In Their Own Words: 

"NCI is one of the last bastions of actively and rigorously cultivating aspiring critics to ensure that artistic communities and audiences, present and future, have highly trained and professional guides and documentarians."--Stephen Christensen

"My time at the National Critics Institute has without doubt been the most transformative, inspirational, and empowering writing intensive I have ever been fortunate enough to attend. I'm not sure anything like it really exists. To be isolated from the grind of normal life in a cultural oasis with fifteen other brilliant, diverse, and seriously opinionated arts journalists, and to be able to focus solely on writing, is a gift every critic wishes to receive. Two weeks out, the change is noticeable. I've gained confidence. Thoughts come more quickly. Previous blind-spots have been illuminated, and my writing has become more muscular. This is thanks not only to the phenomenal leadership and faculty, but to the presence of the incredible fellows, all of whom I now proudly and enthusiastically call my friends. I am still processing the many things I learned, and still savoring all the memories I hope to never forget."--2016 NCI Fellow

"This program is incomparable. And that's not just a word used lightly -- there is nothing to compare. To have talented colleagues, and access to their views along with exposure to and input from major critical writers on a national level, as well as the O'Neill's own specialist experience, is something very precious. We were fortunate to be there and now fortunate to know one another."--2016 NCI Fellow

"During a time of great distress for arts critics throughout the country, the National Critics Institute is a vital resource for all aspiring critics. It is the only program offering support, mentorship and empowerment for writers who wish to critique and comment on the arts on a professional level. The NCI is in many ways a last bastion for the craft of criticism, and must be supported, even expanded, so that criticism and arts writing stay alive in this country. I offer this from the perspective of a journalist who has seen theater, film, visual arts and music criticism die out in print publications. As a result, communities are suffering because of the lack of critics. The NCI allows writers and thinkers of diverse backgrounds to take the lessons they've received in these precious two weeks and apply them in their own communities, be it through blogs, videos, magazine features, essays and traditional review."--2016 NCI Fellow


"I came to the O'Neill having seen (and even participated in, long ago) plenty of theater, but with little experience in theater journalism. I was seeking practical advice about reviewing plays. I got that. But I also got so much more: an education on the major issues in theater and how plays are developed; useful knowledge about reviewing dance, food, and film; fruitful exploration of how theater and arts journalism are evolving and how we can better serve a changing readership and theater world; and an astonishingly diverse, supportive, and hard working group of faculty and fellow critics that made the O'Neill the Platonic ideal of arts journalism education. As a writing teacher myself, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of expertise Chris Jones applied so conscientiously to every story. I learned more than I imagined possible about writing itself, not just about theater reviewing, for a mid-career journalist. I've participated in the other major arts journalism programs (NEA/Columbia and Getty Annenberg/USC), which were both extremely valuable. But nothing I've seen, except possibly a full-year Nieman fellowship, compares to the rich educational experience provided at the O'Neill. With the demise of the other major arts journalism programs, arts journalists almost never get the opportunity to share ideas, receive feedback on our writing (editorial feedback is almost nonexistent in American arts journalism these days), discuss major issues, and explore how theater works from the inside. That knowledge, which was more commonly acquired in decades past, is essential to making theater journalism useful to readers and to theater makers, so that we all wind up with better theater. Thanks to the O'Neill, I can now be a much more useful part of the theater ecosystem, both to the creators of theater and to my readers. To have access to a faculty with such a high level combination of practical reviewing experience, academic rigor and depth, along with direct interaction with theater makers and hands-on writing experience is tremendously valuable and so rare as to be unique in my experience. I can't imagine a more productive, useful and informative journalism experience, of any kind, in a two week period. I'm grateful to Chris, Mark, and all involved, for what I'll always remember as a magical experience. But more than that, I hope the American theater world appreciates the value they're adding to theater by raising the standards of theater journalism for writers around the country. Ultimately, the benefit isn't to us as critics, but to readers, audience members and theater makers."--2016 NCI Fellow

"NCI changed how I write and how I think about writing about the theater. The top-shelf faculty, lead by Chris Jones, helped me freshen my perspective on how and why we cover theater the way we do, and I couldn't have asked for a smarter, more enthusiastic cohort of fellows."--Erin Keane


"I am forever grateful for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center and the National Critics Institute. The community there is one of such energy, encouragement, and creative development. I'm a much better thinker and writer than I was when I arrived on campus."--David Williams


"Chris Jones did a great job recruiting guest faculty and drawing out their expertise with pointed questions. He responded to our work in specific, useful terms, and he served as an admirable model for what the profession can be."--Mark Dewey


