Jim O’Quinn | Former American Theatre magazine editor dies in New Orleans

Jim O’Quinn | Former American Theatre magazine editor dies in New Orleans

Jim O’Quinn. Photo by Alan Smason.

Jim O’Quinn, the founding editor-in-chief of American Theatre, passed away on the night of October 11, 2021 from complications due to chronic heart disease. The longtime member of the American Theatre Critics Association was 74.

O’Quinn first began his long tenure with Theatre Communications Group in 1982 as a newsletter editor and launched the magazine in 1984. He remained principal editor until his retirement in 2015. His replacement, Rob Weinert-Kendt, readily admitted that “Jim put his stamp all over the magazine.” “But,” he added, “it was invisible.”

Todd London, O’Quinn’s managing editor through the late 1980s recalled he had “a deep respect for his writers and an amazing intuition about what people should write about.”

O’Quinn’s gleeful approach to covering the national theater scene was born from his love of the arts, which he acquired as a young man growing up in the small town of Colfax, Louisiana. He began his career as a theater writer for The DeQuincy Journal, which he advanced into a job as a city desk reporter for the New Orleans daily newspaper The Times-Picayune. By then, he and his wife Susie Chancey-O’Quinn lived an unconventional life when they moved with their daughter to the Marengo Street Commune in the Uptown neighborhood, not far from the Garden District.

He never lost his passion and appreciation for the unique charms of New Orleans. As a young man, he used his musical skills to provide piano accompaniment on Bourbon Street to comic actor Billy Holiday’s irreverent “Nobody Likes a Smart Ass,” worked on several production at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, and even composed a children’s opera.

O’Quinn left New Orleans in 1978 and enrolled at New York University, where he began his love affair with New York City. Once installed as the American Theatre editor-in-chief, O’Quinn’s contagious charm rapidly grew the magazine into a keystone of the national theater community. His uncanny penchant for connecting with disparate people resulted in making theater more approachable to all who came in contact with him. He became a beloved friend, mentor and ally to more artists than most people meet in a lifetime.

One of the things that also marked him throughout his career was his constant traveling to seek out new theater. He journeyed from New York to New Hampshire and on to Eastern Europe in an effort to enjoy new theatrical experiences. Even in retirement, back in his chosen home of New Orleans, he was committed to travel internationally to expand his horizons and appreciation for theater. He became involved with various international programs, including the Adam Mickiewicz Institute with senior theater expert Joanna Klass. Philip Arnoult, the founder and director of the International Center for Theatre Development, was even more impressed by O’Quinn’s ability to appreciate “the theater ecology” of what was happening in places like Poland, where he might take in six or eight different plays.

In retirement, he still played his beloved piano and occasionally wrote theater journalism for the magazine. In more recent years, however, O’Quinn edited and co-authored the massive five-volume work “Theatre Diplomacy During the Cold War: The Story of Martha Wadsworth Coigney and the International Theatre Institute” with Coigney’s son William Wadsworth.

He suffered a serious heart attack at the end of 2020 and fought to recover over the course of the past ten months with several operations aimed at prolonging his life. He was in and out of Touro Infirmary throughout the year and was readmitted during the first week of October following a fall at home. Ultimately, his big heart was unable to deal with a series of infections that plagued him in his final days and he died peacefully.

O’Quinn is survived by his husband and partner of over 35 years Richard Fumosa, his daughter Jamey O’Quinn, his grandson Leo O’Quinn Santos, and his sisters JoEdna O’Quinn and Patty (O’Quinn) Varnado.

Submitted by Alan Smason with assistance from Justin Maxwell.

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