The 16th Annual Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration program, honoring scenic designer Todd Rosenthal (August: Osage County), will take place on Monday, April 27, at the Steppenwolf Merle Reskin Garage Theatre. The doors open at 5:30pm with a viewing of the third annual Theatre Design Expo showcasing the works of over 20 Chicago-area emerging theatrical designers as well as a student portfolio review. Martha Lavey, artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, will moderate an inclusive discussion, "Moving Chicago Productions to New York and Beyond" with awardees, director Anna Shapiro and Joshua Schmidt, composer and librettist, from 6:30pm to 7:30pm. The awards presentation will begin at 8pm. Lighting designer Keith Parham (Adding Machine: A Musical) will receive The Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award.

There will also be a presentation of three student scholarship recipients representing The Theatre School of DePaul University, Northwestern University, and from Columbia College Chicago for The John Murbach Scholarship for Collaborative Design. Leading members of Chicago's artistic community and college students from various schools throughout the Midwest are expected to attend.

According to Rob Milburn, a Merritt Awardee for Sound Design in 1998 and the new chairperson of the Steering Committee, “Although this is a national awards program, the spotlight this year is focused on two Chicago-based theatrical designers: Todd Rosenthal, a brilliant scenic designer and a true champion of collaboration, and Keith Parham, who’s imaginative lighting is leading to a terrific career.”

Todd Rosenthal, Scenic Designer
Todd is a Chicago-based scenic designer who works regularly at the Goodman Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre. He won the 2008 Tony® Award for Best Scenic Design of a Play for August: Osage County. He is currently nominated for a Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Set Design. He has designed at regional theatres across the country and Europe, including The Alliance Theatre, Arena Stage, The Alley Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Yale Repertory, Paper Mill Playhouse, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Center Stage, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Cincinnati Playhouse, The Atlantic Theatre, The National Theatre in London, and others. Recent projects include: August: Osage County and The Crucible for Steppenwolf Theatre Company; The Clean House and The Cook for the Goodman Theatre; A Delicate Balance for Arena Stage; Our Lady of 121st Street for the Alley Theatre; The Unmentionables for the Yale Repertory Theatre; Doubt for the Alliance Theatre; Death and the Maiden for Center Stage; Drawer Boy for the Papermill Playhouse; Edward 2 for Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and Red Light Winter at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City. Current projects include: August: Osage County for London’s National Theatre and the North American Tour; A Delicate Balance for Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.; Happy Days for California Shakespeare Festival; Magnolia for The Goodman Theatre, and Fake for Steppenwolf Theatre Company. For the past three years, he has designed scenery for New York’s Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center. In 2007, he was part of the USA exhibition at The Prague Quadrennial in the Czech Republic. He teaches design at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama (where he received the Donald M. Oenslager Scholarship for Stage Design). He has won a Joseph Jefferson Award and three After Dark Awards for design.

Keith Parham, Lighting Designer
Keith is a company member of TUTA Theatre, where recent credits include Maria’s Field, Romeo and Juliet, Uncle Vanya,It’sOnly the End of the World, Tracks, Huddersfield, Still Life in Color, and Rulesfor Good Manners in the Modern World (Chicago and NYC). Other credits include Future Me with SPF at The Public Theatre, Adding Machine: A Musical and Red Light Winter Off Broadway, Gas for Less at the Goodman Theatre, Carters Way, Sunset Limited (Chicago, 59E59 and Ireland), Red Light Winter, The Elephant Man, Huck Finn, and Master Harold and the Boys at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Crime and Punishment (59E59), Picnic, and Nixon's Nixon with theWriters’ Theatre, 9 Parts of Desire and Adding Machine: A Musical at the Next Theatre Company (Associate Artist), Million Dollar Quartet (Apollo Theater and Goodman Theatre) with Dee Gee Theatricals, Don't Dress For Dinner and Russian On The Side at the Royal George Theatre. He has also designed numerous shows for companies including Northlight Theatre, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Timeline Theatre (Associate Artist), Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago Dramatists, Chicago Opera Theatre, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, European Repertory Theatre, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble and Theatre Wit.

The Michael Merritt Endowment Fund was established sixteen years ago in honor of the memory Michael Merritt, “a brilliant designer, an inspiring teacher and good friend who died in 1992 at the age of 47.” By gathering and acknowledging professional designers for the visual arts in theatre and film, and encouraging the interests of young students, the Endowment will perpetuate the professional and personal gifts Michael Merritt represented and capture Michael Merritt's vision, energy, and devotion to the creative process.

Previous Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration honorees include:

  • Loy Arcenas
  • John Arnone
  • Christopher Akerlind
  • John Lee Beatty
  • Gabriel Berry
  • John Boesche
  • Robert Brill
  • Linda Buchanan
  • David Budries
  • Pat Collins
  • John Conklin
  • Deborah M. Dryden
  • Ralph Funicello
  • Jane Greenwood
  • Wendall K. Harrington
  • Susan Hilferty
  • Donald Holder
  • Allen Lee Hughes
  • James F. Ingalls
  • Nan Cibula-Jenkins
  • Virgil C. Johnson
  • Marjorie Bradley Kellogg
  • Santo Loquasto
  • Tom Lynch
  • Rob Milburn
  • Derek McLane
  • Martin Pakledinaz
  • Kenneth Posner
  • Paul Tazewell
  • Jennifer Tipton
  • Michael Yeargan
  • Cathy Zuber

Past Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award recipients include:

  • Thomas Burch
  • Kevin Depinet
  • Michelle M. Habeck
  • Lindsay Jones,
  • Ana Kuzmanic
  • Shannon McKinney
  • Elizabeth Shaffer
  • Jaymi Lee Smith

Members of the Michael Merritt Endowment Fund Steering Committee include:

  • Rob Milburn, chairperson
  • Mary McDonald Badger, past chairperson
  • Robert Shook, past chairperson
  • Gary Baugh
  • Christine Binder
  • Michael Bodeen
  • John Boesche
  • Linda Buchanan
  • Kate Buckley
  • Phil Eickhoff
  • Robert Falls
  • Al Franklin
  • Sydney Smith Gordon
  • Julie Jackson
  • Nan Cibula-Jenkins
  • B.J. Jones
  • Nick Keenen
  • Irma Krasnopolskaya
  • Martha Lavey
  • Frances Maggio
  • John Mahoney
  • David Mamet
  • Joan Mazzonelli
  • Dean Merritt
  • Charles Newell
  • Sheldon Patinkin
  • Jacqueline Penrod
  • Kevin Rigdon
  • Todd Rosenthal
  • Jane Nicholl Sahlins
  • Roche Schulfer
  • Anna Shapiro
  • Joyce Sloane
  • Chuck Smith
  • Joseph Tilford
  • Kathrene Wales
  • Dennis Zacek
  • Michael Maggio, Founding Chairperson

The 2009 awards program and fundraising event is co-hosted by the Michael Merritt Endowment Fund Steering Committee at Columbia College Chicago and Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Sponsors include:

  • Electronic Theatre Controls Inc.
  • J.R. Clancy Inc.
  • Schuler Shook

Tickets are $35 per person; $15 for members of the theatre community; and $5 for students. There is a $25 fee for all participating exhibitors. For reservations, call (312) 344-6105 (credit card orders are accepted) or email