The 27th annual Michael Merritt Awards for Excellence in Design and Collaboration, a Chicago-based national theatre-industry awards program, will be presented in a free online ceremony on Monday, May 17, 2021, at 6 PM.
The awards, administered by the Michael Merritt Awards and Endowment Fund, honor the memory of former Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department faculty member and Joseph Jefferson Award-winning stage and film designer Michael Merritt, noted for his set, lighting, and costume designs for Chicago’s Goodman, Steppenwolf, Northlight, Victory Gardens, Wisdom Bridge, National Jewish, and Chicago Shakespeare theatres as well as for Broadway and motion pictures. Merritt died in 1992 at the age of 47.
This year’s Michael Merritt Awards will highlight two designers who are powerhouse advocates of inclusion and equity in employment. The 2021 Michael Merritt Award for Design and Collaboration will be presented to Tony Award-winning designer, educator, activist, and creative producer Clint Ramos, who became the first person of color to win the Tony Award for Best Costume Design of a Play for Eclipsed. And the Merritt Awards’ first Arts Advocate Award will be presented to costume designer, pay equity activist, and development director Elsa Hiltner.
The Michael Merritt Awards program also recognizes and encourages the work of young professionals and students through a national design exposition and academic achievement prizes to promising theatrical design and technology students. One of these prizes, the John Murbach Columbia College Chicago Prize, is given annually to a student in the Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department’s Theatre Design and Technology program. The prize honors the memory of former Columbia College Theatre Department faculty member John Murbach, who died in 2001 at age 44. This year’s Murbach Prize will be presented to lighting designer Quinn Chisenhall.
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.
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