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Musser, Tharon : Home

Written by Heather Dent, Edited by Sona Apbasova

Tharon Musser

Early Life, Education, and Career

Tharon Musser came to Berea College from Roanoke, Virginia. During her time at Berea she spent much time working with the old light board in the Berea Tabernacle and lighting the student productions. She graduated from Berea in 1946 with a degree in English-Drama. In 1948, she was admitted to Yale’s school of Drama in the technical area, where only two other women had ever been admitted.

In 1949, the United States Military Forces asked Tharon Musser to go to Alaska to help bring drama to the military personnel there. Her ability to make due with whatever resources were at hand during that time came in handy resources because in Alaska her means were limited. At one time, she even used electric bulbs set into tomato juice can as foot lights. When she returned to Yale in 1950 she received her M.F.A. (master of fine arts) degree.

In 1956, Musser designed the lights for Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey into the Night. Brooks Atkinson, dean of the American drama critics, praised her light design in the New York Times saying that it, “perfectly captures the…mood of the play.” Since then she lighted over 50 plays on Broadway, and an equal number of shows outside New York City. She has taken on the responsibility of lighting dramas ranging from ancient Greeks like Sophocles and Euripides, to Shakespeare, to the eighteenth century, to nineteenth century giants such as Isben and Chekhov, to finally the highly experimental plays of the twentieth century.

Musser’s fame grew from a national to and international level. Her work took her overseas, when the Department of State sent her to Europe and Latin America with the American Repertory Theater. Also, the British Government had her do the lighting for the ballet performances held to celebrate the silver jubilee of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Numerous organizations called upon Musser for consulting advice. Her best known work in this area has been her restoration of the Ford Theater in Washington D.C., where Abraham Lincoln had been murdered. Other consulting work has taken her to Radcliffe College, the American Academy of Drama Arts, San Antonio, where she arranged the light design for Man and the Universe at the Hemisphere 1968 exhibit. She also worked as a consultant for the New York State Council on the Arts.


Tharon Musser was not only one of the top lighting technicians of her time --she was also an innovator. She introduced computerized lighting to Broadway with the help of being allowed the unprecedented privilege of redesigning the Shubert theater in New York City.
Musser’s philosophy was that theater lighting meant far more than a technical skill. She explained and demonstrated through her work that the art of lighting means that she is the interpreter or illuminator creating rapport between the audience and the actors so that both understand the ideas and the emotions of the drama.


Tharon Musser was the winner of two Tony Awards, one for the Follies and the other for A Chorus Line. Berea College awarded Tharon Musser with an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1979 and in later years named their theater building after her.

Additional Resources

  • Berea College Vertical File, Special Collections and Archives 

  • RG 11 – Honorary Degrees II, Berea College Archives  

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Works Cited

Power, Paul. “Letter to Dean Jones.” November 12, 1971. Print.