NCI History & Staff

NCI History

NCI_Dan_Sullivan.jpgA Note from Former Director Dan Sullivan

“From its beginnings in the mid-1960s, the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center wanted critics to play a role at its annual National Playwrights Conference. Founder George C. White's first idea was to ask established critics to lead audience discussions after the play.  Unfortunately some of the critics decided to review the play.  This experiment generated more heat than light.

Next the O'Neill invited the critics to sit down in private with the playwrights the morning of the show.   This practice was discontinued after one playwright trained a revolver—fortunately unloaded—on his judges.

His judges: that was the rub.  Theater folk in those days saw "the critics" primarily as a power bloc who could make or break a show.  Yet the O'Neill was supposed to be a theater laboratory.  A hanging judge had no place there.

But hold on.  In a laboratory setting, couldn't the term "theater criticism" be redefined?  Couldn't it be thought of as a variation of the script discussions that went on all day long at the O'Neill?  (What's the arc of the story? Should there be more of a bridge between Scene One and Scene Two?)

If that was theater criticism, everyone at the O'Neill was already guilty of it.  Bringing aboard a contingent of theater journalists who wanted to work on their own craft suddenly seemed quite logical.  They might not qualify as colleagues, but they couldn't honestly be seen as the enemy.  So—under the guidance of the late Norman Nadel, Judith Crist and the late Ernest Schier, former critic of the Philadelphia Bulletin—evolved The O'Neill's National Critics Institute.” 

NCI Staff

Dr. Christopher Jones, Director, the chief theater critic and a Sunday columnist of the Chicago Tribune, has reviewed and commented on culture, the arts, politics, and entertainment for the Chicago Tribune for more than 16 years. He also appears weekly on CBS-2 news in Chicago, and on the Tribune’s WGN Radio.  Before joining the staff of the Tribune, Jones wrote for many years for Variety and Daily Variety, publishing several hundred reviews and commentaries, especially of pre-Broadway tryouts.  He also spent a short time as Variety's Broadway critic. He has twice served on the drama committee of the Pulitzer Prizes. His arts criticism also has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, American Theatre Magazine, and many other newspapers and magazines. 

Mark J. Charney, Associate Director, is Director of Theater and a playwright at Clemson University.  His adaptation of The Decameron was featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and his 37 Stones, or The Man Who Was A Quarry was performed at the Charter Theater in Washington, DC.  He also helps coordinate the college critics institute and the dramaturgy initiative for the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival.

Faculty (subject to change)

Mark Blankenship, a 2006 NCI Critic Fellow, contributes regularly to Variety, Back Stage and The New York Times.

Lawrence De Vine came to the O’Neill first as a Critic Fellow in 1971 and as senior faculty many, many summers since. The longtime theater critic at the Detroit Free Press, Mr. De Vine is a former chairman of the American Theater Critics Association, a National Endowment for the Humanities professional journalism fellow, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, and a three-time member of the Pulitzer Prize jury for drama.

Michael Feingold is the chief theater critic for the Village Voice, a winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for distinguished criticism, and a 2002 National Arts Journalism Program senior fellow. He has taught at NCI and served as a dramaturg at the O’Neill for decades. His translation of Giraudoux's Sodom et Gomorrah was performed at the 2001 National Playwrights Conference.

Leonard Jacobs NCI Critic Fellow, 2004, columnist for the Huffington Post, reviews for Back Stage and New York Press; Tony® and Drama Desk voter; chair, New York Innovative Theater awards; adjudicator for NY Fringe; author of Historic Photos of Broadway, New York Theater 1850-1970.

Julius Novick, New book: Jewish American Drama and Jewish American Experience. Previous book: Beyond Broadway: The Quest for Permanent Theatres. Former theater critic, Village Voice, Newsday, and the New York Observer. Published: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Nation, etc. Professor Emeritus: Purchase College, SUNY.