"By the end of two weeks, we were sleep-deprived but exhilarated from the intellectual and creative experience." --Nancy S Bishop    Read Nancy's article on the NCI experience


"NCI was everything I dreamed of and more. From the big picture of the state of today's theater journalism down to the most precise punctuation in a sentence, Chris Jones led us through two weeks of intense but fun workshopping... I feel propelled into the career of my dreams, and I have NCI to thank."--2014 NCI Fellow 


National Critic Institute Alumni

O’Neill Critic Fellows 2016

Brett Campbell writes frequently about music and other arts for Oregon ArtsWatch, The Wall Street Journal, Oregon Quarterly, Willamette Week, San Francisco Classical Voice, and Eugene Weekly. His work has also appeared in dozens of other publications, including The Oregonian, Portland Monthly, Salon, Oregon Humanities, Musical America, The Grove Dictionary of American Music, The Progressive, Humanities, The Texas Observer, Utne Reader, and many more. He teaches journalism in the English department at Portland State University, has taught magazine writing and editing at the University of Oregon. He’s been an editor Oregon Quarterly and The Texas Observer, and is a co-founder and contributing editor to Oregon ArtsWatch. His biography (co-authored with Bill Alves) of the great American composer, Lou Harrison will be published by Indiana University Press in 2017. He plays and sings Javanese classical music in Venerable Showers of Beauty gamelan, based at Portland's Lewis & Clark College, and sings in the Portland State Community Chorus.

Wei-Huan Chen is the chief theater critic for the Houston Chronicle. He has won several awards for his writing on the arts, including first place in Feature Writing for Associated Press Media Editors - Indiana in 2016. He has interviewed artists including Audra McDonald, Ira Glass, Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis. Chen is also a classical pianist, jazz trumpeter and spoken word artist.

Heather Helinsky has been a professional dramaturg for the past ten years, working on over 60 productions in regional theatre, including Great Plains Theatre Conference. In 2007, she received her in MFA from the A.R.T./Moscow Art Theatre for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard, where she studied criticism with Robert Brustein and Arthur

Dan Jakes is a Chicago-based freelance arts writer and a BFA graduate from the University of Illinois. Since 2010, he's written theatre and comedy reviews for the Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, and local blogs. He currently writes about podcasts and television forThe Onion A.V. Club.

Carolyn Merritt is an anthropologist, writer, and dancer.  She has a background in ballet and modern dance and she is an Argentine tango practitioner, and she holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and a B.A. in French and Spanish.  Carolyn is the author of Tango Nuevo(University Press of Florida, 2012), part memoir and part ethnographic study of the cultural politics of contemporary tango. She writes about dance and performance and has served on the editorial board for, an online dance journal. Carolyn teaches courses in anthropology and performance studies in Philadelphia, most recently at Bryn Mawr College.

Ned Moore is a dramaturg, translator, and aspiring theatre critic based in New York City, where he is currently pursuing his MFA in Dramaturgy at Columbia University (’18). His translation of Euripides’ Bakkhai premiered at Bard College in Spring 2013, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz (Red Speedo, Revolt! She Said. Revolt Again.), and was remounted in New Orleans at the Marigny Opera House in June 2015 (Dir. Ned Moore). Recent collaborations include: Mammoth (New York Theatre Workshop, Staged Reading), The Conflabbergation (Columbia Stages), The Seagull (Columbia Stages), Macbeth (Skin Horse Theater).

Gail Obenreder O’Donnell is a writer, consultant, producer and administrator working across varying arts disciplines.  She reviews theatre and classical music and writes arts-related features for The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware’s daily paper. As a producer, Gail has created, produced and managed events, concerts, programs, television and theatre independently and for organizations in New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, Seattle, southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. She’s worked at the Rialto in Atlanta (which she renovated and managed), Williamstown Theatre Festival (with founder Nikos Psacharopoulos), Smithsonian, Delaware Theatre Company and Delaware Art Museum, where she created and produces a popular chamber music series.  Currently a consultant for Wilmington’s Creative District initiative, Gail was a founding member of both Market Street Music and the Delaware Arts Alliance. She is also a dedicated choral musician who made costumes early in her theatrical life and a fabric fan who still loves all things sewn and woven.

Alix Rosenfeld is an alumna of the National Theater Institute here at the O’Neill, and she is excited to return as a National Critics Institute Fellow! Alix earned her B.A. in Drama from Vassar College and recently received her M.A. in Theatre from Villanova University last May. She has worked as an actor, verse coach, dramaturg, and literary manager in New York City and regionally, and currently resides in Philadelphia.

