UO graduate wins national theater award for set design

The set of 'The Father'

Father, veteran and recent University of Oregon graduate Michael Teague has won a national Kennedy Center award for his set design in “The Father,” a play that premiered on campus in winter 2018.

The award was presented at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, an annual event that brings 125 theater arts students from eight regions around the country to participate in a national competition. Teague was sent to D.C. as the Region 7 design representative after winning this year’s regional competition hosted at the UO in February.

Not only is Teague the 50th anniversary winner for design at the festival, he is also the first UO graduate to win the national award. To mark the anniversary, the Kennedy Center is sending this year’s winners to the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space in June.

Michael TeagueThe quadrennial is an international event that happens every four years to honor excellence in design for performance, scenography and theatre architecture, or as Teague describes it, basically the Oscars for theater design.

“I know pain more than I know success so this event and what’s coming in a week is just surreal, I don’t know what to do with it,” Teague laughed. “But I did it and no one can take this away from me; I will always be a national award-winning scenic designer.”

Entering the UO as a psychology major and exiting as a national scenic design award winner, Teague’s interest in theater arts sparked after his first-year interest group drove him to take an acting class.

“I signed up for a FIG, I had an acting class, I walked in on that first day of class and I was like, ‘Oh this is the magic I’ve been missing; this is where I’m supposed to be.’ I don’t know. It just felt right,” he said.

However, it wasn’t until Teague took Jerry Hooker’s introduction to design course that he was fully bitten by the scenic design bug. Over the course of his college career, Teague dove head first into theater arts, taking every course he could and designing sets for campus productions.

Teague’s award-winning set design for “The Father,” a French play written by Florian Zeller that looks at a man’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, used stylistic movement, disappearing props and darker colors on stage in order to paint an emotionally affecting and visually powerful story.

“The first thing the director said to me was, ‘I want the main character to be able to walk up to something, touch it and have it disappear,’” Teague said. “My goal was to create the illusion of a structured world that disintegrated into a cold and vast void.”

Teague took the director’s request and ran with it. He designed the set so pictures, chairs, bookshelves and other props would disappear as the story progressed, leaving only actors and emotions on stage. He did it by designing things like fold-up shelves and removing props from the stage inconspicuously using actors in grey Tyvek suits.

At the Kennedy Center event, Teague was able to network with colleagues in the theater industry, receive internship opportunities and meet internationally known designers. Moving forward, Teague hopes to get a job and earn a graduate degree at the University of Washington while studying under Tony Award-nominated designer G.W. “Skip” Mercier.

“Theater is magic art for the community; poetry is magic art for the individual,” Teague said. “We have a great program, and we don’t have a whole lot of representation. We’re on the map in the theater world now.”

—By Bryan Dorn, University Communications