Balanchine—and won five Tony Awards, five Donaldson Awards, and
an Academy Award for art direction for the movie Picnic.
Jo Mielziner trained as a painter but fortunately realized that a canvas wasn’t necessary for expressing himself; emotional satisfaction was
achieved just as easily on stage with a large backdrop. While set designers work within the limitations of time, space, and money and at the
will of a dozen other decision-makers, he enjoyed the constraints, which
forced him to be disciplined and imaginative. He knew that he had what
was important: a world of color, texture, and illusion. These tools allowed him to create evocative stage art and eventually to help break the
hold of realistic scenery over American plays.
Toward the end of his career, Jo gave several talks at colleges and
universities across the country. He recommended that young designers
avoid narrow specialization in favor of developing a breadth and depth
of knowledge. Study drawing, painting, and drafting, he advised, and
become “hijackers of all trades”—borrowers from the best in stage art.
His epic career dispels the myth that stage designers are merely decorators or architects; they are collaborators in the creation of the production and when doing their work properly enhance the deepest meaning
of the text. What he put on stage were poetic, visual images charged and
illuminated beyond ordinary life. As he once said in one of his lectures,
“You put your hand on the book of the Muses and swear to tell only that
part of the truth that is exciting.”