interested, please have them contact him directly at

The Institute for Theater Journalism and Advocacy seeks students in ALL disciplines who want to explore how they can best advocate for theatre and the performing arts using written, oral, and other communication skills as their medium.

Previous Award Recipients

Alix Rosenfield, Villanova University
Calan Welder, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Jane Huffman, Kalamazoo College
Rick Chason, University Massachusetts - Boston
Shelby Vander Molen, Northwestern College
Jamie Leigh Stevens, Middle Tennessee State University
Sammy Scott, Western Washington University
Stephen Mrowiec, Middlebury College
Susanne Parker, Clemson University
Rita Anderson, Texas State University-San Marcos
Georgia Young, Texas State University
Andrew Vitalo, Pennsylvania State University
Jessica Drake, Westmont College
Jack Crory, Fitchburg State College
Mark Costello, Villanova University
Jeffrey Carpenter, Central Washington University
Bradley Troll, University of New Orleans
Kelly Hines, DePaul University
Gabrielle Gaston, University of Utah
Scott McCarrey, Sam Houston State University
Pasha Yamotahari, Scottsdale Community College
Sarah Roquemore, James Madison University
Bryan Schmidt, Miami University of Ohio
William T. Reynolds III, University of Denver