Anna Louizos was always interested in how things got made. “My dad was a teacher, but he was very handy, he was very creative, so I helped him build things, build cabinets, fix cars,” she says. “We used to overhaul Volkswagen engines.”
But for all her childhood handiwork, it still took years for Louizos to find her path to her career in scenic design. “I didn’t know it was a profession growing up,” she says. “I just wanted to be in theatre.” So Louizos sought out the path in theatre she did know about: acting.
At Mills College in California, she pursued a degree in acting—but that also required her to work on the sets for the productions in which she appeared. “We always built the sets, I always worked in the shop and I loved to build scenery,” she says. After two years, she transferred to New York University—still on the acting track. But with exposure to the New York City theatre scene, she changed course. She assisted designers like Heidi Landesman, Andrew Jackness, and the famous Tony Walton before heading back to graduate school for scenic design. Louizos landed her first job as the assistant art director on The Cosby Show (“It was TV instead of theatre, but it was a great job” she recalls). And then in the early 2000s, she was asked to lead her first Broadway project: Avenue Q.
“I was an art director on Sex and the City, but I couldn’t pass this up,” she says. Since then, she has gone on to design sets for Golda’s Balcony, Steel Magnolias, High Fidelity, Curtains, In The Heights, To Be Or Not To Be, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, All About Me, Baby It’s You!, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Performers, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Honeymoon in Vegas, It Shoulda Been You, Dames at Sea, School of Rock – The Musical, and Holiday Inn—and that’s just on Broadway. Most recently, audiences nationwide have witness her work in the national tour of School of Rock and with the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Holiday Inn.
But scenic design isn’t about building set pieces anymore; it’s about concept. “I’m usually the first person that meets with the director,” Louizos explains. “We’re trying to tell a story, and this [the stage] was an empty box. There was nothing in there. So how do you tell that story when you read what’s on the paper and translate all that information into a world onstage that does not exist now? There’s a lot to tell visually.” With three Tony nominations and an Emmy nomination to her name, we asked Louizos to reveal the concepts behind her creations.
Scroll through the gallery below for secrets to the sets from Avenue Q, In The Heights, Evita, Arsenic and Old Lace, Cinderella, and School of Rock.