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