Amanda Schumacher is the Editor and Director of Venue Relations at Footlights Performance Magazine, an in-theater publication that reaches audiences in Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee. Her work has also appeared in M: Milwaukee Lifestyle Magazine and in the Mukwonago Times. When not reporting on the latest performing arts news in the Midwest, she enjoys volunteering at local theater companies in a variety of roles, writing creatively, and traveling the globe.

When he was 10, Jose Solís found himself jotting down on paper every single detail he could remember from movies and plays he saw and loved (and even those he didn’t like that much). Two decades later he’s still doing it, except now his thoughts are read by people in places from Guyana to Melbourne who call him “a critic”. The 10-year-old inside him thinks this is pretty kickass.

Jennifer Vanasco is a theater critic and an editor in the newsroom at WNYC, the country's largest NPR affiliate. Formerly, she was a critic for the Chicago Reader and Chicago Free Press. For many years, she was an award-winning opinion columnist, first in a weekly, syndicated newspaper column that ran for 14 years and then she created the Minority Reports column for Columbia Journalism Review, which was cited in media from theAtlantic to Time to New York Magazine. Her journalism has appeared in the Village Voice, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post and other outlets.

Gemma Wilson is a theatre and culture writer currently based in Seattle, where she is a senior editor at City Arts magazine. In addition to her theatre criticism, she writes regularly about local food, music, style and more. She holds a degree in drama from NYU Tisch, and a masters in Arts Journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Before returning to her hometown Gemma spent many years working in New York, from her days as assistant to legendary Broadway director Hal Prince to her time smiling on camera as a reporter for 

In July 2016, Byron Woods began his 23rd year covering live theater and dance in the Triangle region of North Carolina as an award-winning arts journalist and critic. Beyond his work for the area’s leading daily and weekly newspapers, The News and Observer of Raleigh and Durham’s INDY Week, Woods has also written for Back StageDance Magazine,, and the Village Voice. He returns to the O’Neill this summer 16 years after his first National Critics Institute fellowship, and following two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships in arts criticism and six regional appearances as a critic-in-residence and clinician at the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival. Woods regularly draws on his earlier experiences as a director, playwright, designer and actor, and from insights gained during his M.A. in Performance Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


O’Neill Critic Fellows 2015

Andrew Alexander in an independent critic. His writing has appeared in ArtsATL, Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionCreative LoafingBurnawayArt PapersBomb, and Jazz Times.

Alexandria Bonifield is a freelance theatre journalist. Her writing has appeared in American Theatre magazine,,, and 

Linda Buchwald is a freelance writer. Her writing has appeared in TDF StagesAmerican Theatre magazine, Broadway Direct,, Flavorpill, and Beamly.

Christina Cauterucci is the arts editor for the Washington City Paper.

Amanda Finn is a contributing editor and staff writer for and Footlights Performing Arts Magazine.

Tarra Gaines is a columnist for CultureMap Houston and her writing has also appeared in Arts and Culture Texas magazine.

Lauren Kay is the founder of  Her writing has appeared in TDF Stages,, Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, Pointe, Dance Teacher,and Time Out New York.

Christopher Klimek is a theatre critic for Washington City Paper. His writing has appeared in The Washington PostThe Village VoiceThe Dissolve,, and Smithsonian.

Elizabeth Kramer is an arts writer and critic for The Courier Journal.  Her writing has appeared in Louisville MagazineBusiness First, and the Louisville Eccentric Observer.

Nicole Serratore is a freelance journalist. Her writing has appeared in American Theatre magazine, Exeunt MagazineFlavorpill, TDF Stages, and The Craptacular.  

Kelundra Smith is a digital marketing manager for Atlanta Magazine.  Her writing has appeared in American Theatre magazine, Dramatics magazine, The Charleston Post & Courier, and others.

Zac Thompson is a freelance contributor for the Chicago Reader.  His writing has appeared in Chicago magazine and Time Out Chicago.

Diep Tran is an associate editor for American Theatre magazine. Her writing has appeared in TDF StagesTime Out New YorkThe Sondheim Review, and the New York Times.


