Meet Your Neighbor: Chris Akerlind, Tony Award Winner Theatrical Lighting Designer At Home On The Hill…

Chris Akerlind: "I get to see the whole world. Coming back here to the Hill makes me feel sane and reborn."

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 811)

When Chris Akerlind went to drama school, he wanted to be an actor. But following a case of stage fright, any dreams of a career on the great white way  were scratched.   He still wanted to work in theater,  so he switched his sights to a career as a theatrical lighting designer. That was a good decision, because Akerlind received a Tony Award for “Light in the Piazza” and has been nominated for three other Tonys as well.

Akerlind who grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, attended Yale Drama School.   The unpretenious Akerlind and Anita Stewart, of Portland Stage Company, here in Portland attended drama school together.   Both were hired by Portland Stage upon their graduations.  That was in 1989.  Akerlind stayed for three years and Stewart fortunately is still here.  Akerlind says he’s a workaholic and has to stay busy all the time or he gets depressed. The  schedule at Portland Stage did not permit him to stay busy enough.  That’s why he struck out to be a free lance lighting director.    In fact, Akerlind is so busy that he’s booked up until 2012.  And that’s how he wants it.

“I’ve made my living in the not for profit performing arts.  I’m not a crass commerical kind of guy,” he says laughing.  Although sometimes he’ll do a Broadway show because they pay well.  MHN.com met with the delightful  Akerlind early last week at his 1840s home on the Hill – which has become a landmark all of its own.  He painted it mango and it  stands out among the other homes in the vicinity painted blues and grays.  The house has been a “restoration-in-progress” since he bought it in 1996.     “The design of the first floor is for parties.  That’s the organizing prinicipal behind the first floor,” he said of the still empty first floor. Akerlind is optimistic that the restoration is entering the final stages.  Despite his heavy travel schedule all over the world, Munjoy Hill remains his home and neighborhood.   “This is where the IRS writes me,” he said grinning.

When the house is finished, Akerlind said he will cut back his work schedule  by about 20% or so.  Last summer he was in Hong Kong and in February he was in Bordeaux, France.  For sixteen years, he’s been the resident lighting designer for the St. Louis Opera theater.   Next year, Akerlind, 49 years old,  will do the lighting design for a Dream Works animation and live version of Kung Fu Panda.  Right now, he averages about 23 productions a year which is additionally complicated by world wide travel, although he says he’s no longer bothered by jet lag because he’s gotten used to it. 

In the meantime, the mango house on the Hill is where he spends his limited down-time.  The neighborhood can only hope that down-time gets longer and longer so it can get to know this irrestible guy better!