Please Join Us for

The 25th Annual Merritt Awards

2018 Michael Merritt Awards and Design Exposition

Monday, May 14th, 2018 | 5:00 – 10:00 pm

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
on Navy Pier

The Night Where Backstage Takes Center Stage



5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Showcasing the works of Chicago professional theatrical designers and graduating design students from the Midwest’s best theatrical design programs and attended by many of Chicago’s artistic directors, production managers, and industry professionals.


7:00pm – 8:00 pm

A discussion featuring the major design and technical theatre award recipients hosted by Aaron Todd Douglas.


8:15 pm – 8:45 pm
Presentation of The Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award, The Robert Christen Award for Excellence in Technical Collaboration, The Emerging Technical Collaborator Award, our four student prize recipients, the Best of Exhibition prizes and The Michael Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration.

Food, wine, beer and fellowship until 10:00pm.

The Michael Merritt Awards And Endowment Fund Honor The Memory Of A Brilliant Designer And Inspirational Teacher.

The Michael Merritt Award, A National Award Unique In Its Emphasis On Excellence In Both Design And Collaboration, Has Been Presented Annually Since 1994 To Outstanding Professional Theatrical Designers.

The Endowment Fund Recognizes And Encourages Promising Students of Theatrical Design Through An Annual Design Exposition and Academic Prizes of $2000 .

We are thrilled to announce the 25th Annual Merritt Award winners. Come out on May 14th and celebrate them!

Broadway, film, television and regional theatre Costume Designer Toni-Leslie James (Come From Away, August Wilson’s Jitney) will receive the 2018 Merritt Award.
Draper Beth Uber, Projections Designer Rasean Davonte Johnson, , and Technical Director Becca Venable will receive major awards in addition to student and exhibition prizes. Read more about them below.

25th Annual Merritt Award

 Toni-Leslie James

Costume Designer
Toni-Leslie James has designed costumes nationally for every entertainment venue; feature film, television, opera, dance, industrials, regional theatre and Broadway. For Broadway, she has designed Come From Away ( Hewes Design Award, Drama Desk Nomination), August Wilson’s Jitney (TONY and Drama Desk Nomination),
Lucky Guy, The Scottsboro Boys, Finian’s Rainbow, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, King Hedley II, One Mo’ Time, The Wild Party, Marie Christine, Footloose, The Tempest , Twilight Los Angeles 1992, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches & Perestroika, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Jelly’s Last Jam.
Off-Broadway, she has designed multiple productions for the Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Soho Rep, Lincoln Center Theatre, the New York Theatre Workshop, Classic Stage Co., and over 15 productions for the NY City Center Encores series.  Regionally, her work was seen in productions for La Jolla Playhouse, Steppenwolf, Hartford Stage, The Long Wharf, Baltimore Center Stage, The Old Globe, Mark Taper Forum, Arena Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, The Round House Theatre, Seattle Rep, The Shakespeare Theatre, Berkley Rep, The Alliance Theatre, Goodspeed Playhouse, The Williamstown Theatre Festival, ACT, Denver Theater Center, and Crossroads Theatre Co. Internationally, she has designed for the Young Vic, the Royal Court Theater and the Chichester Theater Festival in the UK, the Athens Greek Festival, and Radio Dansmark TV in Denmark. She was the head costume designer for Whoopi on NBC, and the CBS soap opera, As the Word Turns, as well as having designed four specials for WNET/13’s Great Performances series. Her design work has been displayed in nine major museum and college exhibitions including a 2006 retrospective of her career at The American Museum of Natural History “Designing Woman: Inside the Life And Career of Costume Designer, Toni-Leslie James”, the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library 2008-2009 exhibition “Curtain Call: A Century of Designing Women”, and “More Life! Angels in America at Twenty” at The Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco, CA. in 2010-2011.
Ms. James has garnered a total of thirty-five costume design nominations or awards for her contributions to various theatrical productions including two Tony Award nominations, five Drama Desk nominations, two Hewes Design Awards and three additional Hewes nominations, four Audelco Award nominations, two N.A.A.C.P Image Award nominations, three Lucille Lortel nominations, The Helen Hayes Award nomination, The Denver Theatre Center Ovation Award nomination, The LA Drama-Logue Award, The FANY Award, The Connecticut Critics Circle Award, the Irene Sharaff Young Masters Award For Costume Design Excellence, the 2009 Obie Award for Sustained Costume Design Excellence, and the 2011 National Black Theatre Festival Outstanding Costume Designer of The Year Award, and the 2017 LILY Award for contributions in design for the American Theater. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Sewanee (The University of the South) in January 2018, and selected as a Richmond Times-Dispatch “Person of the Year” in 2017. In March of 2018,
Ms. James was awarded a citation for her contribution to the arts from the Richmond City Council.
Ms. James is an Associate Professor and Head of Design at Virginia Commonwealth University and received her BFA in Theatre from The Ohio State University.

