The 2016 Michael Merritt Awards and Design Exposition, named in memory of set designer and former Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department faculty member Michael Merritt, will be held Monday, May 16, starting at 5 PM at Loyola University Chicago’s Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, 1020 W. Sheridan Rd., in Chicago. Among those being honored at this year’s awards ceremony are Tracee Bear, a student in the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department’s Theatre Design BA program, and Columbia College Theatre Department design faculty member Scott Davis.
The Michael Merritt Awards and Endowment Fund celebrate the legacy of Michael Merritt, one of American theatre’s most respected set designers as well as an inspirational teacher. From the beginning of his career in the early 1970s until his death in 1992 at age 47, Merritt was closely associated with the Chicago theatre movement, working with such theatres as the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare, Northlight, and Wisdom Bridge. He won ten Joseph Jefferson Awards (Chicago’s top theatrical prize) for his designs. He also designed the Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Glengarry Glen Ross, written by his longtime friend and collaborator David Mamet, as well as the Broadway production of Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow and the Mamet-directed films House of Games, Things Change and Homicide.
As a Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department faculty member, “Michael was a generous, gentle and demanding teacher,” recalls his former Columbia colleague Julie Jackson, a professor at the Marshall University School of Music & Theatre in Huntington, West Virginia. “He taught by example and advised young actors, designers and directors to seek broad experience in life as well as in school. His own education was eclectic; he had entered college as a math and physics major and graduated with a major in art history. He also studied philosophy, drove an ambulance in Vietnam and worked as a carpenter. He excluded nothing from the process of design. In the multi-disciplined course he created at Columbia College, students read Origin of Species along with Hedda Gabler and studied the paintings of Vermeer and Titian in preparation for discussions of Shakespeare. Never an instructor, always a teacher, Michael brought scholarship, conviction, insight, inspiration and generosity to every project.”
Highlighting the May 16 event will be the presentation of the Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration. Presented annually since 1994 to outstanding professional theatrical designers, this national prize is unique in its emphasis on excellence in both design and collaboration. This year’s Merritt Award will be presented to Chicago-based sound designer and composer Michael Bodeen. “At a time when other national awards have marginalized the contributions of Sound Design the Merritts are thrilled to be celebrating the career of Sound Designer and Composer Michael Bodeen,” says a statement from the Michael Merritt Awards Committee.
Besides the Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration, awards to be presented this year include the Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award, named in memory of Chicago theatre director and former Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department directing teacher Michael Maggio, which recognizes and supports the work of an outstanding emerging theatrical designer within the Chicago area in acknowledgment of excellence in artistry and collaboration. This year’s Maggio Award will be presented to Chicago-based scenic designer Scott Davis, an adjunct faculty member at the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department.
Other awards to be presented include:
- the Robert Christen Award for Excellence in Technical Collaboration, which recognizes an outstanding technical professional whose career as a collaborator in the realization of theatrical design has been significant and sustained. This year’s Christen Award will be presented to Goodman Theatre house audio supervisor David Naunton;
- the Emerging Technical Collaborator Award, which celebrates a passionate and skillful early career professional who goes about their work in a particularly collaborative manner. This year’s award will be presented to master electrician, lighting designer, and production manager Jeff Glass.
The Michael Merritt Endowment Fund recognizes and encourages the work of young professionals and students through a national design exposition and prizes to promising theatrical design students at Columbia College Chicago, the Theatre School at DePaul University, Northwestern University, and Loyola University Chicago. The recipient of this year’s John Murbach Columbia College Chicago Prize is costume designer Tracee Bear, a senior in the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department’s Theatre Design BA program. The John Murbach Prize is named in memory of set designer John Murbach, former head of the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department’s scenic design program, who died in 2001.
The May 16 event includes a Theatre Design Exposition from 5 to 7 PM, showcasing the works of Chicago-area emerging theatrical designers and graduating design students from Chicago’s best theatrical design programs. The expo is attended by many of Chicago’s artistic directors, production managers, and industry professionals. Following the expo, there will be a panel discussion with the award recipients, professional designers, and artistic leaders exploring current issues of interest to professional and working designers. The discussion, moderated by Chicago Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss, runs from 7 to 8 PM.
The awards ceremony lasts from 8:15 to 8:45 PM, followed by food, wine, beer, and fellowship until 10 PM.
Tickets are $5 for students and $20 for professionals and the general public. The ticket price includes the expo, the panel discussion, the award ceremony, beer, wine and food.