“Nothing makes me happier than an impossible space and an impossible project,” says renowned theater set designer Eugene Lee.
When Lee designs a set, he will often reconfigure the theatre, repositioning exits, technical booths, even walls, to accommodate the play. His audiences frequently find themselves inside, on top of, or under sets that don’t stay put. Robert Brustein, founding director of the Yale Repertory Theatre and the American Repertory Theatre once said that Lee has “the remarkable capacity to create an illusion of vast reaches out of circumscribed space.”
Eugene Lee earned a fine arts degree from The Art Institute of Chicago, another B.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.F.A. from Yale Drama School and honorary doctorates from DePaul University, Rhode Island College, and the Rhode Island School of Design.
Lee is in a rarefied class among art designers. He has won Tony Awards for the original production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and the current Broadway smash hit Wicked, and he was nominated for a Tony Award for his work on Ragtime. Mr. Lee has received the American Theatre Wing’s Design Award, the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Theatre La Ovation Award, the Boston Critics Circle Award, the Rhode Island Governor’s Arts Award, and the Pell Award. He was recently inducted into the New York Theatre Hall of Fame.
Eugene has three Emmy nominations to his credit as the production designer for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” a post he has held since 1974. He was also Emmy-nominated for a CBS live telecast of the play On Golden Pond.
Eugene Lee’s list of longtime collaborators reads like a who’s who of the contemporary theatre. He has worked with legendary stage directors, Adrian Hall, Peter Brook, Michael Lindsey-Hogg, and Harold Prince, as well as film impresarios Francis Ford Coppola (Hammett), John Houston (Mr. North), and Louis Malle (Vanya on 42nd Street and Easy Money). His latest Broadway project, The Pirate Queen, features the Les Miserables writing team of Alain Bouglil and Claude-Michel Schonberg.
In addition to his New York triumphs, Mr. Lee has kept strong ties to Rhode Island as resident designer for Trinity Repertory Company since 1967, when he was hired by Adrian Hall to design The Threepenny Opera. He is an adjunct professor at Brown University where he founded the Oenslager Studio.
Inducted by David T. Shwaery