NEA Arts Magazine

Critics in the Spotlight

The NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater

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The 2007 class of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater

The 2007 class of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Ritzel.

Hollywood may be the movie capital of the world, but Los Angeles is a theater town. With nearly 200 professional theaters, it's actually easier to spot a star onstage than on a street corner. Add the presence of one of the nation's top journalism schools -- the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California -- and you have the perfect location for journalists to come together and study theater.

Since 2004, the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater -- one of three discipline-specific institutes supported by the NEA -- has brought together 25 writers, editors, and producers to spend 10 days in sunny LA, immersed in theatrical study. Primarily targeted to journalists in the nation's small to medium media markets, the NEA developed the institutes because the "vitality of the arts depends on lively and informed criticism, especially local reviews and coverage from their own communities," according to NEA Chairman Dana Gioia.

Under the guidance of Program Director Sasha Anawalt, the theater and musical theater fellows take acting classes, visit theaters, and write reviews that are, in turn, edited by critics from major news outlets. In 2007, visiting workshop leaders included Misha Berson of The Seattle Times, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, and Steven Leigh Morris of LA Weekly. The 25 fellows hailed from 21 states and wrote for publications of all persuasions and sizes. They returned home better equipped to write about theatrical happenings in their own communities. Here's what two of the 2007 fellows had to say about their experiences.

I was reassured to learn that theater critics in big and small cities alike face the same challenges. We all have to be tough and fair and honest, and write for a varied readership. The NEA institute also gave me more credibility. I could return home, certificate in hand, and say "You know what? I know what I'm talking about." I may not be a full-on theater genius, but at least I can distinguish between a good play and one that's really great -- and I can articulate the difference.

Michael Morain
Arts Reporter
Des Moines Register

It's no exaggeration to say that things I learned during the fellowship pop into my head every day.. . .Since returning from LA, I have made a conscious e;ort to make myself more approachable. I've had conversations with directors during intermission and I've made it a point to get out to shows that I'm not reviewing myself just to see them. And I've noticed a shift in the way that I'm received -- more folks are coming up to me at shows and chatting, and I've gotten a lot of stories that I might have missed out on because of that.

Deborah Martin
Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor
San Antonio Express-News