jakub | April 15, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | Pittsburgh Public, American Theatre to Partner for Criticism Fellowship

PITTSBURGH: Theatre artists rely on several sources of feedback for their work: the size of the audience, feedback from impassioned directors, standing ovations. But with increasing layoffs at newspapers and other media outlets, it seems that arguably the most impactful feedback of all—the weighty input of professional critics—is on a steady path toward irrelevance.

Pittsburgh Public Theater and American Theatre magazine don’t agree. Today the two organizations are announcing a groundbreaking investment in local arts journalism and in the next generation of theatre critics with Critical Insight, a new generative arts journalism fellowship that will bring the best in the field to early-career and aspiring critics through mentorship, professional insight, arts experiences, and an immersive regional theatre retreat. Applications to the inaugural cohort are available now at PPT.org/Insight and close July 15.

“Arts journalism is a critical part of our cultural community and creates incredible provocations for audiences and artists alike,” said Pittsburgh Public Theater artistic director Marya Sea Kaminski in a statement. “Critical Insight is truly contributing to the canon, to the amazing legacy of artists coming out of Pittsburgh, like August Wilson and Andy Warhol, who wouldn’t be the artists they are today without the dialogues critics foster.”

Critical Insight will feature seminar sessions with leading guest speakers who represent the best of contemporary theatre journalism, from both esteemed legacy publications like The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times, New York magazine, and the Los Angeles Times, and pioneer publications like HowlRound Theatre Commons and Rescripted. Said seminar leader and co-chief theatre critic at New York magazine/Vulture.com Sara Holdren in a statement, “I’m so excited to be a part of Critical Insight, which is exactly the kind of imaginative, collaborative, good faith project American theatre needs. Critics have the ability to reveal an artform to itself—to be, just like the makers of art, ‘the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.’ Vital theatre needs robust criticism, and vice versa, and so it’s thrilling to participate in this new effort to galvanize and reflect on these sister forms, and to foster a next generation of passionate writers and makers.”

Work generated through the fellowship will appear occasionally in American Theatre magazine, in fellow-curated newsletters, and in partnership with Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation. Fellows will also be mentored by American Theatre magazine’s editors, including editor-in-chief Rob Weinert-Kendt.

“Our magazine’s mandate is to report and reflect on the nation’s diverse, wide-ranging theatre scene, and we can’t do that without also nurturing new generations of writers,” said Weinert-Kendt in a statement. “Critical Insight is an ideal way to find and encourage the folks who will not only help American Theatre do its job, but who can enrich and broaden the dialogue around theatre everywhere.”

Fellows will receive a stipend from Pittsburgh Public Theater and complimentary season subscription to numerous theatre companies in the Pittsburgh area, thanks to the Public’s partnerships with organizations including Quantum Theatre, the New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh Playwrights, and more. Critical Insight will culminate with an all-expenses-paid four-day regional theatre retreat in spring 2025 to Washington, D.C., where fellows will be immersed in another thriving theatrical region.

Applications to the inaugural class of Critical Insight fellows are due July 15 and are available at PPT.org/Insight. The program, which will admit up to eight fellows, begins in September 2024 and concludes in the spring of 2025. Prospective fellows should have fewer than two years of professional arts journalism experience, be located in or near the Pittsburgh metropolitan area for the duration of the fellowship, available to attend a majority of seminar sessions on occasional Wednesday evenings, and be at least 18 years old by March 1, 2025. Emerging critics, students, theatremakers, dramaturgs, writers in other fields, journalists looking for a new beat, and theatre lovers are encouraged to apply.

In addition to Holdren and Weinert-Kendt, seminar leaders are also slated to include transdisciplinary artist Annalisa Dias, Broadway News critic and reporter Brittani Samuel, HowlRound senior editor Ashley Malafronte, Los Angeles Times critic Charles McNulty, The New Yorker critic Helen Shaw, BIPOC Critics Lab founder Jose Solís, dramaturg and Nothing for the Group correspondent Lauren Halvorsen, culture critic Naveen Kumar, and former Washington Post critic Peter Marks.

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