The Canadian Theatre Critics Association has a proud tradition of honouring the best in Canadian theatre and theatre criticism. 

The Canadian Theatre Critics Association gives out two major awards, The Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Critical Writing and The Herbert Whittaker Award for Distinguished Contribution to Canadian Theatre. Through these awards, the CTCA helps to honour those who have contributed to the growth of theatre making in Canada and continues to support the evolving practice of theatre criticism – both online and in print.

The Nathan Cohen Award
For Excellence in Critical Writing


Nathan Cohen (Photo: Toronto Life)

Nathan Cohen (1923-1971) is often regarded as Canada’s preeminent theatre critic. Cohen wrote for the Toronto Star from 1959 to 1971, where he reviewed plays across the country and internationally, and was also a critic and host for CBC Radio and Television.

Known for his tough-minded and insightful criticism, Cohen played a key role in raising professional standards for Canadian theatre during the postwar era. The CTCA’s major awards for critical writing are named in his honour. 

There are three awards: 

Outstanding Review: This award celebrates outstanding achievement in a written or verbal review of a particular production or productions by a Canada-based writer published within the qualifying time period, including elements of description, analysis, and a qualitative judgement of the production.

Outstanding Critical Essay: This award celebrates outstanding achievement in a piece of critical writing by a Canada-based writer outside of the traditional review format. This may include features, interviews, trend pieces, editorials, and article series (up to a maximum of 2,500 words cumulatively) written from a critical perspective. If you are unsure whether a piece is eligible for submission, please contact the CTCA.

Outstanding Emerging Critic: This award celebrates outstanding achievement by a Canada-based writer who has been practicing theatre criticism for less than three years, either professionally, non-professionally, or in a training context. This award includes a posting as CTCA Critic in Residence at Intermission Magazine and the opportunity to publish reviews and long-form pieces for the publication, under the mentorship of Senior Editor Hayley Malouin. This award is open to applicants with a CTCA Student Membership.

All entries must have been published in a newspaper, journal, magazine, book, or on a website. Each award carries a cash prize and includes a framed award certificate.

There is a $10 fee per entry for members of the CTCA. Non-members pay a fee of $35 for the first entry, in either category, and a $10 fee for each entry thereafter. Anyone paying the $35 fee will be designated an Associate Member of the organization for the remainder of the calendar year. (Regular CTCA membership may be applied for on or after the following January 1st.)

All members of the CTCA are encouraged to enter in one or both categories.

Please note: Due to the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 awards have been postponed; they will resume in 2022. 

The next Nathan Cohen Awards will be for work published between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2022. 

List of Past Recipients

This award for published theatre criticism was begun by the Toronto Drama Bench in 1981 and was taken over by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association in 1990. Beginning as an award for critical writing generally, in 1986 it was formally split into two awards – Long Category, for critical writing over 1,000 words, and Short Category, for critical writing under 1,000 words. In the early years, the awards were made annually; in 2004, the awards became biennial. In some years no awards were given out. In 2019, the Nathan Cohens again became annual awards with three new categories (see above).

 2020 – Review Category: Deirdre Kelly (Critics At Large); Critical Essay Category: Quelemia Sparrow and Lois Anderson (Canadian Theatre Review); Emerging Critic Category: deferred

 2019 – Review Category: Jamie Portman (; Critical Essay Category: J. Kelly Nestruck (The Globe and Mail); Emerging Critic Category: Robyn Grant-Moran (

2018 – Long Category: Barry Freeman (Canadian Theatre Review); Short Category: Karen Fricker (Toronto Star)

 2016 – Long Category: J. Kelly Nestruck (The Globe and Mail); Short Category: Steve Fisher (Torontoist)

2014 – Long Category: Deirdre Kelly (Critics At Large); Short Category: Martin Morrow (The Globe and Mail)

2012 – Long Category: J. Kelly Nestruck (The Globe and Mail); Short Category: Patricia Keeney (Critically Speaking)

2010 – Long Category: Robert Cushman (National Post); Short Category: Robert Cushman (National Post)

2008 – Short Category: Robert Cushman (National Post)

2006 – Short Category: Robert Cushman (National Post)

