Tony Award-winning set designer Eugene Lee, the genius behind Broadway's Wicked and TV's Saturday Night Live, will be honored with a 2014 Distinguished Achievement Award in Scenic Design from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology.
USITT, the national association for the performing arts design and technology industry, annually bestows Distinguished Achievement Awards on major contributors to the field. Besides Lee, the 2014 honorees are Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth, Broadway lighting designer Shirley Prendergast, Indiana theatre technology educator Dana Taylor, and Austin, Texas, Stage Management Mentor Susan Threadgill.
Eugene Lee won his first Tony for Best Scenic Design of a play for Candide in 1974, the same year he helped NBC launch the live comedy show known as SNL. He has since won two more Tonys -- for Sweeney Todd in 1979 and Wicked in 2004 -- and many other accolades in his five decades of work.
Lee is known for his artistry in creating imaginative, intricate versions of settings described in plays and novels - from the stark, Dickensian scaffolding he assembled from old wood and metal for Sweeney Todd to the 40-foot mechanical dragon clock from Gregory Maguire's Wicked.
"Eugene Lee's design work and approach to design are nothing short of inspiring," said Michelle Harvey of USITT's Scenic Design Commission, who nominated him for the award.
A native of Beloit, Wis., he discovered set design as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and spent time at three other great theatre schools - Carnegie-Mellon University, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Yale University School of Drama - without ever graduating. He has since received honorary degrees from all his alma maters.
In the 1960s, he left Yale to join his friend director Andre Gregory on a version of Alice in Wonderland that went to Broadway. Since then, he has won three Tonys, nine Drama Desk Awards, and an Emmy for SNL. He says he got into TV when a young Canadian producer named Lorne Michaels asked him to design what became SNL. That was 40 years ago, and he still never misses a show. He also is the resident designer at Trinity Repertory Theatre in his home of Providence, RI.
At the USITT Conference, Lee will participate in a panel, USITT Distinguished Award Winners in Conversation, on Friday morning, March 28, and receive his award in a special session later that day.
USITT is the leading provider of year-round training, networking, and information opportunities for backstage professionals. Its four-day Annual Conference & Stage Expo brings some 5,000 people and over 200 companies together for education, promotion, and resourcing of theatrical products and services. For more information, visit www.usitt.org/2014.