Notable Production Designs

Ming Cho Lee and Joe Papp
Ming Cho Lee and Joe Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival

Throughout his over fifty year career, Ming Cho Lee has created a countless iconic set designs. The following images provide only a small sample of his over three hundred brilliant designs.


Joe Papp’s Public and the New York Shakespeare Festival

Electra (1964)
Model for Electra (1964)

Lee produced most of the sets for what is now New York’s Public Theater under Joseph Papp. This began with Lee’s extensive work during The New York Shakespeare Festival, or what is now, Shakespeare in the Park.1 His 1964 production of Electra at the Public’s Delacorte theater was his first major achievement. This was described as the first set with “a completely non-literal abstract design, though at the same time it was real, an emblem, an icon. It wasn’t the illustration of a place, it was the pure expression of a play.”2

There are designs where I feel I have reached a certain point of development, but that doesn’t mean that I have done definitive work. There is no question that the 1964 Electra was both a starting point and a landmark. I think it affected the nature of American design. Would I do it that way now? I hope not.2

The Merchant of Venice at the Delacorte (1962)
The Merchant of Venice at the Delacorte (1962)
The Merchant of Venice Sketch (1962)
The Merchant of Venice Sketch (1962)
Much Ado about Nothing (1972)
Much Ado about Nothing (1972)

[On the Delacorte Theater] The first thing you do is figure out where to put the microphones. It was all very primitive. Al the staging was controlled by where you were in relation to the mikes.

Lee would design other works at the Public Theater under Papp such as the musical Hair, in which he utilized the elements of collage. He also designed Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. This involved a simple set with an elaborate red rose hanging upstage.

for colored girls at the Public Theater(1974)
for colored girls at the Public Theater (1974)

Opera and Martha Graham Dance Company

Lee worked with opera and dance in addition to theater. He believes that his work with the  the Martha Graham Dance Company was integral in making him the artist he is today.

Witch of Endor model for the Martha Graham Dance Company (1965)
Witch of Endor model (1965)
Boris
Boris Godunov at the New York Metropolitan Opera (1972)

Arena Stage

Lee would go on to design for Arena Stage which would become a second home to him. The stage was not spherical but rectangular, which added to the difficulty of designing for performance in the round. The sight lines were also difficult for Lee to navigate but time after time he created beautiful set designs.1

Sketch for Inherit the Wind at Arena Stage (1972)
Sketch for Inherit the Wind at (1972)
Sketch for The Iceman Cometh (1968)
Sketch for The Iceman Cometh (1968)
Don Juan at Arena Stage (1979)
Don Juan at Arena Stage (1979)

The Mark Taper Forum

At the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, artistic director Gordon Davidson always knew that he could trust Ming Cho Lee to explore the “three-dimensionality of the thrust and the intersection of stage and audience.”1

“I never had to explain that to Ming. He thrived on it. He was very sensitive to how the set lived within the larger space.” -Gordon Davidson

Volpone at the Mark Taper Forum (1972)
Volpone at the Mark Taper Forum (1972)
Henry VI Part I at the Mark Taper Forum
Henry VI Part I at the Mark Taper Forum (1972)
Traveler-in-the-dark_Mark-taper-forum
Traveler in the Dark model(1985)

The Actor’s Theatre of Louisville

At the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville former producing director Jon Jory only had positive words for Lee.

“He disguised his classes as productions. I have no degree beyond high school, but I have a master’s degree from the University of Ming.”-Jon Jory1

Sketch of the Tempest at Louisville (1989)
Sketch of The Tempest at Louisville (1989)
Romeo and Juliet (1994)
Romeo and Juliet (1994)
Othello at Louisville (1998)
Othello at Louisville (1998)

The Shakespeare Theater Company

At the Shakespeare Theater Company in  Washington D.C., Lee designed six productions in the eight years before he retired.1

Peer Gynt (1998)
Peer Gynt (1998)
Don Carlos at the Shakespeare Theatre (2001)
Don Carlos at the Shakespeare Theatre (2001)
Lorenzaccio at the Shakespeare Theatre (2005)
Lorenzaccio at the Shakespeare Theatre (2005)
Macbeth at the Shakespeare Theater (1995)
Macbeth at the Shakespeare Theater (1995)

“I felt that Macbeth required a serious examination in order to get to the darkest side of the play – an evil that is layered and not immediately visible…It was striking and well received but never got beyond the unusual Macbeth look, and I was never truly frightened.” – Ming Cho Lee2


Broadway

In 1983 Lee would win a Tony Award for the play K2 which premiered at the Brooks Atkinson Theater.

K2
Sketch for the Tony Award Winning K2
Still from K2 (1983)
Stills from K2 (1983)

Dean of American Set Design