Everyone's a Critic, but Only One Gets a Comp

At this remarkably glum moment for the arts and arts journalism (I'd link to some examples, but you're probably depressed enough already), I'm stepping into the Guest Critic position at the Region II National Critics Institute of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Next week, for five days, it will be my job to convince a half-dozen or so aspiring young writers that theater criticism is a worthy professional goal. 

But I've got my game face on, and you know why? It's because the current crop of college-age kids are undoubtedly the ones who will transform arts criticism. They're not used to reading a pulp-and-ink newspaper, and they probably don't expect to get a job at one. But they're online ALL THE TIME, and whether they blog or use social networks to share information, they're not wringing their hands over the lack of "classically trained" online journalists. Though the nuts and bolts of good writing certainly don't change, that classical training is in dire need of the kind of overhaul that many journalism professors just aren't qualified to offer, at least not yet, while the dust is still stirring and no one knows quite how it will settle. 

So here's what I'm thinking: I'm going to mix it up a little and run this Institute like a mini-Project Runway: welcome to Project Everyone's a Critic. From January 13-17, the students and I will attend shows, talk about them and write about them. At session's end, I will channel my inner Klum and choose one student to attend the national festival at the Kennedy Center this spring. 

That's where you come in. 

The students, all either college- or graduate-level, have agreed to let me post their writing here--reviews, ledes, whatever they've got--and in an effort to blend new media with old-school written critique, I'd appreciate it if you'd weigh in with your assistance, guidance, words of encouragement, and yes, some critique of your own (remember please, they're still aspiring critics). I'm not collecting votes or anything, but if you have a clear favorite, by all means, let me who it is and why. This is my attempt to give them a taste of what it's like to write as journalists for an audience of internet strangers who have the ability to talk back and aren't afraid to use it.

I'll post the participants' bios in tomorrow's Mack Attack. Until then, I dunno... What's my tagline? Maybe, "Exeunt, stage left."
January 8, 2009 5:30 PM | | Comments (5)


Glad to hear it Terry. Your perspective will be much appreciated! For those just tuning in, Terry Nolen is Artistic Director of Philadelphia's Arden Theatre Company.

This is a tremendous project. And the query letters are terrific -- I want to read those stories. Thanks for sharing this. I will eagerly follow.

This is a great idea!

I competed in this competition last year (region III, with Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune) and got the chance to go to Washington, DC in the spring (I didn't win, though :-)). A few months later I started a full-time arts journalism job, mostly online, in print once a week. It's a dream job and I love it!

KCACTF was a great step on the road to my current job, and I'm so grateful to have had it. Good luck to all the critics this year!

Thanks, and I hope you'll be around to offer your opinion once the students get going. It would be really valuable for them to hear from someone who's made the full transition online.

Great idea! I worked in traditional media-daily newspapers I'm U.K and have moved online. Why should art criticism be confined to a select few who went to the "right" schools and know the "right" people? Roll on the future and good luck to all the folk on your course.

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