Essential Goodman Stories: The Cindy Bandle Young Critics Program Celebrates 10 Years

Rachel Weinberg and Becca Browne. Photo by Anna Gelman.
Rachel Weinberg and Becca Browne. Photo by Anna Gelman.

For the past decade and for hundreds of young women, the Cindy Bandle Young Critics (CBYC) program, named in honor of former Goodman Press Director Cindy Bandle, has encouraged young women in the 10th and 11th grades to explore, strengthen and share their thoughts and critiques on art and the world around them. From November to May, young female critics meet at the Goodman to attend plays and not only critique the plays on stage, but also discuss how the themes touch both their own lives and the world at large. Participants are paired with mentors from the Association for Women Journalists to improve their craft. The program helps prepare the young women for future careers, with some even joining the Goodman staff, including Becca Browne and Rachel Weinberg, now the Goodman’s Audience Development Associate and New Media Assistant, respectively. They recently spoke with Goodman Education and Engagement’s Elizabeth Rice about the continuing value of their experiences.


Elizabeth Rice: What would you count among your memorable experiences from your time in CBYC?

Rachel Weinberg: I met [actor] Carla Gugino during the run of Desire Under the Elms. [Golden Globe Award-winning actor/playwright/director and Goodman Artistic Collective member] Regina Taylor also spoke to us which was really exciting because she is one of the playwrights with whom the Goodman works with most closely. It was very exciting to hear from a female writer who has really made a name for herself and a living in the theater.

Becca Browne: Regina Taylor spoke to my group, too. Seeing a black, female playwright like herself was important to me. As a young person, having someone who looked like me, who was involved with theater, come in and speak was very special. I really believe in the notion that representation matters, and CBYC certainly delivered in that respect. One opportunity that really stood out was going to WBEZ’s studio to record our reviews. It was a very surreal experience; there’s a difference between writing your words and hearing yourself read them. I was only 16 years old, so to not only be able to come to the Goodman, but then to go to Navy Pier to record at WBEZ as well, really makes you feel that your voice is important and  valued. That only pushes you to grow further with how you critique and process art.

As a young person, having someone who looked like me, who was involved with theater, come in and speak was very special. I really believe in the notion that representation matters, and CBYC certainly delivered in that respect.

ER: How else did being in CBYC impact you?

RW: One of the first pieces of advice our mentors gave us was that we were allowed to feel ambivalent about a show. I found that really interesting at the time because I felt pressured to either say, “This was great” or “This was terrible.” Through CBYC, I learned that sometimes ambivalence about a piece of art is the most difficult thing to communicate, but the mark of a good critic is to be able to express, in a very articulate way, why something is “middle of the road.” I had a lot of fun with that and I remember thinking, “Oh well, there’s only one [Chicago Tribune theater critic] Chris Jones, so I don’t know if I’ll become him but maybe I can get a job and write reviews on the side.” And that is actually what I am doing now; I write reviews for two websites, the Chicago division of Broadway World and PerformInk, while working at the Goodman.

BB: Before the program, I don’t think I ever took myself seriously as a writer because I hadn’t been given any kind of permission to do so. I started taking myself seriously as someone who could write and have an opinion with value; I started to put more weight to my words. I also didn’t really know what I wanted to do career-wise, and the program introduced me to communications as a field and opened up options to how I could work in theater in different ways than I had previously imagined. It eventually led me to working in public relations while still speaking to my love of theater, specifically theater in Chicago.

ER: Why did you want to return to the Goodman in a professional capacity?

RW: I wanted to join the Goodman marketing team because I was excited about the opportunity to work full-time for one of the most respected theaters in the country and because my experience as a Cindy Bandle Young Critic had instilled in me a passion both for theater marketing and for the Goodman as an institution. CBYC really reinforced my interest in theater and in writing. Those are still my two favorite things so it’s amazing to be able to put those together in my professional life.

BB: The second my time at CBYC ended, I wanted to go back to the Goodman. I wanted to work here because I grew so much as a member of CBYC and because of the support I receive from the Goodman. I knew that I could find a home here and that working at the Goodman would allow me to be a part of something bigger than myself.