Contemporary American Theatre Festival

West Virginina Meeting of American Theatre Critics Association

By: - Jul 22, 2013


We have just returned from joining with some 75 members and guests of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

In addition to breakfast meetings at the Bavarian Inn, panel discussions, and informal events from Wednesday through Saturday we saw five new or second productions of the 23rd annual Contemporary American Theatre Festival.

A busy schedule of events conducted during a brutal heat emergency was brilliantly coordinated by ATCA organizer, Tim Tranor, a DC based critic, and James McNeely representing CATF director Ed Herendeen.

During a Saturday “Dinner with Ed” he participated in a lively no holds barred discussion with the critics. The previous day I spent an hour with him and will post a full report.

Much of the best of ATCA meetings occurs between the lines and under the radar. Following the plays on the bus back to the hotel, or late night in the Ratskeller, there was an ongoing debate about the quality of the plays and the current state of American theatre.

On Friday afternoon we had options to tour the nearby historic sites of Harper’s Ferry where John Brown was captured or the Antietem battle field. A few left in the van for a visit to a distillery and returned relatively sober.

What follows is the ATCA press release.

Shepherdstown, WV, June 22, 2013:  On Sunday, the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) concluded its 40th annual conference, spread over four days at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival.

A highlight of the final day was New York Times critic and author Jason Zinoman, who delivered ATCA’s Perspectives in Criticism lecture, the 32nd in a distinguished series.

Zinoman’s talk, in effect the keynote address, was autobiographical, smart, funny and challenging – just what ATCA envisioned when it invited Clive Barnes to start the series in 1992. Previous speakers have included William Henry, Frank Rich, Henry Hewes, Richard Christiansen, Robert Brustein, Eric Bentley, Linda Winer and Terry Teachout. The full text of Zinoman’s talk is available here:

In earlier action, ATCA announced that Stefanie Zadravec won the $10,000 Primus Prize for her play, The Electric Baby, which premiered at Quantum Theatre, Pittsburgh, and “portrays the power of myth, magic, and stories to transform our daily lives.” Further, director Lear deBessonet received a Primus commendation “for her exceptional work in expanding the boundaries of conventional theater.” More here:
jATCA’s executive committee selected veteran Chicago critic Jonathan Abarbanel as its 17th chair since its founding in 1974. Chicago-area editor and critic Myrna Petlicki was elected for the first time to ATCA’s executive committee.

Elected President of ATCA’s separate charitable Foundation was Jay Handelman (Sarasota Herald-Tribune), previously chair of ATCA, with Wendy Rosenfield (freelance, Philadelphia Inquirer) elected as the Foundation’s Vice President. The Foundation primarily funds awards for playwrights and scholarships and travel for critics.

The ATCA membership meets twice each year, once for a four-day conference, once for a long weekend. The 2013 weekend meeting was in Indianapolis. In 2014, the main conference will be at Actors Theatre of Louisville, as part of its 38th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.

ATCA was founded in 1974 to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, with several hundred members working for newspapers, magazines, radio, television and websites, ATCA is the American affiliate of the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

For more information on ATCA, visit