John Iacovelli is typically known for going big when it comes to set design. However when he was challenged to lay out the space for “Waiting for Godot” at The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the UC Davis professor went a different direction.
His minimalist approach was well-received and took home top honors at the 44th annual Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award on Monday, March 18. There were more than 3,000 productions in this year’s LADCC, which covers works in Los Angeles and Orange counties, San Diego and Santa Barbara.
“I went to see the space, which is a three-quarter thrust, and I took some brown paper and drew the set,” said Iacovelli, who teaches in the UCD department of theater and dance’s masters of fine arts design program. “It just fit so well, I thought, ‘There will never be a more beautiful set in this space.’ Which is funny because I am now struggling to design a set right now for that same space.”
The “Waiting for Godot” set features a rocky ledge, with a boulder and tree on stage. Iacovelli drew inspiration from play author Samuel Beckett’s home in Ireland.
“The set was a tipped disc — or a ‘mound’ that is a crossroads for the play,” Iacovelli said. “It is a minimal set, which I’m definitely not know for. I usually would be called a ‘maximalist.'”
Iacovelli’s previous honors included design for the 1989 production of “HeartBreak House” at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa. In 1992, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award — or as he prefers, the Career Achievement Award.
The scenic designer also earned a 2001 Prime-time Emmy Award for his set for the television version of Broadway’s “Peter Pan,” starring Cathy Rigby.
There are several projects in the wings for Iacovelli. He is designing “Sleepless in Seattle” for The Pasadena Playhouse and is working out designs for the August Wilson play “Justin Turner’s Come and Gone,” directed by Phylicia Rashad. It will be their third collaboration.
He is not just landlocked. Iacovelli designed five Vegas-style shows for the The Royal Princess cruise ship, currently under construction in Italy.
His set is also his classroom, giving students a hands-on education in design.
“I use my students as assistants or interns on shows I design when I can,” he said. “I help mentor their careers after they graduate.
“One of my former students, Claire Bennett is the art director on the hit TV show ‘Modern Family,’ and another, Robert Frye, is the art director on ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ It is very rewarding to see their success and count them now as peers.”