The primary Stages Off-Broadway Oral history Project

Celebrating the visionaries who created New York's vibrant Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theater.

John Lee Beatty

John Lee Beatty

Set Designer

Interviewed on: Thursday, October 12, 2017
Location: at Primary Stages
Interviewed by: Casey Childs
Interview #112
Photo Credit: Jonathan Blanc
"I never was terribly interested in money, which turned out to be, of course, doing what I do, a godsend…At Circle Rep, we built the set, and then you just saw after the set was many seats you could fit in the space…I came to New York in a huge recession, but of course that meant that everything was accessible."
John Lee Beatty Highlights
Video Length: 6 Minutes, 58 Seconds
John Lee Beatty Interview One
Video Length: 3 Hours, 40 Minutes
John Lee Beatty Interview Two
Video Length: 3 Hours, 32 Minutes

John Lee Beatty is a set designer best known for his work in both Broadway and Off-Broadway theater. He began his career Off-Broadway working for Circle Repertory Theatre and has gone on to design the sets for over 130 shows for companies such as Manhattan Theatre Club, Lincoln Center Theater, and The Public. His Off-Broadway credits include: BATTLE OF ANGELS (1974), THE MOUND BUILDERS (1975), KNOCK  KNOCK (1976), THE WATER ENGINE (1977), ASHES (1977), A LIFE IN THE THEATRE (1978), FIFTH OF JULY (1978), TALLEY’S FOLLY (1979) CRIMES OF THE HEART (1980), THE MIDDLE AGES (1983), THE MISS FIRECRACKER CONTEST (1984), AFTER THE FALL (1984), PRINCIPIA SCRIPTORIAE (1986), LOOT (1986), BURN THIS (1987), ROAD TO MECCA  (1988), THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE (1991), THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG (1992), LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART (1992), SYLVIA (1995), LONDON SUITE (1995), ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1996), THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP (1998), PROOF (2000), BOOK OF DAYS (2003), MY OLD LADY (2003) DOUBT (2004), ENGAGED (2005), OTHER DESERT CITIES (2011), SCHOOL FOR  LIES (2011), VENUS IN FUR (2010), THE WHIPPING MAN (2011) DADA WOOF PAPA HOT (2015),and SWEAT (2016). For his work Off-Broadway, he has been nominated for numerous awards, winning five Henry Hewes Design Awards, two Obie Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award. In 1993, he received the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Body of Work.

John Lee Beatty was born in Palo Alto and raised in Claremont, California. He graduated with a degree in English from Brown University and studied set and costume design at the Yale School of Drama, where he was trained by Ming Cho Lee. He designed the sets for 115 Broadway shows, including Knock Knock (1976), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978), Fifth of July (1980), Crimes of the Heart (1981), Burn This (1987), The Most Happy Fella (1992), The Sisters Rosensweig (1993), The Heiress (1995), A Delicate Balance (1996), Chicago (1996), Proof (2000), Doubt (2005), The Color Purple (2005), Rabbit Hole (2006), A View from the Bridge (2010), Good People (2011), Other Desert Cities (2011), Venus in Fur (2011), After Midnight (2013), Disgraced (2014), Sweat (2017), and Junk (2017). For his work on Broadway, he has been nominated for 15 Tony Awards, receiving two for his work on Talley’s Folly (1980) and The Nance (2013), and eight Drama Desk Awards, winning two for Dinner at Eight (2003) and Twentieth Century (2004). In 2013, he received a special citation from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2003. 

Mentioned in Interview

Boris Aronson, Jon Robin Baitz, Andre Bishop, Walter Bobbie, Jane Greenwood, Michael Greif, A.R. Gurney, Gerald Gutierrez, Adela Holzer, Douglas Hughes, Michael Kahn, Ming Cho Lee, Santo Loquasto, David Mamet, Marshall W. Mason, Elaine May, Richard Nelson, Harold Pinter, Alan Schneider, John Patrick Shanley, Neil Simon, Daniel Sullivan, Wendy Wasserstein, Lanford Wilson, The Acting Company, Cherry Lane Theatre, Circle Repertory Theatre, City Center, Classic Stage Company, Lincoln Center Theatre, Lucille Lortel Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, NYSF/The Public, Parish Hall at the Church of Heavenly Rest, Playhouse 91, Playwrights Horizons, Promenade Theater, Queens Playhouse in the Park, Roundabout Theatre, Second Stage Theatre, Signature Theatre, Stage 73, Theatre Four, Theatre for a New Audience, Theater 890, Union Square Theatre, Vineyard Theatre, Westside Arts Theatre, AFTER THE FALL, ASHES, BURN THIS, CRIMES OF THE HEART, DADA WOOF PAPA HOT, DOUBT, FIFTH OF JULY, JUNK, LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART, LONDON SUITE, LOOT, THE MIDDLE AGES, THE MISS FIRECRACKER CONTEST, THE MOUND BUILDERS, THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP, ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, OTHER DESERT CITIES, PRINCIPIA SCRIPTORIAE, PROOF, ROAD TO MECCA, SCHOOL FOR LIES, THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG, THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE, SWEAT, SYLVIA, TALLEY’S FOLLEY, VENUS IN FUR, THE WATER ENGINE