O’Neill Critic Fellows 2014

Nancy S. Bishop is a Chicago native, recently liberated after 30+ years in corporate marketing and PR. She worked for two large professional services firms, specializing in content marketing and creative services. She has extensive experience in speechwriting, brand development and visual identity.  She’s happy to be writing about things she loves, meaning popular culture in all its manifestations. She also is a volunteer business mentor for SCORE, a nonprofit that helps small businesses start up, grow and operate effectively. She writes reviews of theater, art, architecture and design for, a Chicago-centric website and contributes theater reviews to, a theater opinion and news website, and, an online arts magazine. Her blog,, focuses on films, theater, TV, music and books—as well as on digital life and Chicago politics. She frequently writes on rock and roll and the work of Bruce Springsteen. She presented papers in 2005 and 2012 at “Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium.” The first was on Springsteen’s approach to brand protection and corporate sponsorship, while the second covered his role as CEO and front man for the E Street Band. Nancy has always been interested in writing about popular culture, since the time she served as the first female co-editor of the University of Missouri humor magazine, ShowMe.  She holds a BJ degree from the University of Missouri and an MA in communications and design from Northern Illinois University. She has two sons and three grandsons.  Follow her on Twitter @nsbishop.

Rick Chason is participating in the Critics’ Institute as one of the recipients of a national award in theater criticism from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.  Rick is a staff writer and critic for My Theater Boston, a subsidiary of My Entertainment World, an international entertainment website.  He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts Boston majoring in English and Theater and minoring in Creative Writing and Music Theory.  His play Nothing to Do, a reimagining of Much Ado about Nothing, won the Peter Brooks Butler Prize for Creative Writing and Renaissance Literature, which allowed him the opportunity to spend a semester studying at the University of Oxford.  He is currently at work on his senior thesis, the writing and composition of an experimental musical under the guidance of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and critic Lloyd Schwartz, which is set to premiere in Boston next year.  He is also an actor/singer, having performed with Boston-area theaters for the past fifteen years.  His performance as Caldwell B. Cladwell this past year in UMass Boston’s production of Urinetown, the Musical won him an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship nomination from the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.  After graduating next year, Rick hopes to pursue an MFA in playwriting and a PhD in theater.

Kevin Downey is the founder and editor of, a TV show review site geared to discerning TV viewers who enjoy the highest-quality television on TV and digital platforms. Kevin also has written more than 2,000 articles about the visual arts and the performing arts, and the business side of the entertainment industry for publications such as Arizona Republic, C21Media (London), FierceCable, TVNewsCheck, Variety and USA Today. Kevin has been a guest critic on numerous radio shows, including in the late 2000s as a featured weekly critic on KFWB-AM Los Angeles. Prior to becoming a journalist in 1999, Kevin worked as a research analyst for advertising agencies in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. Kevin lives in Phoenix with his partner Jose, their 14-year-old son Francisco.

Suzy Evans lives in New York City, where she has been the managing editor of American Theatre since 2013. She is also a regular theater contributor for The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, for which she recently wrote the cover story on Idina Menzel after "Let It Go" topped the charts. Prior to joining the team at American Theatre, Suzy was a senior editor at Backstage, where she was part of the magazine and website's 2012 re-branding and re-launch. During her time at Backstage, Suzy served as the point person for all New York theater coverage, and she also interviewed and profiled artists including Julia Roberts, Matthew Broderick, Tracy Letts, Zooey Deschanel, and many more. Suzy is originally from California, and she received her degree in English and theater from UCLA. After college, she interned at Theatre Bay Area before attending graduate school for journalism at Northwestern University. During her time in Chicago, Suzy served as the theater writer for Chicagoist, and after she received her Master's, she worked on the arts desk at the International Herald Tribune in Paris before moving to New York. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and several other outlets.

Jane Huffman comes to The O’Neill Institute after being awarded a fellowship at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, where she was the national champion in Theatre Journalism and Advocacy. Jane was born and raised in Metro-Detroit and studies at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, MI, where she is earning a BA in Creative Writing and Theatre Arts. At Kalamazoo College, she serves as co-editor-in-chief of the student-produced literary magazine, The Cauldron. She is currently serving at the summer editorial intern for Sundress Publications, which allows her to telecommute to Knoxville, TN a few times a week. Jane’s poetry and fiction has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, recently Arroyo Review, RHINO Poetry, Third Wednesday, A Bad Penny Review, theNewerYork, and others. This year, she was the recipient of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire Poetry Contest, and was granted a fellowship at The Newberry Library in Chicago, IL where she completed a substantial research paper on American Experimental Poetry. This August, Jane will be attending The Frost Place Advanced Poetry Seminar for an intensive week of poetry workshopping at the historic Robert Frost home in New Hampshire.

