The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department will host the 26th annual Merritt Awards for Excellence in Design and Collaboration on Monday, May 13. The event will take place at the Getz Theater Center of Columbia College Chicago, located at 72 E. 11th in Chicago’s South Loop, where the first Merritt Awards were presented in 1994. Admission to the event is $20 — or only $5 for students. For ticket information, click here.
The evening includes the presentation of the 2019 John Murbach Columbia College Chicago Prize to scenic designer and fabricator Dominique Zaragoza, a 2019 graduate of the Theatre Department’s Theatre Design program. The Murbach Prize, named in honor of the late scenic designer and Columbia College Theatre Department faculty member John Murbach, is one of five $2,000 academic prizes being presented by the Merritt Committee to design students from Chicago-area institutions of higher learning — Columbia College, the Theatre School of De Paul University, Loyola University Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The academic prizes are supported by an endowment at Columbia College Chicago, which expanded the number of academic prizes from four to five this year to include UIC.
The Michael Merritt Awards and Endowment Fund honors the memory of Joseph Jefferson Award-winning scenic designer and Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department faculty member Michael Merritt, noted for his designs for Chicago’s Goodman and Steppenwolf theatres as well as for Broadway and motion pictures. The Michael Merritt Award, a national award unique in its emphasis on excellence in both design and collaboration, is presented annually to outstanding professional theatrical designers. The Endowment Fund recognizes and encourages the work of young professionals and students through a national design exposition and prizes to promising theatrical design students. One of these prizes, the John Murbach Prize, is given annually to a graduating Theatre Design student at Columbia College.
The Michael Merritt Awards and Endowment Fund focuses on supporting collaborative work, citing a statement by famed musical theatre writer-director-producer Oscar Hammerstein II:
Collaboration is the biggest word in the theater. It is the most important element in theatrical success. Not just the collaboration between an author and a composer, but the total collaboration in every play, the convergence and co-ordination of all the different talents, producing, writing, directing, choreography, acting, scene designing, costume designing, lighting, orchestration, theater management, company management, public relations–the mixture of all these ingredients is essential to every theatrical meal that seeks to make itself palatable to the public. To get along in the theater you must enjoy working side by side with other people. You must be willing not only to give your best to them but to accept their best and give them the opportunity of adding their efforts to yours to their full capacities.
This year’s Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration will be presented to theatrical lighting designer Howell Binkley (Hamilton, In the Heights, Come From Away). Other major awards to be presented include:
The Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award, named in honor of the late director and Columbia College Theatre Department faculty member Michael Maggio, which will be presented to lighting designer Jason Lynch;
The Robert Christen Award for Excellence in Technical Collaboration, presented to costume shop manager Heidi McMath and costume designer Birgit Rattenborg Wise; and
The Emerging Technical Collaborator Award, which celebrates a passionate and skillful early career professional who goes about their work in a particularly collaborative manner, presented to costume manager and Columbia College alum Jerica Hucke ’12, a graduate of the Theatre Department’s BA Program in Theatre Design.
The Merritt Awards evening begins at 5 PM with a Theatre Design Exposition showcasing the works of Chicago professional theatrical designers and graduating design students from the Midwest’s best theatrical design programs and attended by many of Chicago’s artistic directors, production managers, and industry professionals. At 7 PM, there will be a dialogue with this year’s award-winning designers, hosted by Aaron Todd Douglas. The awards presentation starts at 8:15 PM, followed by a reception from 8:45 to 10 PM.