John Iacovelli, beloved L.A. theater set designer, dies at 64

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John Iacovelli, the Emmy-winning prolific scenic designer for stage and display screen, whose capacity to steadiness poetics with pragmatism made him a beloved and invaluable collaborator for Los Angeles theater artists for a lot of a long time, died Friday after a protracted battle with most cancers, his household instructed The Instances. He was 64.

His vary was limitless, transferring effortlessly on stage from lavish musical spectacle to Beckettian minimalism, on display screen from the area opera of “Babylon 5” to the immediately recognizable actuality of “Lincoln Heights.” Theater was his real love and the dream manufacturing unit Iacovelli operated appeared to run across the clock, however precision was by no means sacrificed by pace of manufacturing.

“John labored scenic miracles on Los Angeles levels all through his lengthy and distinguished profession,” stated Instances theater critic Charles McNulty. “His fertile creativeness and sensible know-how may endow any work from the repertoire with simply the correct quantity of caprice, lyricism and realism.”

“His loss of life represents an incalculable loss for L.A.’s theater group,” McNulty added. “He was a pillar of the scene right here, a beloved and trusted counselor to fellow artists, an amiably enlightening interlocutor with critics and an impish presence who embodied theater’s Dionysian spirit.”

Iacovelli labored with budgets huge, medium and small, conjuring from the sources at hand the scenic magic required to move an viewers to the aesthetic world of the play or musical. However he was, at the start, a sensible man of the theater.

As he instructed The Instances’ Mary McNamara in 2020, “In the long run, the set is there to serve the actors. … It’s a machine for motion.”

In a profession spanning greater than 40 years, Iacovelli designed units for not less than 300 stage productions: for nationwide excursions, internationally, on Broadway, for massive regional theaters and each cramped, dusty 99-seat home in and round L.A. He moved seamlessly between the stage and Hollywood, engaged on movies together with “Honey, I Shrunk the Youngsters” and “Ruby in Paradise,” and TV collection together with “Babylon 5,” “Resurrection Blvd.” and “Ed.” He earned an Emmy for the stage manufacturing of “Peter Pan” he had designed, which performed on A&E.

Awards didn’t gradual him down a bit: Even after successful the 2018 United States Institute of Theatre Know-how‘s distinguished achievement award in scene design & know-how, he continued engaged on a seemingly unattainable variety of tasks concurrently — as much as 18 exhibits a yr. “Folks suppose I say sure to the whole lot,” he stated in a current podcast. “They don’t know in regards to the exhibits I flip down.”

All of the whereas he was educating full time at UC Davis, the place he had developed the design curriculum of the MFA program. “All of my youngsters are working,” he stated of his many college students there through the years.

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Element of John Iacovelli’s mannequin set for “Arsenic and Outdated Lace” at his residence studio in Atwater Village.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Instances)

“John was essentially the most beneficiant theater practitioner I ever knew. And I’ve recognized him for 40 years,” stated director Eli Simon, chancellor’s professor of drama at UC Irvine. “He was in a relentless state of creativity and sharing. We have been at a present and there have been a few younger scenic designers on the present. [At intermission] he got here as much as them and stated, ‘OK, after the present, I would like you to inform me 5 issues that labored in regards to the scenic design and 5 issues that didn’t. I do know what they’re, however I’m not going to inform you proper now.’ That was John in a nutshell. He was humble and beneficiant and a instructor at coronary heart.”

He retired from educating in 2019. A prognosis of lymphoma wasn’t a part of his plans, however even that didn’t gradual him down; he labored with out breaking stride all through his remedy and into his remission. When he realized this yr that his most cancers had returned, he was deep within the design course of for La Mirada Theatre’s “Did You See What Walter Paisley Did Immediately?”

But when Iacovelli was the platonic ultimate of designers in some ways, it have to be stated that his units didn’t politely fade into the woodwork: They stood out as exemplars of the shape even within the L.A. theater group, which boasts many good set designers (all Iacovelli’s mates).

