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The Biggest Time: Michael Curry’s Outsized Imagination

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PNCA's strong fine art background served 2013 Gala Artistic Director and PNCA Alumnus Michael Curry ‘81 well.

With a portfolio that boasts not one but two epic winged entrances (Britney Spears’ 2011 Femme Fatale concerts and Madonna’s 2012 Super Bowl performance) as well as endearing oversized puppet characters like Scrat from Ice Age, Michael Curry’s creations are always larger than life. It’s what the award-winning designer and his core team of fifty artists and technicians at Michael Curry Design have been known for ever since he made his big splash with costumes and masks for Julie Taymor’s Broadway production of The Lion King. That’s why, when an event requires kinetic flair and spectacle, producers turn to Curry. Over his 25 years of designing costumes, puppets, and productions using state of the art performance technologies, Curry has worked with The Walt Disney Company, Cirque du Soleil, The Olympics, and Universal Studios as well as a number of international opera and stage companies. He’s taken home four Emmys and a Tony, among other honors. Now the PNCA alumnus, who graduated in 1981, returns to his alma mater this June as Artistic Director for the 2013 PNCA Gala.


A scene from Julie Taymor’s “The Lion King,” the Broadway production that launched Michael Curry into the theatrical big leagues. Photo courtesy of Michael Curry Design.

As a child, Curry grew up among master builders, loggers, and woodworkers in Southern Oregon.

“I was raised in a faith-healing Christian group quite isolated from the world,” said Curry. “I never saw theater or had art exposure. We saw films at the drive-in. I could imagine and draw things at an early age, and it became my special thing. It was not taken seriously by my family until it was clear I could not stop.” Curry says that he has been dealing with ADD his entire life and that his world as a child was in great part fantasy.

At PNCA, Curry studied painting, illustration, and sculpture. He attributes his success in theater to the fact that he never studied it.

“The strong fine art background has served me well,” Curry says. “The focus on figure drawing gave me an insight into anatomy of man and animal. Critiques and discussions honed my verbal skills to enable my business.”

But his most striking memory of PNCA is of an unconventional intervention by a handful of PNCA’s most respected professors.

Michael Curry ’81. Photo courtesy of Michael Curry Design.

“After my first year in 1976, Paul Missal, George Johanson, Bill Moore, and Tom Fawkes explained correctly that I was too immature to absorb what they wanted to offer. They liked my work ethic but advised me to return the following year. They all were kind and gave me their advice, which ranged from hitchhiking around the country, which books to read, what art to see, etc. I did it all like a soldier and indeed returned a much improved art student. This mentorship has always touched me, and it is my best memory of the school. It is the teachers, not the place.”

Curry graduated from PNCA in 1981, and in 1986, he moved to New York City with his wife, intending to continue making paintings and sculpture.

“The energy of the city caused my work to burst open and start incorporating more of my skills. Movement and storytelling showed up in my work and boom! I was approached by theater folks who enlisted my skills to create unusual kinetic sculptures onstage,” Curry says. “My first attempts were transformative and converted me into the theater man I’ve become.”

When his work was displayed in galleries, Curry was keenly aware of how few people saw his work. In contrast, he says, “In the theater every night at 8:00pm, I have a warm feeling that tens of thousands of people are seeing my work in service to great, uplifting storytelling.”


The Ice Bear from the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. Photo courtesy of Michael Curry Design.

— Posted on 05/15 at 03:32 PM

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