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About Robert Thomson

Robert Thomson, award-winning lighting designer

Robert Thomson

Robert Thomson is widely recognized as one of Canada’s most accomplished lighting designers in theater, opera, and dance. His abiding commitment is to the evolving creative process, seeking influences from text or score, the rehearsal hall, and the collective journey of collaborators. Thomson’s acclaimed designs are noted for their precision, visual poetry, psychological insight, and dramaturgical impact.

Over a distinguished career spanning four decades, Thomson has taken international design assignments in Paris, Stuttgart, Geneva, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, and Melbourne. In the United States, his designs have been featured at the Lincoln Center, Goodman Theatre, Hartford Stage, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Seattle Opera, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet, and Miami Ballet.

Thomson’s career includes extensive experience designing for repertory companies. He served as Resident Lighting Designer for The National Ballet of Canada for twelve seasons, with projects including Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Spring Awakening, The Taming of the Shrew, and Manon. Designing for Canada’s renowned Shaw Festival over 24 seasons (including ten years as Head of Lighting Design), his credits include Picnic, St. Joan, Man and Superman, Pygmalion, Cavalcade, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Over thirteen consecutive seasons with Canada’s prestigious Stratford Festival, North America’s largest repertory company, his numerous collaborators include directors Jonathan Miller, Des McAnuff, Robert Falls, Jennifer Tarver, Peter Hinton, Christopher Newton, and current Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino. Thomson’s Stratford design assignments include Beaux Stratagem, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline, Caesar and Cleopatra, Dangerous Liaisons, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and Into the Woods.

Thomson studied theater design at Ryerson University in Toronto and The Studio and Forum of Stage Design in New York. He began his professional career at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in the late 70s, working extensively with founding Artistic Director Bill Glassco. Their collaborations on a range of new scripts now represent much of the early canon of Canadian plays. Since then he has worked with diverse companies across Canada, including the National Arts Centre, Canadian Stage, Canadian Opera Company, Citadel Theatre, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Pacific Opera Victoria, Charlottetown Festival, Vancouver Opera, Theatre Calgary, L’Opéra de Montréal, Centaur Theatre, Segal Centre, and Opera de Québec.

Thomson has been recognized with numerous awards, including Canada’s largest theater prize: the prestigious Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize. Other distinctions include a Sterling Award for Edmonton Opera’s mounting of Robert Lepage’s internationally acclaimed opera, Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung, and four of Canada’s coveted Dora Mavor Moore Awards.

Robert Thomson is a member of L’Association des professionnels des arts de la scène du Québec (APASQ) and a 40-year member of the Associated Designers of Canada – now IATSE ADC Local 659, with whom he is a Charter Member. He is currently Associate Professor of Lighting Design at Carnegie Mellon University.

Robert Thomson, holding crystal award statue, in front of wall sign "Prix Siminovitch Prize".


Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize · Recipient for Design, 2012

Canada’s largest prize in theatre ($100,000) honours leading directors, designers, playwrights whose work is transformative and influential. The Siminovitch Prize celebrates excellence and encourages emerging talent by sharing the prize with protégés selected by the recipient. 2012 Protégés: Jason Hand and Raha Javanfar.

