Venue Design Visionary Michael Nishball Celebrates Retirement and New Emeritus Role at Theatre Projects

February 28, 2024

After nearly 45 years of crafting theatrical magic, landmark project deliveries, and industry-shaking designs, Michael Nishball, principal equipment designer at Theatre Projects, is retiring at the end of this month.

Michael Nishball
Credit: Courtesy of Theatre Projects

“‘Departing,’ ‘leaving,’ ‘ceasing,’ ‘re-careering,’ ‘transitioning,’ ‘bowing out’... anything but ‘retiring,’” shares Michael. “My confidence in being a stage equipment designer and theatre technical planner emerged directly from my youth spent as a rigging installer and contractor. I often say that we are in the construction industry and the skills required to make a contribution to the project should be informed as much from how it gets built as how it functions theatrically. Be a stagehand, be a designer, be an artist in the theatre, but be a builder, an observer of everything that has gone before you—then copy the best parts and improve it for the users."

“Some of my most enriching times with TP have been actively touring theatres. I was granted the opportunity early in my career to make what I called my ‘Grand Tour’ of important projects in the US and Canada to see and understand firsthand the scale of the overstage and understage machines and accommodation. TP has also been wise enough to get the entire office out to see projects as part of the PACrawl initiative which is so instructive. I am grateful for the extraordinary opportunities I have had working for the caliber of company that we are. I am flying high at this moment in my career, and it is at an altitude that allows me to look back, look down, and look forward, too. It feels good. Thank you to my colleagues in the practice and all of my friends in manufacturing, contracting, and engineering.”

Michael commenced work with Theatre Projects in 1995, having worked previously with Pook Diemont & Ohl, Inc. as a rigging contractor, as well as a stagehand, production designer, and rigger for a variety of theatre and dance companies. He is currently a principal at Theatre Projects, supporting the development of junior team members and fledgling company initiatives. He further ensures that the firm’s standard of global excellence carries over to every project he touches (over 300 in his time at Theatre Projects).

Michael is celebrated for his exuberance, his encyclopedic knowledge of theatrical design conventions, and his enduring reach for greatness, even into the punch list phase of a project. Michael is considered by various members of the company as “knowledgeable, gentle, patient,” “an industry giant,” “a passionate and generous collaborator,” and “a born storyteller, a gifted designer, and a true mentor to many of us at Theatre Projects.”

“Michael has been a steady mentoring presence during my time at TP, always welcoming, supportive, and giving so freely with his time and knowledge. His obvious passion for what we do and how we can help create is infectious,” offers Andrew Hagan, Theatre Projects’ equipment team leader and the company practice team’s resource manager. “He's known as a bit of a mad scientist, reflective, I think, of his creative problem solving for the unique solutions we are often called on to provide. He has literally taught me how to do much of this job, and I do not think I would be where I am today without his guidance, teaching, and influence.”

While Michael touched hundreds of projects over his career, a few standouts include the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Wyly Theatre and Winspear Opera Housethe Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural CenterKimmel Cultural Campusthe Han Show Theatrethe Music Center at Strathmorethe New World Centerthe Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centrethe Chase Center (Golden State Arena)the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Artsthe Kauffman Center for the Performing ArtsBroadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre, and Brown University’s Lindemann Performing Arts Center.

Of Michael, Theatre Projects consultant Chris Holland adds, “I can’t think of a kinder human, who’s more eager to share his knowledge of mechanics. And his joy when he gets on-site is unmatched. It’s easy to get bogged down on a project when the punch list seems endless and the lift door is stuck. And then he’s there, enjoying every minute of it. I’ll miss that.”

Before coming to Theatre Projects, Michael worked with notable arts organizations such as the Wooster Group, the Boston Shakespeare Company, and the American Repertory Theater. He is also a full member of the American Society of Theatre Consultants—this in addition to membership with the Construction Specifications Institute and the ESTA Technical Standards Program.

As a company emeritus, Michael will continue to offer his expertise as an international leader in stage machinery and will act as a sounding board on major projects and the continued expansion of Theatre Projects.