Born in California in 1948, educated at Brown University and the Yale School of Drama, John Lee Beatty became a leading American scenic designer for Broadway and also for Off-Broadway theater companies, notably, and most prolifically for Circle Repertory Company, the Manhattan Theater Club, Lincoln Center Theater, The Public, and City Center Encores. Ever designing, besides his 115 productions on Broadway, and hundreds Off–, he has worked in all the leading regional theaters, for film, television, the circus, and has designed seven restaurants as well. He has won Tonys, Obies, Drama Desks, and Outer Critics awards, and was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
Best known for the creation of new plays by most of the leading playwrights, including Lanford Wilson, Mamet, Simon, McNally, Henley, Baitz, Wasserstein, Pinter, Friel, Miller, Ives, Shanley, Gurney, Akhtar, Nottage, Beane. He also designed the musicals Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Color Purple and the long-running revival of Chicago. He has collaborated with many celebrated directors, and with many of the leading stage actors of our time. Many of the plays he designed originally have become part of the American repertory: Proof, Doubt, Talley’s Folly, Fifth of July, Burn This, The Sisters Rosensweig, Crimes of the Heart, Other Desert Cities. All are familiar and their scenic identities continue with them.
Designers are often forgotten witnesses, often literally in the background.
I see the new play scripts BEFORE the actors usually and witness the directors’ and authors’ struggles. I struggle myself, unseen.
How much I worked; even I sometimes forget how much, since I started in the very early seventies, and even designed scenery as a child.
I worked with old stars, new stars, movie stars, stage stars—and with great authors and directors, producers, managers, painters … and some of the great designers.
I witnessed a lot.
—John Lee Beatty