Posted by Bruce Miller
The American Theatre Critics Association is the national association of professional theatre critics. Its members work for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and on-line services across the United States. Membership is open to all who "review theatre professionally, regularly and with substance for print, electronic or digital media."
ATCA was founded in 1974 by a group of leading theater critics from around the country. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that the New York Drama Critics Circle was too geographically limiting to meet the growing national need. Daumier’s 1865 cricature, “La Promenade du Critique Influent,” (pictured to the left) has been ATCA’s self-deprecatory logo since its founding.
Prior to 1974, the founding critics had been gathering informally for several years at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT, where Phil Whiteway's nephew, Preston Whiteway (pictured below and to the right), has served as Executive Director since 2007. ATCA’s connection to the O’Neill continues today in the annual National Critics Institute, which many US theatre critics attend as fellows and mentors.
Since its founding, ATCA has provided opportunities for members to explore the remarkable artistic resources of our national theatre. ATCA works to foster greater communication among theatre critics in the United States, to improve the training and development of critics at different stages of their careers, to advocate absolute freedom of expression in theatre and theatre criticism, and to increase public awareness of the theatre as an important national resource.
In addition to the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill, ATCA offers valuable professional and networking opportunities through twice yearly conferences. In a typical year, members gather for a five-day annual conference in a major theatre center outside New York, as well as for a shorter meeting in New York or at some theater festival. In addition to seminars, guest speakers, discussions with regional and national theatre practitioners, and a sampling of the host region’s theatres, there’s ample opportunity to talk shop with others in the profession.
In addition to conferences and meetings, ATCA provides information through email and on its website about current trends in theatre, the ethical dilemmas critics face, and upcoming international seminars and workshops through the International Association of Theatre Critics, of which ATCA is the American affiliate.
ATCA members also join in supporting new plays. Each year ATCA presents several awards for new plays and emerging playwrights. Members make a recommendation to the American Theatre Wing for the Regional Theatre Tony Award (the theatre recommended by ATCA always wins) and vote on inductees to the Theater Hall of Fame.
Currently, the only Virginia critics listed as members on the ATCA website are Maggie Lawrence in Culpeper, Wendy Parker in Midlothian, and David Siegel in Annandale. In days gone by, Roy Proctor was not only a member of ATCA, he served as the association's national president.
As Richmond theatre continues to grow and improve, it would be great to have several Richmond critics join ATCA. Two years ago, Legacy of Light (two RTCCA nominees from Barksdale's production of Legacy are pictured to the left) was one of only three new plays in the US to receive Best of the Year recognition from ATCA after its world premiere at Arena Stage. Legacy received this recognition due in large part to the advocacy of several DC ATCA members. The previous year, Signature Theatre in Northern Virginia won the regional theatre Tony Award, also due to the efforts of the DC critics.
As early as this season, it is possible that a play receiving its world premiere in Richmond might have a shot at the invaluable national recognition awarded by the ATCA, but only if Richmond's critics join the association and participate in its voting. Ten or so years from now, it would be possible for a Richmond theatre to win the regional theatre Tony, (why not dream big, folks) but again, only if Central Virginia's critics join ATCA and serve as advocates for Richmond theatre. Also, it would be possible in the near future to bring the national conference of ATCA to Richmond, significantly advancing our national profile as a theatre city, but only if we have active local ATCA members.
Advancing Richmond as a national caliber theatre city could and I believe should be an important goal for all of us. Encouraging our wonderful critics to join ATCA may be one way to make progress toward this goal. Annual dues are $45, and if critics need help with that, I suspect it could be found.