The Robert Christen Award for Excellence in Technical Collaboration

Beth Uber

Draper, Shop Owner

Beth Uber is a freelance draper and owner of ThreadLine Studios and Uber Costume. Graduating with a BFA in Costume Production from the Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Beth began her professional career in the Minneapolis and Seattle areas.
She moved to Chicago and began working at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2010. Beth draped on more than 25 productions at CST, including Follies, School for Lies, Elizabeth Rex, and Sunday in the Park with George. Having made many professional connections in her 5 years at CST, Beth left the company to start two businesses: ThreadLine Studios, a shared costume work space available to rent and Uber Costume, an independent shop which creates costumes for theater, opera, and dance. Since its establishment in 2015, Beth and her team at Uber Costume have contributed to more than 65 productions for 23 different companies, locally from Glencoe to Hyde Park and nationally from St. Louis to New York City. Highlights include: Rusalka (The Metropolitan Opera, featured on The Met: Live in HD playing at cinemas internationally); Les Troyens, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Victrola (Lyric Opera Chicago); Trevor, The Importance of Being Ernest (Writers Theatre); A Funny Thing… (The Muny), Treasure Island, Plantation!, Mr. and Mrs. Pennyworth (Lookingglass Theatere Company), Blues for an Alabama Sky, One Man, Two Guvnors (Court Theatre) Hazel, 42nd Street, South Pacific (Drury Lane. Beth had the fantastic opportunity this winter to work as a guest draper and mentor for The Theatre School at DePaul University’s production of Three Sisters. She and her team recently completed her 14th production for Lookingglass Theatre Company, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award

Rasean Davonte Johnson

Projections Designer

RASEAN DAVONTE JOHNSON is a video artist, filmmaker, and theatrical designer whose work has be seen at museums, galleries, and various stages across the country. An Ohio native, in his first foray into moving image he produced The Price of Pride, which was featured in the 2008 Columbus International Film Festival.
Upon moving to Chicago he found himself deeply involved in the video and theatrical community working on various projects at Collaboraction and American Theater Company. Previous theatre work includes collaborations with numerous institutions including Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Long Wharf Theatre, ArtsEmerson, the McCarter Theatre Center, Yale Repertory Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Berkshire Theatre Group, The Ningbo Song and Dance Company, Yale Opera, Teatro Vista. Timeline Theatre Company, The Hypocrites, Porchlight Music Theatre, Halcyon Theatre, Redtwist Theatre, and many more. In addition to theatrical work his exploration of installations allowed him to create and work on projects such as Living Sculpture as a part of LUX: Ideas Through Lights and the Beinecke Rare Books Library, A Night of Wonder with Pornchanok Kanchanabanca at the Yale School of Drama, Passenger presented at the Bridgeport Film Festival, The Ballad of Lula Del Ray 2.0 with Manual Cinema for the opening of the Logan Arts Center, and Behind the Whites at the Yale Art Museum. He has earned a degree in theatre from the Ohio Stage University and an MFA in projection design from the Yale School of Drama. Additionally, he has lectured and led workshops on design at various schools including Yale University, Boston University, Syracuse University, The Theatre School at Depaul, and the Ohio State University.

The Emerging Technical Collaborator Award

Becca Venable

Technical Director
Becca Venable is a Texas native living in Chicago where she is the assistant technical director at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the technical director for Chicago Children’s Theatre and Red Theater Chicago, and a company member with Red Theater Chicago and The Comrades.
Becca also works as a technical director, lighting designer, and sound designer around the city. Some of Becca’s credits include The Nutcracker (Ballet Lubbock), A Year with Frog and Toad (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Dying City (The Comrades), Beauty and the Beast (Lubbock Moonlight Musicals), American Hero (First Floor Theater), and The Good Fight (Babes with Blades).

Celebrating our newest award:
The Emerging Technical Collaborator Award. This award celebrates a passionate and skillful early career professional who goes about their work in a particularly collaborative manner. We know that it is hard to launch a career in this profession so we are thrilled to announce that this award comes with a $2000 prize. In 2015 we unveiled the The Robert Christen Award for Excellence in Technical Collaboration, this award recognizes an outstanding technical professional whose career as a collaborator in the realization of theatrical design has been significant and sustained. We see the pair as a compliment to the Merritt and Maggio design awards. There are so many amazing Scenic Painters, Production Managers, Technical Directors, Costume Shop Managers, Master Electricians, Carpenters, Programmers, Drapers, Cutters, Riggers, Sound Supervisors, Properties Masters, Stage Managers… that are long overdue for public celebration. We are thrilled to be launching a new era in which we celebrate these key members of theatrical collaborative team. Both awards are made possible by the generosity of Founding Sponsor Chicago Flyhouse.