Playwright Justin Tanner recalled the best way Iacovelli’s work remodeled an area: “He managed a degree of realism that made you neglect,” Tanner stated, noting he first labored with Iacovelli in 2018 on his play “El Niño” at Rogue Machine. “Should you didn’t take a look at the viewers, you felt such as you have been in an actual atmosphere … simply the detailing and his creative eye … it was a mix of fabulous and naturalist.”

Critics took notice of the majesty of his set for the 2012 play “The Heiress” on the Pasadena Playhouse. Iacovelli had visited the preserved mansions of New York’s Washington Sq. Park for inspiration, and plenty of had bother imagining that any of them could possibly be as stunning as what he created. Significantly the serene, ethereal blue of the partitions, which served as a very efficient backdrop for the brutal emotional expertise that adopted.

Sheldon Epps, the previous creative director of the Pasadena Playhouse, who first labored with Iacovelli in 1999 on “The Significance of Being Earnest,” remembered Iacovelli as singular in a career recognized for individuality.

“I do know few individuals who’ve labored within the theater so long as John did who remained passionate in regards to the artwork type. So always joyous in regards to the act of making — each his personal work and celebrating different folks’s work,” Epps stated.

Theater lovers recalled delighting in recognizing Iacovelli’s work in theaters massive and small throughout Los Angeles: the best way two unremarkable partitions in DOMA Theatre’s revival of “Younger Frankenstein” opened as much as reveal a gloriously ornate mad-scientist laboratory. A foreshortened eating room seen by a glass door at Antaeus Theatre Firm’s manufacturing of “The Little Foxes” seemed like a purely visible element till one way or the other, late within the play, your entire solid went in and sat across the desk.

There was by no means a gimmick or “inform” that screamed “Iacovelli.” What tipped folks off was an authenticity within the particulars, some ineffable concord between the actors and their milieu. Iacovelli’s residing areas at all times seemed livable. “You possibly can transfer in,” his shut good friend, actor Alan Mandell, stated of his set for “Dance of Loss of life.”

“There are any quantity of people that owe him a debt of gratitude for the scenic work he did,” Mandell stated. “He spoke his thoughts, clearly and forcefully in regards to the work that he was doing and what he felt try to be doing proper or unsuitable. In a discipline the place disappointment is rampant, he was in a position to convey his appreciation to your try and do one thing vital. I shall miss him terribly.”

Iacovelli usually stated he didn’t contemplate himself an artist. His father, he maintained, was the “actual” artist within the household. His father and mom, a authorities employee, settled in Reno. When Iacovelli was 7 or 8, his father constructed him a puppet theater, to which he usually attributed his enduring fascination with scenic design. Iacovelli spent his childhood forming theater troupes with mates; when it was time for faculty, he utilized for and earned a scholarship in scenic design on the College of Nevada, Las Vegas. There, he recalled, he was taught that movie and TV have been “a nasty enterprise.” However when he entered the grasp’s program at New York College (renamed the Tisch College of the Arts), he was startled after which excited by its all-embracing perspective towards the display screen in addition to the stage.

Classmate-turned-production-designer Larry Fulton (“The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable”) persuaded Iacovelli to go away New York for L.A., the place his profession rapidly caught fireplace and he by no means seemed again.

All through his life, Iacovelli remained dedicated to studying as a lot as he may about his chosen artwork type.

“I by no means knew him to journey anyplace with out coming [back] with a brand new load of books,” Epps stated. “To the purpose the place he truly needed to lengthen his residence so he may retailer his artwork assortment and all of his theatrical memorabilia. Going to his home was like going to a theatrical library.”

Iacovelli is survived by sisters Violet Iacovelli, Angaela Iacovelli, Victoria Williams and Dariel Wines; brother Cameron Iacovelli; nephews Ian Van Rensselaer, Skylar Van Rensselaer, David Iacovelli and Spencer Williams; and nieces Melanie Lewis, Sylvia Micheli and Rochelle Iacovelli.

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