The Tinneny Family History Site



William Robert “Bob” Sickinger

Photo courtesy of Jo-Ann Sickinger

Bob, who is believed to be the oldest Tinneny descendent in the United States, passed away May 9, 2013 at his winter residence in Delray Beach, Florida. He was raised in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. As a young man he moved to Chicago where he earned icon status in the world of Chicago theater. He subsequently moved to Manhattan, New York where he continued work on theater productions. Bob was surrounded by his wife Jo-Ann and his children when he passed away. He was buried with military honors in Florida.

Bob was the great-grandson of Patrick “Yankee Pat” Tinneny of Goladuff, Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh Northern Ireland, Greenock Scotland and Philadelphia and the grandson of  Catherine Tinneny Sickinger and the son of Francis Sickinger.

The below obituary and photo appeared in the New York Times: 

Bob Sickinger, Chicago Stage Innovator, Dies at 86

By Bruce Weber

Published: New York Times   May 14, 2013

From left, Bob Sickinger, Dan Schoch and Charles E. Gerber collaborating in New York in 2009.

Photo by Stephen Schwartz

Bob Sickinger, a director whose mostly nonprofessional productions in the 1960s seeded a Chicago theater scene that evolved into one of the country’s greatest, died on May 9 at his home in Delray Beach, Fla. He was 86.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his daughter Erika said.

Mr. Sickinger was something of a Pied Piper, an alluring, commanding personality with an irresistible idea: that theater isn’t presented to a community but arises from it. The program he nurtured in Chicago is considered by many to be the beginning of off-Loop theater, a network of dozens of troupes and theaters that is the city’s equivalent of Off and Off Off Broadway.

“To the extent that any individual founded off-Loop theater, a case can be made that Sickinger was that man,” Chris Jones, the chief theater critic of The Chicago Tribune, wrote after Mr. Sickinger’s death.

When Mr. Sickinger (pronounced SICK-in-jer) arrived in Chicago from Philadelphia in 1963 and took over the Hull House theater program at the Jane Addams Center on the city’s North Side, theatrical productions in the city were largely limited to Broadway road shows. The Second City improvisational troupe, founded in 1959, was in its infancy; the venerable Goodman Theater was known largely for its drama school. The birth of the influential ensemble Steppenwolf, whose success inspired theater companies in Chicago and elsewhere, was more than a decade in the future.

Mr. Sickinger, whose taste ran to the provocative and difficult — he was a Samuel Beckett aficionado — produced and directed challenging, sometimes distressing contemporary plays, introducing Chicago audiences to writers like Edward Albee, Harold Pinter, Athol Fugard and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). He took on subjects that had been taboo in an unadventurous theater environment, presenting Jack Gelber’s grim portrayal of drug addiction, “The Connection,” and John Herbert’s harsh prison-rape drama, “Fortune and Men’s Eyes.”

Though the theater and Mr. Sickinger took some heat for his thumb-in-the-eye aesthetic, critics praised many of the productions as revelatory. Of Mr. Sickinger’s very first show, Frank Gilroy’s “Who’ll Save the Plowboy?,” Richard Christiansen, a longtime critic for The Tribune, wrote, “This is the most important achievement for theater in Chicago since a group of young actors took over an old Chinese laundry and turned it into a cabaret called Second City.”

More remarkable was that he found his casts and crews among nontheater people — students and other artistically inclined people who were making a living by other means — and inspired many to pursue lives in the theater, among them the actor Mike Nussbaum and the playwright David Mamet.

In a 1984 essay for Vanity Fair, Mr. Mamet called Mr. Sickinger “one of the greatest directors I’ve ever known” and recalled his days at Hull House: “I was 16 years old. I was a member of the chorus, I tore tickets, I was on the scene crew, I fetched coffee. There was drama every night, onstage and off. Sickie exuded drama. He had a boundless passion for beauty on the stage, and a complete conviction that said beauty was just and exactly what he said it was.”

“It was the first time in my confused young life,” Mr. Mamet added, “that I had learned that work is love.”

William Robert Sickinger was born on Nov. 7, 1926, in Philadelphia, where his father, Francis, ran a trucking company. Drafted before he finished high school, he served in the Army, part of the time in the Philippines, at the end of World War II. Afterward he went to Bloomsburg State Teachers College (now Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania), where he gave up football for the theater; he later studied English and speech in a graduate program at Temple University.

While working as a public-school teacher in Philadelphia in the 1950s, he started several small theater companies. When a fellow Philadelphian, Paul Jans, became executive director of the Hull House Association in Chicago, he hired Mr. Sickinger to run the theater program.

Mr. Sickinger’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Erika, he is survived by his wife, the former Jo-Ann Pastor, whom he married in 1974; three other daughters, Robin Sickinger, Denise Stabenau and Judi Fazzie; a son, Robert Porter; two sisters, Patricia and Charlene Snyder (they married brothers); six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Amid financial troubles at Hull House and his own conflicts with the board, Mr. Sickinger left in 1969 and moved to New York, where he had limited success. He wrote and directed a handful of shows Off Broadway, including “22 Years,” a play about Charles Manson, and a musical adaptation (with music and lyrics by Mel Atkey) of the Frances Hodgson Burnett children’s tale “A Little Princess.” He directed a 1980 film, “Love in a Taxi,” featuring Jim Jacobs, a Hull House alumnus who was one of the writers of the musical “Grease.” Mr. Sickinger also ran an answering service that had many actors as clients.

“I tried to direct theater and film when I came to New York, but I found it very difficult,” Mr. Sickinger said in 1989. “I probably moved the wrong way — I should have gone to California. But I don’t miss it, really. I had true love once, in Chicago. That was pretty much a perfect experience. And when you’ve had true love nothing else is as good.”


Update October 1, 2020
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