Michael Phillips is film critic for the Chicago Tribune. Previously he was theater critic for the Los Angeles Times, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the San Diego Union, and the Dallas Times Herald.  He was a NCI Critic Fellow in 1984.  

Andy Propst, founder of Americantheaterweb.com, reviews regularly for online sources and for the Village Voice, Back Stage, and TimeOutNY. He has served as a Drama Desk nominator three times and was a 2001 NCI Critic Fellow. 

J Ranelli is a director who has clear and fond memories of the O'Neill's very first days.  He remains a persistent advocate for the development of new voices and a theater response to them.

J. Wynn Rousuck was the theater critic of the Baltimore Sun from 1984-2007, and currently reviews for Baltimore’s NPR affiliate, WYPR. A 1982 NCI Critic Fellow, she began teaching for NCI in 1990. She recently spent a year studying playwriting at Brown University with Paula Vogel and Bonnie Metzgar.

Dan Sullivan was chief theater critic of the Los Angeles Times for 20 years.  Earlier he reviewed Off-Broadway theater for The New York Times and covered the Guthrie Theater's first two seasons for the Minneapolis Tribune.  Returning to the Twin Cities after his retirement, he teaches journalism at the University of Minnesota.  An O'Neill veteran, he succeeded the late Ernie Schier as NCI's director in 1999 until 2013.

Linda Winer is a theater critic for Newsday. She has also reviewed theater and dance for the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the New York Daily News.

Select List of Graduates

American Theater Web, Andy Propst

American Theatre Magazine, Randy Gener

Anchorage Times, Catherine Stadem, Jamie Newsom

Associated Press - London, Matt Wolf

Back Stage, Glenda Frank, Leonard Jacobs, Mark Blankenship

Back Stage West, Jean Schiffman

Baltimore Sun, J. Wynn Rousuck

Boston Globe, Patti Hartigan

Boston Herald, Mary Jo Palumbo

Callboard Magazine, Karen Mckevitt

Chicago Sun Times, Kevin Nance

Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips

Denver Post, Sandra Dillard

Detroit Free Press, Martin F. Kohn

Dramatics Magazine, Laura C. Kelley

Everythingmusicals.Com, Christopher Caggiano

Fresno Bee, Leo Stutzin

Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Bill Hirschman

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Mark Lowry

Hartford Courant, Deborah Hornblow

L.A. Weekly, Judith Lewis

Las Vegas City Life, Anthony Del Valle

Los Angeles Times, Reed Johnson

Louisville Courier-Journal, Judith Egerton

Madison, Wi, Capital Times Lindsay Christians

Miami Herald, Christine Dolen

Minneapolis City Pages, Ed Huyck

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Rohan Preston, Graydon Royce

Musical America, Susan Elliott

Nashville Scene, William Levine

Nashville Tennessean, Kevin Nance, Evans Donnell

Newark Star-Ledger, Alexis Greene

Newsday, John Habich

Orange County Register, Paul Hodgins

Orlando Sentinel, Elizabeth Maupin

Playbill, David Lefkowitz

Portland, Me., Press Herald, Mary Snell

Rocky Mountain News, Lisa Bornstein

Sacramento Bee, Marcus Crowder

Salt Lake Tribune, Claudia Harris

Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jay Handelman

Seattle Weekly, Roger Downey

South Bend Tribune, Julie York Coppens

St. Paul Pioneer Press, Dominic Papatola

Sunday Tribune - Dublin, Jocelyn Clark

Thefastertimes.Com/Theatertalk, Davi Napoleon

Washington City Paper, Trey Graham

Washington Post, Dolores Whiskeyman

Westerly, R.I., Sun, Jim Vickers


Acknowledgements

Our thanks to The New York Times Foundation, The Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival, the late Clara Hieronymus and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, The American Theater Critics Association, The John S. Knight Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, The Debbi Wasserman Bilowit Fund, The Ernie Schier Fund, the Edith Oliver Fund, The Goodspeed Opera House, the Ivoryton Playhouse and our many individual patrons and friends.