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In Memoriam, Paul Owen, Scenic Designer with Actors Theatre of Louisville, 85

Michael S. Eddy • Industry News • February 14, 2021

Designer Paul Owen, 1935 – 2021

We were saddened to hear that Paul Owen, the longtime scenic designer with Actors Theatre of Louisville, died on Friday, February 12, 2021 at the Palliative Care Unit at Baptist Health Louisville. He was 85.

In 2008, Actors Theatre of Louisville (ATL) honored him by naming a production studio in his honor, providing a 44,000-square-foot building to house the ATL production shop areas, trial set-up areas for ATL for productions, offices for the technical staff, meeting spaces, and storage for scenery and props. Owen would leave ATL and go into semi-retired status in 2009 after 38 years with the theater company and in 2010 he celebrated 50 years as a theatrical designer.

Actors Theatre of Louisville released a statement remembering Owen’s contribution as a prolific scenic designer and dedicated mentor. “On behalf of the staff and artists of Actors Theatre of Louisville, past and present, it is with heavy hearts but with a great pride we offer our fond remembrances and gratitude for Paul Owen’s dedication and service to Actors Theatre,” Actors Theatre of Louisville Executive Artistic Director Robert Barry Fleming shared. “From our Old Louisville production design and storage facility bearing his name to the beloved Dracula set which has delighted Louisville audiences for over 20 years, Paul’s contribution and impact has been an indelible one. Our condolences and prayers are with his family and the countless folks to whom he was a friend and mentor.”

Owen, a native of Dobbin, TX, was born in August 1935 and planned on becoming an engineer but got into theater via acting. After serving in the U.S. Army, where he went through basic training with Elvis Presley, he joined Nina Vance’s Alley Theatre in Houston 1960 as resident designer. The Alley was one of the first resident regional theaters in America at that time. Over his time at the Alley, Owen designed sets, lights, and costumes.

After a decade in Houston, he left in 1970 and in 1971 he became the resident designer for the repertory company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, originally as costume designer, but quickly expanded to scenic and lighting designer as well. During his 38 years at ATL, he designed approximately 1,500 productions, including all of the state, national, and international tours, as well as a number of guest designs for other regional theaters.

In 2015, Owen generously donated his archive of sketches, scrapbooks, and models to the University of Louisville. The Paul Owen Archive of Theatre Design archive opened in 2016 with a permanent exhibit of his work in the Kain Gallery in the University’s Ekstrom Library. Sandra J. Strawn, Theatre Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, worked with Owen as Resident Properties Master and Assistant Designer at Actors Theatre of Louisville from 1978 to 1984. Professor Strawn was instrumental in preserving the Paul Owen archive and arranging for its placement at the University of Louisville. Professor Strawn created the comprehensive Paul Owen – Design Chronology, compiled from Actors Theatre of Louisville programs, clippings, and her interviews with people involved with the productions.

Owen had designed several productions since his retirement, including Atomic Bombers at the University of Louisville and the musical Honk in Marshalltown, IA. Owen was honored in 1993 with The Kentucky Governor’s Award for Artistic Achievement. In 2005, he received the Eddy Award from Entertainment Design Magazine on behalf of Actors Theatre, and in 2010 he was awarded the Hanover College Medal for Excellence in the Arts. His commitment and service to the Kentuckiana arts community was honored with the 2019 Arts-Louisville/BroadwayWorld Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2017 The Ronda Gordon Foundation Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from the Fund for the Arts.

We send our condolences to Owen’s family, friends, colleagues, and the many designers, technicians, and theater makers who worked with him over his long and vibrant career as a theatrical designer. Requiescat in Pace, Paul Owen

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