Meet Robert Christen, Lighting Designer

by Kevin Mitchell

A Windy City resident makes good.

Current Home: Goodman Theatre, Chicago, Illinois

About the Organization: Established in 1925, it has launched the careers as David Mamet, Sam Shepherd, William H. Macy, Christopher Walken, John Malkovich, Joe Mantegna and Mary Zimmerman, among others.

Moonlights At: Steppenwolf, Looking Glass, Northlight Theater and the Chicago Opera.

Schooling: Graduated from the University of Wisconsin, and started at Goodman as an assistant electrician.

Recent Work: A Christmas Carol (an annual affair 28 years young); and a festival of Edward Albee’s work.

Up Next: A festival of David Mamet’s work.

Chicago, My Kind of Town: “The 1960s and 1970s saw a manifestation of a lot of small theatre companies. We had more freedom than in New York, where the commercial aspects put a different kind of pressure on you. In Los Angeles, the main focus is on TV and film — not that there’s not good theatre there, too, it just gets a little lost.”

Challenges: Conflicts. “Sometimes I get into productions that I don’t think have a conflict with another, but then I end up doing a lot of running back and forth between theatres.”

Upside: “Equipment has become better. More theatres here seem to have acquired more inventory, and most have computer-related products.”

What Has Changed: The audience’s expectation. “Theatregoers are also going to concerts, and are seeing special live events on TV, and they are experiencing more elaborate productions.”

Why That’s Good: “Sometimes razzle-dazzle provides a higher quality product. Ticket prices haven’t gone down, either! [Laughs.] It’s a matter of trying to give them their money’s worth.”