A Tribute to Writer, Actor, Theater Critic and ALIVE Contributing Editor Christopher Reilly

By Kelly Hamilton
In Culture

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Words cannot express how saddened we are by the passing of our dear friend and colleague Christopher Reilly. Chris was an incredibly gifted writer and passionate arts advocate who gave so much to the the St. Louis arts community and the city. Chris died of cancer on Thursday morning in Georgia, surrounded by family, at the age of 56.

Chris was a brilliant writer and artist. I was personally honored to call him a friend and colleague for the last three years as his editor, working side by side with him as he helped shape our expanded arts and culture coverage and craft regular stories about St. Louis’ burgeoning tech startup scene. He was one of very few freelance writers who we asked to serve as a contributing editor, as the trust we had in him was so great. No matter what the story, Chris had the incredible ability to tell it with such eloquence, detail and genuine humanity that only a true writer can achieve. Chris was instrumental in helping to develop the content for our Arts and Culture blog and contributed countless posts over the last two years, many of which came from his own desire to cover the people and places making a difference in St. Louis.

In print, he wrote monthly art reviews and developed and wrote some of our highest level features, the most impressive of which has become ALIVE’s most talked-about story yet. “Boomtown, USA,” a 14-page narrative on the St. Louis startup scene published in the August 2014 issue, was a four-month long project for Chris and me. We spoke almost daily for a big part of the story’s development. The insights, knowledge and genuine passion for telling the story that he brought to the editors’ room while working on that piece–and always–made him a master at his trade and an inspiration to work with. His humor and quick wit in meetings and in email always kept us laughing, too.

To give Chris a proper tribute, it’s important to go back a bit further, beyond when we met him just four years ago, and share more about the man and artist he was.

He attended Parkway West High, where (according to Chris’ LinkedIn page), he was voted “Most Talented.” He won the Best Theater Student award, a national photography award for best newspaper cover photo in the nation, and a Midwest regional award for best action photograph. He was involved in debate, theater, fencing and tennis, in addition to the Quill and Scroll Society. During the summer before his senior year, he earned a summer media scholarship in film making, photography and multimedia from SLU. He graduated from Parkway in 1976.

After graduation, he entered Webster University’s theater conservatory and also studied English literature, creative writing, philosophy and religion. After two years at Webster, he moved to New York to attend the National Shakespeare Conservatory and earned his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Theatre Arts Management. There, he created and acted in a one-person show, “Tough Guy,” which was produced Off-Broadway at the West Bank Theater and in Missouri and Indiana.

As Humphrey Bogart, the Tough Guy.

As Humphrey Bogart, the Tough Guy.

 

For the last 20 years, Chris worked as a freelance writer and producer in the St. Louis area, producing industrial films for clients including Monsanto, Southwestern Bell, Marcone and others. He authored radio plays produced on National Public Radio and co-authored and composed original music for stage plays.

He began reviewing plays and art exhibitions when he became a columnist for AOL Patch.com in 2009, covering the areas of Chesterfield, Clayton, Webster and Florissant. He served as an arts and culture columnist and food critic there for two years. While there, he worked alongside Gwen Ragno, who became ALIVE’s Associate Editor and brought on Chris as an ALIVE writer in fall of 2011.

Since he started contributing to ALIVE, Chris’ dedication to local artists and art organizations has been evident at every turn. He attended two to three plays a weekend at times, and pitched stories that spotlighted local artists, museums and gallery owners. He wanted to cover stories about community projects that sought to further the message that St. Louis has a thriving arts community.

“I didn’t have the chance to work with Chris for too long, but I always felt a connection with him as a writer and lover of the arts,” says Ida McCall, PR/Marketing Manager of Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. “His profound appreciation of and commitment to the arts scene in St. Louis was clear—it came across in his writing and in our conversations. I loved chatting with him at openings and running into him at arts events. And it was always amazing to see how this relatively quiet—but deeply observing—guy could translate the visual world into such eloquent and thoughtful writing. He will be greatly missed.”

Chris also joined the St. Louis Theater Circle to contribute his passion and knowledge to honoring local professional theater and theater artists.

Chris in "Man of La Mancha"

Chris in “Man of La Mancha”

 

“Chris was a modern Renaissance man, an artist of many talents,” wrote The St. Louis Theater Circle Awards in a tribute post on Facebook Thursday evening. “He was a writer, a painter, a musician and an actor, among other abilities, and he did it all with professional flair and accomplishment. He embraced his membership in the St. Louis Theater Circle and we were excited that someone with his expertise wished to join us. He wholeheartedly endorsed our mission to honor local professional theater and theater artists, and he always knew of which he spoke. Farewell, Chris. We are proud and fortunate to have known you, to have learned from you, and to have had the pleasure to enjoy your hearty laugh, sharp sense of humor and genuine humanity.”

Chris’ final post for ALIVE was on December 26, an announcement about Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis’ plans for installations by renowned landscape architects on its patio. He wanted so much to continue writing and taking on assignments. According to his sister, Kim, who cared for him in Georgia for the last 10 weeks, it was his ALIVE writing that helped keep him going: “He struggled to write like he wanted  (it took much longer and required great effort) but it gave him focus. He continued to jot down ideas for articles even when he could no longer focus on writing. I’m grateful for that,” she told me in a personal note.

Knowing that Chris’ work meant so much in his final days is an incredible gift—and yet another tribute to his deep passion and dedication to his craft. But really it is the ALIVE team who is grateful. We are grateful to have known him, laughed with him, learned from him and told stories with him. This is the greatest honor of all and one that we will never forget. The lives he touched, organizations and projects he supported and the friends he made along the way are too many to count. He will be forever loved and always a part of the ALIVE family. Farewell, Chris. Your heart and your quill will be forever missed in this town.

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