Skip to content

Academic Achievement

ACADEMIC PRIZES FOR COLLABORATIVE DESIGN

The Michael Merritt Endowment Fund will assist three outstanding full-time students who seek experience in the area of design for the stage.

THE JOHN MURBACH COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO PRIZE

THE THEATRE SCHOOL AT DEPAUL UNIVERSITY PRIZE

THE NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRIZE

THE LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO PRIZE

About John Murbach

On the Chicago theater scene, John Murbach was a set designer known not so much for a particular style as for his close work with directors, actors and lighting and costume designers. An artist in residence at Columbia College, Mr. Murbach headed the school’s set design program.

John, died at the age of 44 in 2001.

“He adapted himself to the show and whatever the needs of the director were,” said Sheldon Patinkin, chair of Columbia College’s theater department. “He was a terrific designer and a marvelous collaborative worker.”

Besides teaching at the college, Mr. Murbach freelanced as a set designer, working with companies such as Wisdom Bridge, Center Theater, Oak Park Festival Theatre and National Jewish Theatre.

He was nominated twice for Joseph Jefferson “Jeff” Awards for excellence in Chicago theater and most recently worked on Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” for the Irish Repertory of Chicago.

Newspaper reviews lauded Mr. Murbach’s atmospheric scenery of a seafront cottage and an imaginative blow-up poster of one of the characters as a backdrop. The play ran last spring and traveled to the Galway Festival in Ireland in July.

Born and raised in Elyria, Ohio, Mr. Murbach caught the theater bug in high school. He participated in school productions with dreams of becoming an actor. He also tried his hand at costume design, patching and sewing at home with family and friends, his companion, Keith Erickson, said.

After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1978, Mr. Murbach studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art before coming to Chicago in 1980.

Within a year, he was designing sets. One of his first projects, Wisdom Bridge’s “Kabuki Macbeth,” was nominated for a Jeff Award in 1982.

His next Jeff nomination came three years later for costume design for Wisdom Bridge’s “Hamlet.”

Patinkin, who directed “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” pointed to Mr. Murbach’s abilities as a scene painter. “He made it look absolutely real through paint and texture,” he said.

Mr. Murbach’s success lay in his ability to bring his passions such as painting on fabric, photography and architecture to his set designs, said Mary Badger, producing director at Columbia.

Mr. Murbach encouraged his theater students and worked closely with a gay students organization at Columbia, Erickson said.