Young Critics Mentor Program – Nancy Sasso Janis (reprinted from The Waterbury-Republican)

The program is structured to train college students to become theater critics. It partners a current member of the Critics Circle with a college student who is interested in learning to write professional-quality theater reviews.

Mentoring young critics was the brainchild of Dr. Brooks Appelbaum, a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle since 2015, who now teaches in the First Year Writing Program, the First Year Seminar Program and the Drama Program at Quinnipiac University. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and earned her Ph.D. in English literature from Cornell.

Two purposes of the program are to usher young perspectives and voices into the Connecticut Critics Circle and to bring in young critics from a broad range of ethnicities and backgrounds.

In order to apply, applicants must be currently matriculated undergraduates at a Connecticut college/university. The students need to have some experience writing reviews or essays, which could include theater-related writing; a book review or critical essay; and/or a piece on popular culture or music.

Interested students are required to complete an application. They will be notified by mid-July if they have been accepted for the following year. Mentees then receive press invitations to Actors’ Equity theater productions in the state and are required to write reviews to be posted on the website of the Connecticut Critics Circle. Their reviews may also be published in a campus newspaper or on their own social media platforms.

After successfully completing the first year of the mentoring program, the student critic can begin to work toward full CCC membership. In the first and second year, student critics are not required to pay CCC dues. Also, first-and second-year critics do not have voting rights for the CCC awards and other CCC matters. In each year, they need to fulfill the criteria for the number of reviews to be considered for membership.

At the end of the second year, the mentees will be invited to become full CCC members in their third year and have full voting rights as members.

In a typical theater year, the mentor program committee will schedule a meeting for the student critics before the time of the CCC annual nominations meeting. The students will make their own nominations, and the mentor program committee will bring these to the nominations meeting. These nominations will not be included in the formal CCC nominations for voting. Instead, the purpose of the meeting for the student critics is to get practice in doing what the group does as an award-granting group. The purpose for bringing their nominations to the larger group is to allow the membership to see what the younger critics are thinking.

I was pleased to be asked by Appelbaum to consider being partnered with a mentee this year, sharing my love of all things theatrical with an up and coming reviewer.

When I agreed, she paired me with University of Connecticut student Madeline Miller.

At our initial virtual meeting, I learned that my mentee is an English major who will begin her sophomore year this fall at the Stamford campus. Although Miller, 20, has not done any performing, she truly loves theater. Some of the shows that she and her family have enjoyed on Broadway include “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” and my personal favorite “Wicked.” If pressed to name her all-time favorite show, she chose “Les Miserables.” She has tickets to see “Hamilton” and is very much looking forward to seeing it.

We discussed the requirements of the program and the procedure for submitting her work for posting on the Connecticut Critics Circle website ( alongside the reviews of current members of the group.

I am so looking forward to reading over Madeline’s reviews of upcoming Equity productions and serving as her copy editor. We will also have continuing communications about any questions that come up as she travels around the state reviewing our wealth of local theater.

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