Five Life Lessons from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

After fifty-seven seasons as a set designer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Richard L. Hay has wisdom to share. Hay, a Fulbright scholar from Stanford University, has designed theaters and sets around the globe. From his vast experience behind the stage come these five rules for life’s stage.

1.     Do what you love, not what’s expected of you.

I studied engineering and architecture but threw them aside for theater designing and never regretted it.

2.     Steal from yourself.

In 1963, I solved a critical problem for Romeo and Juliet in getting Juliet’s sarcophagus downstage, where it could be seen by everyone, and used it every season since then. It was a “slip stage” that I used to convey the tomb downstage on our Elizabethan stage.

3.      Save your own ass.

Always know a way to get a design done in case others can’t. One example is when I was working on a show at Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. I had to teach the shop how to build a semicircular forced perspective cornice, a complicated geometric design.

4.     Always say “yes” to any problem and then go find the solution.

Happens all the time. Don’t start with a “no.”

5.     Collaborate: The lighting designer is your best (or worst) friend.

My sets cannot be seen without light, nor will they look good under the wrong light. For instance, a set of a blue house will look gray under orange sunset light. Collaboration with co-workers is the key to theatrical success.

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