Designer Scott C. Neale – “Your Life Is Research”

Scott Neal Bio Pic

Scott C. Neale is a freelance Scenic Designer and Theming Consultant operating out of St. Louis, Missouri.  Scott holds an MFA in Scenic Design from Northwestern University and a BFA in Scenic Design and Scenic Painting from the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University.  

In theatre, he has designed for the Chicago Children’s Choir,  Steppenwolf Theatre Company (in Chicago, Off Broadway, and the Galway Theatre Festival), Lookingglass Theatre Company, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, The Great River Shakespeare Festival, Albany Park Theatre Project, Upstream Theater, New Jewish Theater, Metro Theater Company and various others.  In the theme park industry, he has designed for Busch Gardens Tampa and Williamsburg, SeaWorld Orlando and San Diego, Aquatica, Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and the St. Louis Zoo. He has designed concepts for countless events and exhibits throughout the country.

Scott recently was visiting Head of Production at the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University and continues to be an adjunct professor. In addition to design, he is a visual and graphic artist and photographer.  He is a credited contributor to the collegiate textbook Scene Design and Stage Lighting, 9th and 10th Editions (Parker, Wolf & Block : 9th and 10th Editions © Wadsworth 2009, 2013)


Kevin Kline Award Nominations for Best Scenic Design:
Blood Knot Upstream Theater 2008
Cooking With Elisa Upstream Theater 2012
Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare Festival St. Louis 2012

Kevin Kline Award Recipient:
Awake and Sing New Jewish Theater 2012

St. Louis Theater Circle’s Louie Award Nomination
Clybourne Park Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 2013

Riverfront Times “Best Of” St. Louis
2011 Best Scenic Designer


“Jackie and Me” Design by Scott C. Neale, Metro Theatre Company


“Jackie and Me” Design by Scott C. Neale Metro Theatre Company

B.I.T.N. asks every Designer the same 6 questions in the Design Forum.  I know, I know, seems pretty lazy on our part, but each designer is unique, and their individual take on the same subject can prove a fascinating peek into the mind of an artist.

Plus, it’s our blog …

Q1 – How and when did you first get interested in designing for theatre?

My family was always attending various theatrical events, whether at the Muny in St. Louis, or to see my older brothers perform in their high school plays. I guess my love of design really happened in high school. As an incoming freshman, I was certain I would be a famous actor. As an outgoing senior, I realized that probably wasn’t ever going to be true, not to mention I had discovered “backstage crew” as an extracurricular activity. I was given the chance to design various parts of our set for “Guys and Dolls” as a junior…. But it was my rendition of the Sewer Scene that really got me thinking I could really do something with this. We had very little money for the sets and costumes, so I ended up painting a giant forced perspective tunnel on the back wall of the theatre (Wile E. Coyote style). 

The-Very-Last-Green-Thing Opera Theatre Of St. Louis

“The Very Last Green Thing” Scott C. Neale Design Opera Theatre Of St. Louis



Q2 – Who and or what are some of your inspirations?

Certainly Todd Rosenthal, who I assisted when I was working towards my MFA at Northwestern University. I love his attention to detail and scale and his machine like ability to crank out a brilliant design every time he is put to the task. He makes it look effortless. Furthermore, He absolutely enjoys what he does and makes a good living at it. As a young graduate student those aspects of my future career were very important to me, so his ambition inspired me to dive into the world of design head first and never look back.


Todd Rosenthal

Design by Todd Rosenthal


Q3 – When you design for the stage, what is your thought process?

If I had to filter it all down, I would say that first of all, there are no bad ideas. Just ideas that help you get to better ones. You have to start out with a very broad vision, and then over the course of the design process, start refining and peeling away ideas. Eventually you will get to something that feels right no matter how you look at it. I spend a lot of time looking at things. Ideas, models, research… I do my best to identify what, if anything, is nagging at me. And then I change it. I repeat the process until nothing nags.


Sits Ram Chicago Children's Choir

“Sita Ram” Design by Scott C. Neale – Chicago Children’s Choir


Q4 – What, if anything, do you think technology brings to the worlds of theatre design?

Technology is a tool. It’s not an idea generator. But when used properly, I think it aides in bring creative ideas to light in bigger and bolder ways than we have been able to do in the past. We all dream big. Technology helps us get there. Whether that’s computer software or hardware, projections, automation. As long as we don’t rely on it to tell our stories. We can do plays in an empty room with no set or costumes. So we must challenge ourselves to use technology to facilitate story telling, and not the other way around.

Q5 – What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?

Your life is research. Theatre is about the human experience. Take interest in as many things as you can. Examine people, and the places they inhabit. Read. Travel. I feel like at the core, designers have to be the psychologists of the characters in the play. We have to live in their world, relate to their story, understand their dilemmas because anyone can put up 3 walls. But its the subtle detail in those walls that place it into the world of the play.


Good PErson Of Szechaun Wheaton College

“Good Person Of Szechuan” – Design by Scott C. Neale – Wheaton College


Q6 – What else do have to say?    

We live in a time where its more pertinent than ever as theatre artists that we tell our real life stories. A friend once told me “Theatre, since its invention, has always been a dying industry, yet it’s been alive for thousands of years”… I took that to mean that as long as we are here, theatre and art will never go away. We will always have a primal need to tell our story during our short time on earth and we will always find a way.


Scott is a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829


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