Perspectives in Criticism


Diep Tran, Perspectives in Criticism, 2016

Billed as the Keynote Speech to the ATCA/Philly conference, this talk by Diep Tran, associate editor of American Theater, is also the latest in the Perspectives in Criticism series that goes back to 1992 (scroll down for more on the series).

Diep Tran 

Thank you all. I feel incredibly honored to be standing here, at my first ATCA conference. And to be asked to address you, as an equal, even though judging from the rosters and resumes of the speakers who have come before me, including my former boss, American Theatre founder, Jim O’Quinn, I am the youngest person to have stepped into this podium, by far.

The way I was brought up, in a semi-traditional Vietnamese family, you don’t talk back to your elders and you especially don’t tell them what to do. So this is surreal for me!

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This series of talks . . .

… first proposed by Jay Handelman, was inaugurated in 1992, when  Clive Barnes accepted this invitation of then ATCA chair Chris Rawson

     “At our twice-annual meetings, we have always heard a great deal from theater artists. But lately we have seen the need to speak more directly to our own concerns, too. These are difficult times for theater critics, with space for theater coverage shrinking, papers relying more and more on part-time or freelance critics and, in many cities, papers folding.  Reminders of the importance and even the high honor of our calling are more necessary than ever.

     “And we are changing. Representing the rank and file of American theater critics, ATCA finds itself now with more academics, more former theater artists and many more freelance critics. If there ever were any cohesion or commonly shared standards and assumptions in the profession, they are not much in evidence today. The training and competence of American theater critics remain issues of concern. In other words, sobering reminders of the obligations of the critic are also necessary. 

     “So we are looking for speakers in this new series to inform us, stir us up, challenge us and send us back to work determined to be better critics.  Inspire, badger, praise, blame, educate, excoriate, entice, regenerate — any of those might be appropriate.” 

   That was 1992! Not much has changed 25 years later, except that the parlous state of the newspaper industry has made the “difficult times” for critics even worse, while the Internet has added problematic and exciting new dimensions.

   By now we have heard a lot of wisdom (and inevtably some hot air) from a remarkable roster of speakers, as the following list makes clear. So our series continues. 

   So far we have five of these talks transcribed: the April, 2016 talk by American Theatre associate editor Diep Tran; April, 2014 talk by playwright Lauren Gunderson; July, 2013 talk by Zason Zinoman; June, 2012 address by Terry Teachout; and Feb., 2011 panel arranged by Sherry Eaker, complete with proposals ATCA will consider about training future critics. In addition, the March, 2015 talk by Hedy Weiss was recorded.


1992, Feb, NYC: Clive Barnes 

1992, May, Cleveland: William Henry

1993, May, Seattle: Michael Feingold

1994, July, O’Neill Theater Center: Ernie Schier

1995, May, Dallas/Fort Worth: Jeremy Gerard

1996, Miami: Margo Jefferson

1997, July, Salt Lake City: Sylvie Drake

1998, May, Denver: Dan Sullivan

1999, Feb., NYC: Frank Rich

1999, June, Philadelphia: Henry Hewes

2000, Louisville: Richard Christiansen

2001, Feb., NYC: Robert Brustein

2001, July, Ashland: Robert Hurwitt

2002, Feb., NYC: Linda Winer

2002, June, Chicago: Albert Williams

2003, March, NYC: Eric Bentley

2003, June, St. Paul: Nancy Melich

2004, June, San Francisco: Misha Berson

2005, Feb., NYC: Julius Novick

2005, June, Los Angeles: Norman Lear, keynote at first National Critics Conference. 

2006, Feb, NYC: John Simon

2006, June, Shaw Festival: Leonard Conolly on GBS as a critic; 
Stratford Festival: Ian Herbert and Robert Cushman on “Critics and the Bard.” 

2008, June, Washington, D.C.: Trey Graham, Peter Marks and Bob Mondello

2009, April, Sarasota: theater columnist Michael Riedel.

2009, Oct., NYC: producer Ken Waissman.

2010, Feb., Denver: ATCA panel of Christine Dolen, Jeffrey Jenkins, Chris Jones and Chris Rawson, moderated by Jim Steinberg

2010, July, O’Neill Theater Center: film critic (and former ATCA member and theater critic at a half-dozen papers) Michael Phillips.

2011, Feb., NYC: playwright-director-artistic director Emily Mann, playwrights Adam Rapp and Richard Nelson and artistic director Tim Sanford. Click for transcript.

2011, July, Ashland, Oregon: Jim O’Quinn.

2012, June, Chicago: Terry TeachoutClick for transcript.

2013, July, Shepherdstown, WV: Jason ZinomanClick for transcript

2014, April, Louisville: Lauren GundersonClick for transcript.

2014, Nov., NYC: playwrights Arthur Kopit, David Henry Hwang, Doug Wright and Tina Howe.

2015, March, New Orleans: Hedy WeissClick for audio recording.

2016, April, Philadelphia, Diep Tran. (Click for transcript.)