Richard Christiansen: A living legend gets a ‘theater of his own’

March 22, 2010

It was an unforgettable evening for LCWA Arts & Leisure client Victory Gardens Theater when more than 100 top actors, directors, funders, administrators and theater critics gathered to celebrate the official naming of Victory Gardens’ new studio as the Richard Christiansen Theater, honoring the Chicago Tribune chief critic emeritus.

Actors John Mahoney, Tim Kazurinsky and Tony Award-winner Deanna Dunagan, artistic directors Robert Falls, Barbara Gaines, Michael Halberstam and B.J. Jones, former Goodman Theatre artistic director Greg Mosher (currently producing “A View from the Bridge” on Broadway) and journalists Hedy Weiss, Janet Davies, Rick Kogan and Lawrence DeVine joined Christiansen’s colleagues and friends for this extraordinary event. Victory Gardens Artistic Director Dennis Zacek kicked off the program by crediting Christiansen in large part for the incredible growth of Chicago’s theater scene, as well as Victory Gardens’ continued success as Chicago’s top producer of new plays over the last 36 years.

Actor William “CSI” Petersen thanked Christiansen for being the first to make him believe he actually had a calling as an actor; likewise for playwright Rick Cleveland, whose first play was singled out for praise by Christiansen more than 20 years ago. Today, Cleveland is a

successful television writer on shows like “Nurse Jackie” and “Six Feet Under.” And who knew comedian and director Harold “Ghostbusters” Ramis felt so lucky to get his start as a cub features reporter at the Chicago Daily News, with Richard Christiansen as his supportive editor and still mentor?

But it was current Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones who brought down the house with his tales of playing second fiddle to Christiansen when they were both reviewing plays for the paper. Still, Jones made it clear that his predecessor’s unique ability to always take in an opening night with an equally open mind continues to guide Jones’ approach to his own writing today.

And that was the evening’s take away for me — subtle reminders like listen, don’t just talk all of the time. Be receptive. Approach each new project, just like a new play, with zero preconceptions. Don’t just criticize, place equal emphasis on finding things to praise. And conduct yourself with an air of quiet pride, every day.

That’s how Richard Christiansen has always comported himself. And that’s why Victory Gardens was happy to give him ‘a theater of his own.’ Click here to read Chris Jones’ account of this truly memorable evening, and here for complete information on Victory Gardens’ new Richard Christiansen Theater.