CHICAGO: The 2021 recipients of the Michael Merritt Awards have been announced, with a virtual awards ceremony scheduled for May 17. This year’s honorees are Clint Ramos and Elsa Hiltner. The Michael Merritt Awards are a national award emphasizing excellence in design and collaboration. Award-winning writer, actor, and producer Sandra Delgado will serve as master of ceremonies.
Designer, educator, activist, and creative producer Clint Ramos will receive the Merritt Award for Design and Collaboration. He is the recipient of a Tony Award for best costume design of a play for Eclipsed, making him the first person of color to win that category. He is a current 2020 Tony double nominee for his scenic design for Slave Play and costume design for The Rose Tattoo. Prior Tony Award nominations were for his designs for Once On This Island and Torch Song.
Ramos has been advocating for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) theatre workers for over 10 years. He was a founding member of the Off-Broadway committee that created the first collectively bargained agreement between designers and Off-Broadway theatres in history. Together with other designers, he created Design Action, which advocates for a radical shift in the landscape of American theatre design. Last summer he started a scholarship for BIPOC designers and technicians that paid for their positions in programs and in unions. For the Movement Theater Company, together with Cha See, they curated 15 early career artists for their 1Move: Des19ned By… collection, a program created to give artists an opportunity in the digital space to respond to immediate issues. Ramos has also participated in the Broadway Mentorship for pre-college students for TDF and sat on the board of Fierce NY, which works to build leadership and power in LGBTQ+ youth of color. He currently serves on the board of SLAM NY, which is in the process of creating NYC’s first sober high school. He is also on the American Theatre Wing Advisory Committee and is helping them work on a number of EDI initiatives.
Costume designer, pay equity activist, and director of development Elsa Hiltner has been awarded with the inaugural Arts Advocate Award.
Hiltner is a writer and organizer on pay and labor equity in theatrical design, and is a consultant for theatre companies working to establish pay equity. Her essays on labor and pay equity have inspired systemic change in the theatre industry, and the Theatrical Designer Pay Resource that she launched in 2018 has been used nationwide by designers to promote pay transparency and as a tool for negotiations and better pay practices. She is a co-founder of On Our Team, which successfully organized for pay transparency on the job sites of Playbill, BroadwayWorld, and the League of Chicago Theatres, and is currently campaigning for pay transparency at Backstage.com. As a consultant, she works with BLVE Consults to create pay equity plans and policies that work for non-profit and for-profit theatre companies of all sizes. Her credits as a costume designer include work for Collaboraction, Silk Road Rising, Goodman Theatre, Teatro Vista, Signal Ensemble, American Blues Theater, Steppenwolf, First Folio Theatre, Next Act Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Windy City Playhouse, and American Theater Company, among others. She also works as Collaboraction’s director of development, where she has seen firsthand how enacting pay equity benefits a company.
Academic prizes for collaborative design and tech include lighting designer Quinn Chisenhall receiving the John Murbach Columbia College Chicago Prize; costume designer Mia Thomas receiving the Theatre School at DePaul University Prize; costume designer David Arevalo receiving the Northwestern University Prize; scenic designer/artist Molly Cornell receiving the Loyola University Chicago Prize; and stage manager Gwendolyn Madrigal receiving the University of Illinois at Chicago Prize.
More information on the prizes and award ceremony is available online, along with information about a design exhibition, which will also be held on May 17.
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!