2009 Season Designer Profile: Happy Days’ Todd Rosenthal

In the months leading up to our 2009 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—Romeo and Juliet, Private Lives, Happy Days, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—in our e-newsletters. For the February installment, we profiled Tony Award-winning scenic artist Todd Rosenthal, who will make his Cal Shakes debut this summer with Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.

What are you working on currently, and what other productions do you have coming up after that?

I am designing Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance for Arena Stage in DC, Magnolia (a new play by Regina Taylor) at the Goodman Theatre, the national tour of August: Osage County (for which he won a Tony in 2008), Much Ado About Nothing at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center (and east coast tour), and a few commercial projects in New York which, considering the economy, I don’t want to jinx. I’m also designing a few shows at Steppenwolf.

The biggest question in my mind is, what’s the attraction for a designer to a Beckett play? I saw in your CV that you designed the set for Endgame last year in Milwaukee, and I know that the Beckett estate keeps rather tight reins on how his works are interpreted. In addition, he trafficked in such minimalism. So what excites you about this particular playwright’s work?  

Looking at the images your website, I noticed what seems like a major emphasis on interiors and other architecture. But Happy Days is very much an exterior play, and our theater is an outdoor one. What’s your experience with outdoor venues, and your favored approach to exteriors?  

You won a 2008 Tony for August: Osage County. What was that like, receiving that kind of recognition? Were you at the ceremony? How was that?  

And lastly, if you could have designed sets for any play or production in history, what would it (or they) be?  

I wish Martin McDonagh was still working in the theater, and I could design all of his new plays.

Standing in front of 6,000 people was a bit overwhelming. It is great to be part of such a successful play. Some people never get a chance to be part of a history-making Broadway play. I feel very fortunate.

In Happy Days Beckett again explores how we endure amidst great odds. What could be a better setting than a women being swallowed by the earth under the open sky? I tend to favor projects outdoors that are enhanced by being outdoors. I am less enamored by designs that fight being outdoors, like drawing rooms. I did Night of the Iguana outdoors; in that play the main character is constantly challenging god. The dome of the night sky was awesome. I don’t think I could ever do that play indoors again.


I remember reading Endgame as an undergraduate, and never really connecting to it. It seemed so encased in plastic. As something to be revered but not touched. But, when I designed it last year I was so struck by its raw humanity. The struggles of these characters just trying to make it has such relevance for me as I grow older. I was also struck by how funny the play is.



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