Good theatre needs people who can write well about theatre. One of the premises upon which ITJA is based is that people who write about theatre write in many different ways and in many different situations.
Criticism, of course, is still central to what a theatre journalist does but, more and more, theatre journalists are:
- reviewing plays in different venues (papers, magazines, websites, etc.)
- writing blogs,
- doing interviews and writing feature pieces,
- writing material for individual theatres and their websites,
- presenting views of theatre in podcasts,
- regularly tweeting their experiences and insights, and
- looking for new approaches to use technology to communicate about theatre.
Just as playwrights, directors, designers, and actors need chances to develop and hone their craft, theatre journalists and writers also need opportunities to explore some of the different ways they can use their writing skills to contribute to the theatre world. ITJA hopes to provide student writers with one of these opportunities.
As the list above suggests, there are too many different types of writing a theater journalist can explore to try to address them all in the limited time of the annual festival. What exactly happens at the festival will likely be slightly different from region to region and may change each year in this region depending on the strengths of the writers and the Guest Critic invited to the festival.
Still, there are some things that will likely be similar from year to year, region to region. In general, at each festival student critics spend a few days working with an invited Guest Critic and other student writers. The student critics will watch most of the invited productions, write reviews of some of these productions, and undertake other writing and reviewing assignments as selected by the invited Guest Critic. Throughout the week, students will engage in lively, energetic discussion of the plays and the writing they are all doing.
By the end of the festival, students submit a review (or reviews) that demonstrates what they see as their best work. One student critic from each region has the opportunity to be one of four nationally to be selected to attend ITJA workshops at the Kennedy Center. At the Kennedy Center, at least one student critic is selected to attend the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center during its national playwriting conference in the summer. All expenses are paid to both the Kennedy Center and the O’Neill Institute, and student critics at both sites have the opportunity to work with nationally recognized theatre journalists.
ITJA in Region II follows this format: Beginning no later than the second day of the festival, students meet with the guest critic in a seminar setting, where they talk about theatre in general, the plays they see at the festival, different types of writing about theatre, and their assignments. Although the experience is intense and time-consuming, with five or six scheduled sessions, the atmosphere is open and collegial, and students generally leave festival recognizing they have learned a lot and grown as student critics and writers.
Since we recognize that many students coming to the festival plan to do other things—Ryans, Dramaturgy, as part of an invited production, etc.—we try to be as flexible as possible in accommodating each student’s schedule and needs.
All students from the region are eligible to participate in ITJA. A student does not need to be nominated by a respondent or faculty member. There is no pre-screening of writing or resumes. ITJA is also open to students of all disciplines and class levels. In the past, it has included first-year college students as well as graduate students. Although most participants come from theatre programs, students in English and journalism are also welcome and can bring important insights to the discussions and to their reviews. The most important attributes participants share is a love of theatre, the ability to write, and a desire to use these skills to help contribute to the development of strong theatre.
Preregistration (Recommended deadline for preregistration is December 11, 2015.)
Students planning on participating in ITJA should preregister. While we will accept registration when students arrive at the festival (provided there are seats remaining), we prefer that students sign up ahead of time so that we can plan for adequate space. This can be helpful in a couple ways. First, students who preregister will receive any materials the Guest Critic or ITJA coordinator may want students to have before the festival. In addition, if we know ahead of time that students are doing something else at the festival (Ryans, Design, Student Dramaturgy Initiative, etc.) and what they are doing, we will try to schedule the activities to reduce conflict.
What to Bring
The most important things to bring are a passion for good theatre and a desire to write about it.
However, student critics also need to bring a laptop computer or tablet with wireless capability. Students should know that much of the writing they will do occurs at night, after they have seen an evening show. There will not likely be late night computer access at the host school. In addition, we are committed to make ITJA “green” by reducing the amount of paper we print and copy. Students will submit and receive drafts electronically, and they will need a laptop or tablet to do this. Thus, not having one will make the experience more difficult and frustrating. If students do not have a laptop or tablet with wireless capability, they should see if they can borrow through some department at their school.
As critics, students will get guest access to the wireless network at the host university. Also, we are hopeful that most of the host hotels also have free internet access, so students can do work in their rooms.
If you have any questions or want to talk to me more about ITJA, please contact me. I will be happy to respond to faculty and student inquiries.
We look forward to another wonderful festival with lively discussions and strong writing from our student critics.