2020 has been a year of great changes and challenges. Now more than ever we need advocacy. Our nation is changing, our theatre is changing, our festival is changing, and ITJA is also changing—see “What Will Happen.” The challenges we face demand people who can write well about theatre and who serve as advocates for theatre and for the role of theatre in our society.

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.

ITJA can’t do all of this, but we hope to give you skills and ways of thinking about theatre you can use to create relevant theatre journalism.

This year has been full of changes, and ITJA is adapting. Since this will be a “virtual” festival, things will be different this year. But we will try to give you the same sort of experience, actually a better experience, than ITJA students have had in the past.

Here are some of the changes:

  • Two Guest Critics. This year we will be joined by two professional theatre journalists: Andy Propst, formerly a New York critic who created, and Kelundra Smith, a freelance critic from the Atlanta area. Check out her website: This year you will have the opportunity to have your work responded to by two experienced writers.
  • More of an emphasis on Theatre Journalism and Advocacy. You will still have the opportunity to learn and practice theatre criticism of a single play as we have done in the past. But this year you will have opportunities to interview theatre professionals. You will also have the chance to learn about and practice advocacy in your writing. The “thought pieces” you will create will allow you to examine how theatre reflects or does not reflect concerns of society, what theatre does and/or needs to do to make our world better. You will receive guidance for all this work.
  • Virtual Productions. There will be no live performance as the Festival this year. So, we will be watching virtual productions, both productions by schools in the area and taped professional productions. These may be the basis for both your reviews and your thought pieces.

As always, you will spend the few days at the Festival working with our invited Guest Critics and other student writers. You will watch virtual productions, write reviews of some of these productions, and you will try your hand at other types of theater journalism. Throughout the week, we will engage through Zoom in lively, energetic discussions about theatre and the writing you are all doing. We will try to be flexible with the exact schedule and will determine that once we know who the participants are.

By the end of the festival you will submit a review and other theater journalism pieces that demonstrate what you see as your best work. One student critic from each region has the opportunity to be one of four to be selected nationally to attend ITJA workshops through 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. There may be additional opportunities for students who do strong work.

All students from the region are eligible to participate in ITJA. You do 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. 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 relevant theatre.

Since we recognize many students participating in the festival plan to do other things (Ryans, Design, Student Dramaturgy Initiative, being part of an invited production, etc.), we try to be as flexible as possible in accommodating each student’s schedule and needs.

The most important things to bring are a passion for good theatre and an active inquiring mind.

However, student critics also need a laptop computer or tablet and a Wifi connection. Much of the writing the student critics will do occurs at night, after they have seen an evening show. The connection will be necessary to watch the shows and participate in discussions. You will also submit and receive drafts electronically, and you will need a laptop or tablet to do this.


Participation is limited to the first 16 students who preregister, although we will keep a waiting list since plans for some students may change. We prefer that students sign up ahead of time so we can plan ITJA more effectively and help students prepare. Students who preregister will receive any materials the Guest Critics or ITJA coordinator may want students to have before the festival. In addition, if we know ahead of time what your conflicts are, we will try to schedule the activities to reduce conflict.

The Theatre Institute of Journalism and Advocacy

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.


Ralph Leary

Ralph Leary

Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy

Clarion University (Emeritus)

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