Living for Design: Beowulf Boritt Conjures Arresting Scenic Worlds for Chaplin, Grace and More

By Mervyn Rothstein
02 Nov 2012

Rob McClure in Chaplin.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Is the black and white idea related to the fact that the world knew Chaplin in black and white?
BB: That's absolutely where it comes from. It's weird to see Charlie Chaplin in color, because we know him as a black and white figure. That's what really led to the choice.

Tell me a little bit about yourself — where you were born and grew up, how you decided to become a stage designer, how you learned your craft and how your career began.
BB: I was born outside Boston, in Concord, MA, but grew up all over the country. My father was a history professor and until I was 10 we lived someplace different almost every couple of years. My parents finally settled in Gettysburg, PA. I studied drama at Vassar in the 1990s — a literature-based degree. I wrote a thesis about Hamlet. I came to New York for graduate school — NYU's Tisch School of the Arts — and stuck around.

I honestly don't think I really meant to become a professional designer. I'm a little disingenuous for saying that, but I don't think I thought it was possible. I don't know if there was ever a moment where I said I'm going to pursue this. I thought I might become a college professor and teach set design somewhere. To do that I needed a master's degree. I started designing around the city a little bit while I was in graduate school and one thing led to another and I had a number of lucky breaks and started building a career.

What's next — what are you working on now?
BB: A bunch of things. Exciting stuff. I'm doing Prince of Broadway for Hal Prince, his version of Jerome Robbins' Broadway. Hal Prince's greatest hits. A couple of songs each from his most famous pieces. We were planning to do it this fall, but he ended up switching producers, and it's been pushed off for a year, so we'll do it about nine months from now. It's an interesting challenge to take a little bit of Sweeney Todd, a little bit of Phantom of the Opera, a little bit of Fiddler on the Roof, and all of that has to work together. It's great — I never thought I'd ever have a chance to work with Hal Prince on any of these shows.

What's the origin of your somewhat unusual first name?
BB: I was born in the 1970s and I could have had a lot of weird names, so I'm lucky it wasn't any weirder!

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