Transforming Space over Time tells the stories of six diverse productions: five on Broadway and one Off Broadway. Tony Award–winning set designer Beowulf Boritt begins with the moment he was offered each job and takes readers through the conceptual development of a set, the challenges of its physical creation, and the intense process of readying it for the stage. Theater is at heart a collaborative art form, and Boritt shares revealing details of his work with the many professionals—directors, designers, technicians, producers, stage managers, and actors—who contribute their talent and ideas to each show. Included here are extensive conversations with theater legends James Lapine, Kenny Leon, Hal Prince, Susan Stroman, Jerry Zaks, and Stephen Sondheim, explaining how their different approaches to theater help to shape the vision for a set and best practices for creative collaboration. Boritt also offers valuable insights into the sometimes frustrating but unavoidable realities of the “biz” part of showbiz—budgets, promotion, reviews, and awards.
Full of indispensable advice for aspiring and seasoned professionals, and with plenty of entertaining and enlightening anecdotes to engage passionate theatergoers, Transforming Space over Time peels back the curtain and illuminates the artistry and craft of professional theatrical production—and particularly the all-important collaboration of designers and directors.
Beowulf Boritt has enjoyed a twenty-five-year career in the theater and has designed more than 450 shows in New York (among them twenty-five on Broadway and more than one hundred Off Broadway), across the United States, and internationally. He has been nominated for three Tony Awards and won for his design of James Lapine’s Act One. Boritt was honored with an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Design, among numerous other awards and nominations. He lives in New York City with his wife, actor Mimi Bilinski, and his dog Natasha Rostov.
“I have found Beowulf to be a marvelous colleague, even (or especially) on challenging and complex projects. His creativity, ability to solve problems, and collaborative spirit are all in evidence in this useful, entertaining, and inspiring book that is both practical and personal. It is so like him to offer not only his own wisdom but that of his most experienced and articulate co-conspirators. I’m proud to be one of them.”—James Lapine, writer/director of Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George
“Beowulf Boritt is one of the most exciting set designers to come along in the last decade. His attention to detail is evident in all of his productions—he becomes a master storyteller through his designs. The same dedication he brings to his glorious work, he also brings to this book. It’s a completely engaging and insightful read.”—Susan Stroman, director/choreographer of Contact and The Producers
“If you love theater, either as a theater maker or as a theater appreciator or both, you should read Beowulf Boritt’s book. He brilliantly and meticulously takes apart the process of creating a production. He is an immensely talented designer who understands both the plumbing and poetry involved in making a show.”—Jerry Zaks, director of acclaimed Broadway revivals of Guys and Dolls and Hello, Dolly!
“This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the art of stage design. Beowulf is a mad genius. He brings ideas on paper to life on stage—and he does it brilliantly.”—Mel Brooks, writer of The Producers and Young Frankenstein
“I love theater for the magic it can create and not just for the audiences willing to suspend their disbelief but for the actors as well. That magic happened for me when I stepped onto Beowulf’s stunning set of The Seven Deadly Sins at Lincoln Center’s State Theater. I was transported by Beowulf’s imagination, wit, and elegance, which allowed Wendy Whelan, the New York City Ballet dancers, and me to soar in safety and in inspiration. That is a feat. That is a great designer. That is Beowulf. The insights and stories in this book will be of great value to young directors and designers.”—Patti LuPone, Eva Perón in the original Broadway production of Evita
“Most of the design books I have read have been very technical and dry. Beowulf takes you on a journey. This book tells a story, actually several well-told stories. Stories about the people behind some of the best shows in theater and how those stories are in every fiber of his theatrical designs, and isn’t telling well-told stories what theater is all about? I loved this book.”—James Monroe Iglehart, Genie in the original Broadway production of Aladdin
“From Cher’s yellow plaid to Christian’s convertible, design helps define stories. Beowulf is one of Broadway’s best (and coolest) designers. This invitation to peek backstage with his is a treat for anyone who loves the theater.”—Amy Heckerling, writer/director of Clueless
“As both an audience member and a collaborator, I have literally had a front-row seat to the magic and artistry of Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design. His knowledge, ingenuity, and creativity serve as an inspiration to all theater makes, and now, how fortunate we are to have this entertaining, informative, and enlightening book showing us Beowulf’s process in motion. For anyone looking to expand their skill set and educate themselves about this important art form, this is a must read.”—Tom Kitt, composer of Next to Normal and Flying over Sunset
“When I go to a show designed by Beowulf Boritt, I have something special to look forward to: Where will he take me next? How will he realize his sense of ‘where’? With abstraction, naturalism, romanticism, or some new way? I’m always captivated; I’m always surprised. In Transforming Space Over Time, Beowulf shows how he develops, inspires, and expands audiences’ ideas of how a set can function and tell story in the theater.”—Jeffrey Seller, producer of Hamilton and Rent
“I couldn’t put it down and read it straight through. I learned a LOT and had a ball reading it. Something VERY special and valuable here. Bravo.”—Thomas Schumacher, producer of The Lion King
“Beowulf Boritt is one of Broadway’s brightest set designers. His work on my play Meteor Shower deftly expressed the complexities of the play and its demands for instant set changes. The play could not have been done without his incredible gifts.”—Steve Martin, writer/actor/banjo player
“In addition to Wulfie’s enormous talents as a designer and craftsman, he is almost uniquely gifted with a sense of what a piece ‘really is.’ Every idea of his seems to amplify the initial intention. It’s kind of uncanny!”—John Kander, composer of Chicago and Cabaret
“Working with Beowulf on our modern-day Much Ado about Nothing was indeed one of the great joys of my professional life. To feature a brick home set in Atlanta, Georgia, draped with a political banner bearing the name of Stacey Abrams and the year 2020 set the scene perfectly for patrons to sit in Central Park and embrace this masterpiece written in 1585.”—Kenny Leon, director of acclaimed Broadway revivals of Fences and Raisin in the Sun
“Beowulf Boritt has an eye and a gift for storytelling, he marries the playwright’s words to the images that create the world we live in onstage, he is a master, he knows never to overwhelm the story with a heavy hand of design, allowing every touch to illuminate the tale we’re trying to tell. He’s a master who studies the masters. In Sunday in the Park with George, the words ‘look’ and ‘see’ appear often. If I may borrow the words that Sondheim and Lapine gave Seurat to say: ‘Give us more to see.’”—Mandy Patinkin, George in the original Broadway production of Sunday in the Park with George
Working with Beowulf was a joy, and I felt held onstage by his design choices. Raising the stakes and pride of our entire production.”—Amy Schumer, actor/comedian
“Playing on Beowulf Boritt’s sly and minimalist set established the tone for subversive play in the Scottsboro Boys musical, which was a deconstructed minstrel show. It had all the trappings of a glitzy yet makeshift world in which you could do anything, play anything, and be anything. It put the demands on the audience goer to let their imagination soar high and deep. A play space that was off-kilter set up by the beams that famed our space that gave dimension and depth to the stage but immediately you would know that something was awry. I loved playing on Wulfie’s sets in New York, Minneapolis, and London. A designer who truly loves actors and trusts that he and his director would invite the artists into a play space in which they can have full agency as creators and interrupters of the space.”—Colman Domingo, Mr. Bones in the original Broadway production of The Scottsboro Boys
“I have always had a great affinity for designers and have had such good luck in my work in the theater. Our design meetings about the Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof were magical and the result, perfection. I’m so grateful.”—Joel Grey, actor/director, Emcee in the original Broadway production of Cabaret