2004 – Short Category: Robert Cushman (National Post)

2001 – Short Category: Kate Taylor (The Globe and Mail)

1998 – Short Category: Jamie Portman (Southam News)

1997 – Long Category: Kate Taylor (The Globe and Mail); Short Category: Mira Friedlander (The Globe and Mail)

1996 – Long Category: Robert Cushman (National Post); Short Category: Martin Morrow (Calgary Herald)

1995 – Long Category: Marianne Ackerman (Canadian Theatre Review); Short Category: David Prosser (Kingston Whig Standard)

1994 – Long Category: Martin Knelman (Toronto Life); Short Category: Mira Friedlander (The Globe and Mail)

1992 – Long Category: David Prosser (Kingston Whig Standard); Short Category: David Prosser (Kingston Whig Standard)

1990 – Long Category: Robert Cushman (National Post); Short Category: Jamie Portman (Southam News)

Under the auspices of the Toronto Drama Bench:

1989 – Long Category: Martin Knelman (Toronto Life); Short Category: Jamie Portman (Southam News)

1988 – Long Category: Marianne Ackerman (Saturday Night); Short Category: Jamie Portman (Southam News)

1987 – David Prosser (Kingston Whig Standard)

1986 – David Prosser (Kingston Whig Standard)

1985  – Long Category: David Prosser (Kingston Whig Standard); Short Category: Marianne Ackerman (Montreal Gazette)

1983 – Boyd Neil (Quest)

1981  – Martin Knelman (Saturday Night)


The Herbert Whittaker/CTCA Award
For Distinguished Contribution
To  Canadian Theatre


Illustration by Tom McNeely

Founding Chairman of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, one of the founders of the Toronto Drama Bench and Critic Emeritus of The Globe and Mail, Herbert Whittaker (1910-2006) had a long, distinguished career in Canada as a theatre critic and author. Whittaker also worked in the theatre, designing and directing stage productions in Canada.

In 1997, with the dissolution of the Toronto Drama Bench, which had given its own Canadian theatre award annually over a period of 25 years, the Canadian Theatre Critics Association renamed the prize the Herbert Whittaker/Drama Bench Award in his honour. Since the 1970s, the award has been given to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to Canadian theatre in their field. The award is now known as the Herbert Whittaker/CTCA Award.

Nominations come from the entire membership of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association. The award, including a framed certificate and a donation to the recipient’s charity of choice,  is given out every two years. The next Herbert Whittaker Award will be presented in 2023.

List of Past Recipients

Similar to the Nathan Cohen Award, the Herbert Whittaker Award was taken over by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association in 1991. Previously, it was referred to as the Toronto Drama Bench Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Canadian Theatre.

2021 – Michel Tremblay, playwright, and André Brassard, director
2019 – Philip Akin, director and actor 
2017 – Bill Millerd, director
2015 –
Tomson Highway, playwright
2012 –
Judith Thompson, playwright
2008 – Jackie Maxwell, director
2007 – George F. Walker, playwright
2006 – Richard Monette, actor and director
2004 – David Gardner, actor, director, historian
2003 – Ronnie Burkett, puppeteer, playwright
2002 – Robert Lepage,  actor, director
2001 – Brent Carver, actor
2000 – Ken Gass, director
1999 – R.H. Thomson, actor
1998 – Ed and David Mirvish, producers
1997 – Blyth Theatre Company, new play production
1996 – Joy Coghill, actor, director

Under the auspices of the Toronto Drama Bench:
1995 – Bill Glassco, director
1994 – Monique Mercure, actor, teacher
1993 – David French, playwright
1991 – Christopher Newton, director
1990 – Susan Rubes, theatre founder
1989 – Martha Henry, actor, director
1988 – William Huttactor
1988 – George Luscombe, director
1987 – Gratien Gelinas, actor, playwright, cultural animateur
1986 – Tom Hendry, theatre founder, playwright
1985 – Marion Andre, director, theatre founder
1984 – Mavor Moore, actor, theatre founder, playwright
1983 – Paul Thompson, director
1982 – Herbert Whittaker, critic
1980– Astrid Janson, designer