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Questions of Practice: Set Designer Mimi Lien on a Design-First Theater-Making Process

Devised theater takes many forms. Yet, even for the seasoned ensemble of Pig Iron Theatre Company, Superterranean was something new. For the first time, their process of making a new theater work began with set design, led by award-winning designer Mimi Lien. Her collaborators devised a script, a score, and movement sequences for the work, all in response to the physical space she created. In this interview excerpt, Lien discusses the challenges and opportunities presented by this inverted process.

Lien explains how starting with design for the creation of Superterranean afforded new possibilities to “harness” the audience’s experience of three-dimensional space “for dramatic potential.”

Mimi Lien is a MacArthur Fellow and a Tony Award-winning designer who draws from her background in architecture to design sets for theater, dance, and opera. In 2019, she collaborated with Pig Iron Theatre Company on the Center-supported production of Superterranean.