Erin Keane is the arts reporter and theatre critic for WFPL, the NPR station in Louisville, Kentucky, and she produces the short fiction show Unbound. This year, she joined the executive committee of the American Theatre Critics Association, where she also serves as a reader and judge for the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award. A former arts critic and reporter for The Courier-Journal, Erin’s essays and articles have also appeared in Salon, The Guardian, Now & Then: A Journal of Appalachian Studies, and Louisville Magazine, and this year she will join The Louisville Review as their book critic. Erin has an MFA in creative writing and teaches graduate-level poetry workshops. Her creative work is published widely in literary journals and she’s the author of three collections of poems. The most recent, Demolition of the Promised Land (Typecast Publishing, 2014), is about death, grief, and Bruce Springsteen. Right now, she’s working on a novel about a young clairvoyant and collaborating with composer Daniel Gilliam on an opera about a long-haul space voyage. 

Chloe Riley is a sometimes journalist, theater critic, poet or skeptic, depending on the day. During the week, she works as a neighborhood reporter for – a digital news site in Chicago – in addition to writing theater reviews for the Chicago Reader, a weekly arts publication, on the weekend. From time to time, she also tries her hand at poetry, usually rhyming, often vague. On occasion, she blogs about matters feminist and political for the Huffington Post, despite feeling her soul being sucked away a little more every time she does it. She admires work by the living and dead, including the American poets Brenda Shaughnessy and Patricia Lockwood, Virginia Woolf, David Sedaris, Christopher Hitchens and Anne Frank, among others.

Jack Smart is a Brooklyn-based arts journalist and theater critic. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, he graduated from Vassar College in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Drama. His studies there culminated in a thesis entitled “Smart Reviews: The History and Theory of Dramatic Criticism.” A trained actor and Shakespeare enthusiast, he has appeared onstage in productions of Hamlet, Alice in Wonderland, and as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Jack also studied at the British American Dramatic Academy in London, where he was inspired by a professor to pursue a career in arts criticism. Now living in New York, he delightedly teaches children of all ages how to swim. He has worked at Samuel French and the Off-Broadway theater company Primary Stages, and writes about theater for TDF Stages, Backstage,,, and other publications. His theater and pop culture blog features theater reviews, think-pieces, and tirades about Lady Gaga.

Martha Wade Steketee, native of Michigan and current resident of New York City, studied literature and theater at Harvard and social welfare at Washington University and the University of Michigan. She worked for many years in legal and policy research in several cities, which morphed into work as a dramaturg, critic and editor. She reads scripts for theaters and festivals and writes reviews and essays on theater topics and personalities for her own web site,, and Chance Magazine -- where she is also general editor. She is proud of her involvement as a founding mentor of Chicago's Cindy Bandle Young Critics project developed by the Goodman Education Department and Association for Women Journalists to provide criticism experience to high school students. She has served on theater awards committees in Chicago (Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee 2008-2009) and New York (Drama Desk Nominating Committee 2012-2013 and 2013-2014) and is a current member of the American Theatre Critics Association, the League of Professional Theatre Women, and Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.

David Williams is a two-time graduate of Clemson University, having earned both his Bachelor’s (’09) and Master’s (’11) in English Literature. He is relatively new to the study of theatre but has sought various ways over the past several years to immerse himself in this exciting and innovative art form. These include interning with the WordBRIDGE Playwriting Workshop (Summer ’09), participating with the Clemson Players theatre group (2008-11), and attending the 2011 KCACTF Region IV Festival in Daytona Beach, Fl as a critic. David has also tried his hand at playwriting. His graduate thesis project, the committee for which was chaired by Dr. Mark Charney, took the form of a full-length play, entitled “The Man on the Postcard.” This work of historical fiction, based on his grandfather’s military service in the Dominican Republic during WWI, went on to be named 1st Alternate for the 2011 David Shelton Playwriting Award.  David’s first love, though, is cinema. He has studied nearly every genre, film noir being his favorite. Some of the individual artists in cinema whose work he admires most fervently are Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, and Errol Morris. In 2009, he served as a member of the selection committee for the Southern Circuit tour, which visits public universities along the southeast to showcase independent films and host post-screening discussions with the directors. David currently lives in Raleigh, NC with his wife, Laura, and (yes, this is being included) his Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Rocky.

Lindsey Wilson, theater nerd, margarita enthusiast, aspiring DIY diva, dog nut, bibliophile and champion eater of chips and salsa, has been the theater critic at D Magazine for nearly five years. She also covers theater and cocktails for CultureMap Dallas, and has written for American Theatre, The Chautauquan Daily, The Syracuse Post-Standard, and Playbill. A graduate of the Goldring Arts Journalism master's program at Syracuse University, she also holds a bachelor's in theater from the University of Colorado at Boulder and is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. For her "day job," Lindsey is the regional Texas editor for Morris Visitor Publications, meaning she puts out monthly magazines, yearly coffee-table books, and quarterly travel guides for DFW, Houston, and San Antonio. She makes an excellent trivia night partner and bakes a mean cupcake.