Dora Mavor Moore Award · Outstanding Lighting Design
  • Company – Canadian Stage 
  • Cyrano de Bergerac – Shaw Festival Theatre
  • Pump Boys and Dinettes – Variety Dinner Theatre
  • Spring Awakening – Canadian Stage 
  • Bluebeard's Castle / Erwartung – Canadian Opera Company (Nomination)
  • Fascinatin’ Rhythms – Variety Dinner Theatre (Nomination)
  • A Gift to Last – Young People’s Theatre (Nomination)
  • Happy End – Tarragon Theatre (Nomination)
  • Little Shop of Horrors – Little Shop Co. of Canada (Nomination)
  • Saturday, Sunday, Monday – Canadian Stage (Nomination)
  • Swipe – NDWT Theatre Company (Nomination)
Sterling Awards · Outstanding Lighting Design
  • Bluebeard's Castle / Erwartung – Edmonton Opera
  • Macbeth – Citadel Theatre (Nomination)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – Citadel Theatre (Nomination)
Montréal English Theatre Award · Outstanding Lighting Design
  • The Seagull – Segal Centre  (Nomination)
  • If We Were Birds – Imago Theatre  (Nomination)
  • Red – Segal Centre (Nomination)
The Canadian Opera Company · Artist of the Year Award
  • Bluebeard's Castle / Erwartung  (Nomination)
Tony Award · Best Production of a Play
  • King Lear – Lincoln Center Theater (Nomination)
Scotsman Hamada Festival Critics’ Prize (Edinburgh) · Production
  • Bluebeard's Castle / Erwartung – Canadian Opera Company
Tarragon Audience Survey of Favourites (1979) · Robert Thomson Lighting Designs
  • (Tied with Tarragon’s concession cookies.)
Two active computer monitors at production desk, with dancers rehearsing onstage in the background.


I feel Rob is one of the most gifted designers in our country, even though his work is—by its very nature—evanescent. He paints in light, he sculpts in shadow; he is a true artist.
— Richard Ouzounian, The Toronto Star

by show

Bluebeard's Castle / Erwartung — Canadian Opera Company

... and Robert Thomson (lighting) use technology breathtakingly, but never for its own sake. Every gleam of light or shimmer of water makes sense ...
— The National Post
... Theatre director Robert Lepage has teamed up with production designer Michael Levine, lighting designer Robert Thomson … stun audiences with a sensory immersion that brings Schoenberg out of the dissonant wings into the dazzling light of night.
— The Globe and Mail
... a coldly lit dream space, where one perturbing image glides into darkness to be replaced by another, can be hailed as a realization of, if not Schoenberg’s intentions, then the intention behind his intentions.
— The New Yorker

Dangerous Liaisons — Stratford Festival

... Stratford at its best … Thomson knows when to blast us with cold white light, or dazzle us with rock ʻnʼ roll primary colours.
— The Toronto Star
... lit by Robert Thomson like a rock concert, linking this sexually licentious world to the decadence of more recent decades.
— The Globe and Mail

Macbeth — National Arts Centre / Citadel Theatre

... solitary lights get reflected in the glass, making the area appear double its actual size … singular shafts of light punch through the darkness surrounding a soliloquy, making Macbeth’s faltering confidence a series of troubled whispers in the ever-present blackness.
— Vue Weekly

Romeo and Juliet — Stratford Festival

... There's definitely a new and exciting look onstage at the Festival Theatre … Robert Thomson's lighting is the first cue, using colour and focus differently than they have been in years.
— The Toronto Star

Buried Child — National Arts Centre

... rational meaning, appears only in slivers – the walls of the house looks like half-open Venetian blinds Thomson's lighting blasts through
— The Globe and Mail

King Lear — Lincoln Center

... There is scarcely a piece of scenery in this Lear … the production has been superbly lighted by Robert Thomson, atmospheric mood cueing is minimal.
— The New York Times

The Swanne, Part 2: Princess Charlotte (The Acts of Venus) — Stratford Festival

... Thomson's veritable blitzkrieg of a lighting design … accomplishes a vast array of mood and tone in the Studio Theatre's close quarters.
— Curtain Up

Canada House — Theatre Passe Muraille

... helped enormously by the soul-shattering lighting of Robert Thomson.
— The Toronto Star

Hughie / Krapp’s Last Tape — Stratford Festival

... On a stage bare except for a table, Robert Thomson's merciless lights suddenly pick out Dennehy's face, and the audience gasps in shock.
— Variety Magazine

Wozzeck — Pacific Opera Victoria

... Visually this is also a stunning production. … lit with an acute sense for the psychology of colour by Robert Thomson.
— The Globe and Mail

Fernando Krapp Sent Me This Letter — Canadian Stage

... and Robert Thomson (lighting) … operatic illumination, the show looks like the more daring European works Iʼve seen.
— The Toronto Star
Robert Thomson, in grey jacket, glancing down at blue phone.


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