Live Design Award Winner: Beowulf Boritt

On The Town. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For a second year, Live Design recognizes outstanding individual designers and teams for excellence in design achievement. This year, six winners are honored: Abe Jacob, for a legendary career in sound design; Beowulf Boritt, for innovation in scenic design on and Off-Broadway; Laura Frank, for technical excellence in media technology for television, special events, theatre, concerts, film, and corporate; Full Flood, for the best in live broadcast lighting for awards shows and special events; Natasha Katz, for sustained achievement in theatrical lighting design; and Seven Design Works (LeRoy Bennett, Cory FitzGerald, and Tobias Rylander), for creativity in collaboration for concert tours, film, and television. The awards will be presented Monday, June 13, 2016 at Upper Story by Charlie Palmer in New York City.

Beowulf Boritt

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Beowulf Boritt took home the 2014 Tony for Best Scenic Design of a Play for Act One at Lincoln Center Theater and was first nominated in 2011 for The Scottsboro Boys. He was nominated once again this year for his work on Thérèse Raquin, in which a river runs across the stage. His innovative approach to scenic design popped onto Broadway with The 25thAnnual Putnum County Spelling Bee, and his productions include Rock Of Ages, the revival of On The Town, and Hand To God. He works with a who’s who of contemporary theatre directors and choreographers, including James Lapine, Hal Prince, and Susan Stroman. He has also designed no less than a hundred Off-Broadway productions, not to mention ballet and the circus.

Legendary director Hal Prince and Tony Award-winning lighting designer Howell Binkley share their thoughts about Boritt in conjunction with his Live Design Award for innovation in scenic design on and Off-Broadway.

One of the things I teach my students, and all new designers, is that you must be kind and open to everyone in the room and in your theatre as a whole from day one, and it is also one of the first things I noticed about Beowulf. For over ten years, Wulfie and I have worked together on numerous pieces. His warm, genuinely friendly, inquisitive personality makes for a remarkable collaborator.  

When a lighting designer is hired to light the work of a brilliant set designer, it is exciting. However, when a lighting designer is hired to light the work of a brilliant set designer, who also happens to be a wonderful human being and a genuinely collaborative artist, then that is a joy, and it certainly makes for a more successful process and, inevitably, a more successful piece.

Thérèse Raquin. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I love Wulfie’s extraordinary attention to detail in his designs. He does tremendous amounts of research, which, in turn, fills his sets with detail. That attention to detail is spectacular for me as a lighting designer because Beowulf considers lighting specifically as he builds his sets. He has always been a great designer with whom to work. Everything from practicals on stage and beyond are part of his thought processes, and as an LD, I long for those details because they are fun for me to work with and also because the end result is that it all helps create a sense of realism.

Our most recent project together, Come From Away, has a tremendous amount of chairs that make up the set in various locales. With my background in lighting dance, when I first saw this, he and I began to affectionately call this beautiful moving of the set pieces our “chair ballet.” 

Via this “chair ballet,” Beowulf is able to transport his audience from a bar to the inside of a large airplane to the expansive outdoors. It is heaven for me, as his welcomed collaborator, to light. Beowulf’s imagination is boundless.

—Howell Binkley, Lighting Designer

Hand To God. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I’ve known Beowulf Boritt since I was introduced to his work at the New York Public Library clambake. It was an annual occasion where the best young graduates from theatre design school displayed their wares, either scenery, lighting, or costumes. I attended it every year seemingly checking out over a hundred young artists. Beowulf was one of the most impressive. The year was 1996.

I recommended him to my daughter, who was directing Jason Robert Brown’s musical, The Last Five Years. He did a brilliant job. I first saw it in Chicago and then it opened Off-Broadway. I knew instantly that I would like to work with him, and I have on a number of shows, including Lovemusik and Paradise Found.

He has the perfect combination of talent, tact, an even disposition, and boundless enthusiasm. What more could I ask for? That he is being honored now serves to remind me that he was 26 when I met him, and miraculously, though he does not look a day older, he is 45!

As I write this, I am working with him on the next musical entitled Prince Of Broadway. We opened in Tokyo about six months ago, and he delivered a magnificent job. As it’s a compilation of many of my shows, he managed to synthesize all of them. I suppose it ranks among the most difficult shows a designer has ever been handed, and he knocked it out of the ballpark. I am looking forward to singing his praises in public on June 13.

—Hal Prince, Director

For more, download the May issue of Live Design for free onto your iPad or iPhone from the Apple App Store, and onto your Android smartphone and tablet from Google Play.

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