Christopher Akerlind, the Tony Award-winning designer who lives on Munjoy Hill in Portland, has reached the point in his 30-year career in theater that he can pick and choose the jobs he wants to take on. He doesn’t feel the urgency to chase gigs, as he did when he was starting out.

More and more, the freelance designer is choosing to work close to home.

Akerlind designed the set and lights for Opera Maine’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro,” opening Wednesday night at Merrill Auditorium with a second performance on Friday. It’s the third time he’s worked with Opera Maine in recent years. Last season, Akerlind did design work for “Babette’s Feast” at Portland Stage Company, where he arrived in 1996 as co-artistic director with Anita Stewart. (“She’s lasted 22 years, I lasted three,” he said.) He also taught a class at Bowdoin College in Brunswick and is on the board of the St. Lawrence Arts Center.

“I have the ability to be selective about what I take and what I do,” he said Tuesday morning in an interview at his home. “Increasingly, I have more off time to spend at home, which is nice because I love it here. I love the hill. I love my home, which is always in flux. I love Portland. I just love it.”

This production of Mozart’s “Figaro” will be Akerlind’s eighth. It tells the story of the philandering Count Almaviva, who believes it’s his right as a man of standing to have sex with a female servant on the night of her marriage. It’s a comic opera, centering on the servants Figaro and Susanna, who succeed in their efforts to fend off the count while also teaching him it’s not cool to sleep around.

“I love it to death,” Akerlind said of the opera. “I love the spirit of subversiveness in it and the spirit of playful tragedy. I love the sexiness of it. It’s about beds and lovers.”


Akerlind designed the set and lights with a minimalist approach. He said he is a devout minimalist when it comes to his artistic aesthetic. For this production at Merrill, he’s created a set that feels like a platform with a background and without walls or a ceiling. It’s less about leaving more to the imagination and more about reducing the grandiose feeling of the opera, which he prefers referring to as musical theater to take it off its cultural pedestal of high art.

“I love to see human stories played out in something proportional to human scale,” he said. Ideally, he added, opera would be performed in a small, intimate space where the audience can “feel the wind of the voices in your face and maybe a bit of spittle.”

Akerlind won a Tony for his lighting design of “Indecent” in 2017, as well as for “Light in the Piazza” in 2005. He is among three lighting designers from Maine who have won Tonys in recent years. Tyler Micoleau, who is from Portland, graduated from Bowdoin and was a long-ago assistant to Akerlind, won a Tony this year for his work on “The Band’s Visit.” Donald Holder, who graduated from the University of Maine in 1980 and worked at Portland Stage, has won multiple Tonys.

In addition to his work on big Broadway shows, Akerlind also likes to work in small theaters. He’s collaborating with Maine playwright Michael Gorman, playwright-in-residence at La MaMa Experimental Theater in New York, on his new play about opioids and the fishing community, “Chasing the New White Whale,” opening in November at La MaMa. Working on a big production with near-unlimited resources and on small ones where you have “to do with six lights” are both rewarding and “satisfy my impatience and my proclivity to be bored quickly with what I do,” he said.

Akerlind was born in Hartford, studied at Boston University and the Yale School of Drama, and considers himself a New Englander through and through. He still spends most of his time away, most often in New York and traveling elsewhere from job to job. He anticipated spending more time in New York this fall, but a project he is working on shifted its schedule to the spring – a welcome shift, he added. “To be home in Maine in the autumn is as good as it gets,” he said.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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