The Chicago theatre community joined together on Monday, April 28, to celebrate the contributions of two internationally renowned designers at the 10th annual presentation of the Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration. This year’s awards were presented to set designer Derek McLane and lighting and set designer Christopher Akerlind, and the Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award went to Chicago-based lighting designer Jaymi Lee Smith.

Derek McLane has designed sets for numerous shows on Broadway and Off Broadway, regional and international productions, as well as television. In 2002, he designed six full productions for the highly acclaimed Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. His work in Chicago has included several productions at the Goodman Theatre, most recently The Rose Tattoo, and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In 1997 he received an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Scenic Design.

Christopher Akerlind is an award-winning lighting and set designer whose work has been seen in more than 300 productions at theatre and opera companies across the country and internationally. He is the recipient of numerous awards including an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Lighting and Design. He is currently Director of the Design and Production program at the California Institute of the Arts.

Jaymi Lee Smith has worked as a freelance designer throughout Chicago for the past seven years. Her work has been seen in 34 cities nationwide as well as in Ireland, Scotland, and Spain.

The Michael Merritt Endowment Fund was established in 1993 in memory of a brilliant designer and inspiring teacher who died in 1992 after a year-long battle with cancer. In addition to sponsoring professional design awards, the fund provides annual scholarship awards to outstanding theatrical design students.

This year’s recipients of the Michael Merritt Student Scholarship are Christopher Ventresca of DePaul University and Tom Burch of Northwestern University. The Endowment Fund’s John Murbach Scholarship for Collaborative Design this year goes to Columbia College Chicago student Jason Epperson.