[Feature by Martha Wade Steketee posted at American Theatre Critics Association January 21, 2022.]

Richard Christianson

Richard Christiansen, critic and champion of the Chicago theater that Michael Billington called “alive, energetic, endlessly stimulating” and Linda Winer called simply “boisterous and thrilling” has passed away at age 90.

The news was reported on January 28, 2022 by his Chicago Tribune colleague and ATCA member Chris Jones, inspiring a whirl of reminiscences throughout the ensuing days by friends, colleagues, and theater lovers around the country.

Christiansen was an arts reporter for more than four decades, covering theater, dance, film, and the visual arts around the country but always based in his beloved Chicago. According to the author bio in his essential 2004 publication A Theater of Our Own: A History and Memoir of 1,001 Nights in Chicago, Christiansen began his career in 1956 as a reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago and moved to the Chicago Daily News a year later. He joined the Chicago Tribune in 1978 as its critic at large and served as arts and entertainment editor then chief critic then senior writer. He retired in 2002.

Conversations with a terrific group of Chicago critics assembled in 2019 appears on the Ensemble Chicago website, give a great flavor of the town’s critical tone: Chicago Critics: We’re Part of the Ecology. Christiansen delivered the Perspectives in Criticism address at ATCA’s convening in 2000 at the Humana Festival in Louisville,

As Jones writes in his piece the world shared on Twitter, Christiansen’s career “was marked by his fervent enthusiasm for his beat.” Jones then quotes Christiansen himself to underscores the simple essential quality of his personality, his style, his writing: “All my life.” Christiansen wrote in A Theater of Our Own, “I have been eager to go to the theater.”

Actress Marian Seldes was quoted up to the end of her theater going life that if she had a theater ticket in her pocket for a performance that night, she knew that was to be a great day. I suspect this was true for Chicago’s beloved Richard Christiansen.

— Chris Jones @ChrisJonesTrib· “Richard Christiansen has died at 90 — a critic who sparked a glorious theatrical fire in a city he loved”

— Robert Falls @RobertFalls on Jones’ reflections. “Wonderful tribute. I would have had no career if not for Richard’s support, and can safely say the same is true for a generation of Chicago theater makers. He was a rare gentleman, a fierce advocate for excellence, and a kind soul. We owe him everything.”

— Kris Vire@krisvire “Apart from the AP Stylebook, perhaps, the book I referenced most often throughout my time writing about theater in Chicago was Richard Christiansen’s “A Theater of Our Own.” The scene wouldn’t be what it is without him—a humble titan.”

Playwright and author Jeffrey Sweet offered in American Theatre his own assemblage of stories and recollections and gracious testimonials of Chicago theater makers who knew and loved Christiansen. A man who was appreciated by the people who made the theater he loved and captured for decades.

And Neil Genzlinger’s obituary published February 11, 2022 and updated February 12, 2022 in the New York Times caps off the history. Richard Christiansen, Influential Chicago Theater Critics, Dies at 90.

– Submitted by Martha Wade Steketee

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