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Meet Yi-Chien Lee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yi-Chien Lee.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am a scenic designer originally from Taipei, Taiwan. In the past few years, I have worked in the fields of theatre set design, prop design, exhibition design, video/projection design, and film production design. Currently, I am seeking opportunities to create a diverse vision and provide new perspectives to the productions among all the disciplines.

When I was a child, I loved to read stories and dreamed of being a storyteller. My parents can still vividly remember how I performed a one-act play in front of a family reunion when I was six years old. I believe everyone enjoys inspiring stories, and even a simple one can touch people deeply. However, I wasn’t certain about being a designer.

I started to being a stage manager in my undergraduate in Drama and Theatre department. As a young artist, I tried to embrace all kinds of opportunities to participate as different disciplines as many productions as possible. I was an assistant designer in a design studio working in concert set design, hotel lobby design and exhibition design, etc. Finally, I realize my passion for set design after cooperating with various of artists and then I decided to pursue my career in this field.

Furthermore, I always try to dig deeper into my cultural background and represent the charm of multiculturalism for different audiences. Growing up in Taiwan, an island that has been colonized for the past centuries, it really inspired me to discover how various cultures are rooted in our daily life in terms of new food culture, religions, and aesthetics. These experiences have richly influenced my design.

At the present, I work as a set designer in the theatre performance art industry among the United States and Taiwan. My recent design projects include The Great Leap for Cygnet Theater, The Winter’s Tale for The Old Globe, and Girlfriend, A Kind Of Weather, and Plot Points In Our Sexual Development for Diversionary Theater.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I believe that 2020 is a difficult year for everyone due to the outbreak of COVID19. Performance art is usually the first industry to shut down and the last one to reopen. I am lucky that I am able to still working on the short film projects with some of the most talented filmmakers I’ve met. I hope all of the artists can navigate these challenging times together and plant the seed of creativity that will blossom after all the chaos.

Secondly, I have been through some struggles of self-identity. As an Asian female, I am still trying to find a way to contribute to the landscape in the theatre industry. I would like to encourage any emerging female designer that we have the power to make workplace culture more sustainable over the long term for female artists at all stages of our careers. Set a designer’s career might start on a rough trail but getting to know people will widen paths that one can take.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
From 2013 to 2016, I have designed various performances and collaborated with award-winning theatre companies in Taiwan, including Tainaner Ensemble and Dead-End Flower Ensemble. In 2014, “Representation of the Cherry Orchard” was honored by the Minister of Culture in Taiwan for Rising Artists. In 2015, “Code: Cytus 2.0,” was invited to Shanghai, China for the 2015 Shanghai Art Festivals. In 2016, “Mission Incomplete” was selected for “Young Star New Vision” and accomplished tour in Taiwan. Currently, I collaborate with artists, designers, and directors on productions from musicals, the classics, to Shakespeare with local leading theatre companies, including The Old Globe Theatre, The Cygnet Theatre, San Diego Repertory Theatre, and Diversionary Theatre. I feel strongly motivated to participate in more performance art projects in the future.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
From physical structures and material objects, the set designer constructs the emotional space of the play. Set assures that the audience is not merely introduced to an illusionary world but fully immersed in one. It is far more than a specific time and place. I hope to draw audience members into the story and allow them to connect with their characters by creating an atmosphere.

It is also important for a storyteller to find a theme you want to tell. For instance, I really appreciate Diversionary Theatre. The mission of the theatre is to provide an inspiring and thought-provoking theatrical platform to explore complex and diverse LGBT stories, which influence the larger cultural discussion. I believe every story should have it’s purpose– to share the vision, to provide live entertainment in a dynamic, inclusive and provocative environment that celebrates and preserves our unique culture.

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Image Credit:

THE GREAT LEAP / Sean Fanning, EVERYBODY BLACK / Mextly Couzin, MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN / Minjoo Kim, A KIND OF WEATHER / Diversionary Theatre, MOTHERS / Jim Carmody, MOON DRUNK / Manuel Rotenberg

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