Josh Steadman: Interview With Storyland Studios Art Director
Josh Steadman is an Art/Production Designer and Set Designer with over 20 years working in television, theatre and themed entertainment. He has worked with numerous clients and on fun projects including Shanghai Disneyland, Marvel Avengers STATION in Las Vegas and Singapore, Cartoon Network’s The Wave Cruise Ship, Director of Show Design and Production at Evermore Park in Pleasant Grove, and most recently as an Art Director in New York City. While working at Walt Disney Imagineering, he conceptualised, designed and installed the Enchanted Storybook Castle Walkthrough for the world’s largest Disney castle in Shanghai. He holds Thea Awards (Themed Entertainment Association) for both Show Design and Production Design simultaneously for his work on Shanghai Disneyland. Josh is currently the Art Director at Storyland Studios, working with an incredible team of designers, and artists bringing stories to life in fun ways in entertainment, theme parks, and new experiences.
Hi Josh, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing, and how are you coping in the current climate?
Thanks for having me! It’s always a great thing being connected to the talented folks in the Theatre community. The current climate is definitely unlike anything we’ve experienced. I’m doing good personally, staying positive and taking advantage of the time to focus, working from home, but really just being grateful for my role at Storyland, and the ability to work with great thinkers and artists.
I feel like this world-wide pandemic, and the effects it has had in general, actually has made me very conscious of what I need as a creative designer, and I say that from a sensitive/emotional perspective. It’s hard to explain, but I’m careful about where I’m focusing my attention so I can create better. I’m doing my best to focus on positive, and uplifting things that inspire my creativity.
Your work as an art designer and director has been quite varied around the world, and I’m guessing each role has been equally unique? How would you roughly describe what you do as an art/production designer and set designer or art director?
I’ve been able to take projects that were unique and interesting. Each project has challenged me as an artist in different ways and allowed me to explore parts of the world I would’ve never seen had it not been for being open to new things and adventure. I’m a theatrical set designer first and foremost, and design and always think in terms of staging and guest perspective. I consider myself a set designer who draws and prefers the aesthetic of what that can provide. I studied illustration in undergrad and was pretty passionate about it. I came to realise, after my undergrad degree, that the illustration world and industry is really difficult and unique, and unfortunately I wasn’t a talented enough illustrator to make money in that world.
I had always wanted to design theme parks, so theatre design was a step towards that. I’m extremely grateful to theatre; it gave me a voice as an artist that I had not found before designing for that community. From there, new doors opened up and my desire and hope to design theme parks really took off. My career in theme park design started as a Show Designer and Production Designer then segued into Art Direction. I love being an Art Director and I love working with fellow artists.
Anytime artists get to create together, it’s a gift!
How did you get your start in the industry, and what initially sparked your interest?
I’ve been on a few podcasts and this question has been the focus of those recordings, but in short, I failed up. I’m still failing up, lol. I spent many days, months, years in extreme poverty. That isn’t an exaggeration. There were times I bought a tube of paint (to finish a project) instead of buying food. It was my hope that one day it would all pay off that kept me going. But there were some very hard and sad times.
I grew up in rural Idaho, I had exposure to Disneyland as a kid, the rest is history. I knew from a very young age I was an artist and a designer. I pursued it with an unrivalled tenacity.
I just knew it was my only path to follow. I’m still marching to the “weirdo artist” drum so to speak, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What has been one of your career highlights so far? Why do you love what you do?
I’m fortunate in that I have a few highlights. Shanghai Disneyland helped me grow as a person and designer in ways that can’t be described really. It was an epic undertaking, it was an incredibly hard project. There were personal lessons I hope to never repeat. But I think my personal takeaway on that project was to be kind and patient with people and with yourself. It’s a long story, I learned a lot.
Evermore Park was the flip of Shanghai. Ken allowed me the freedom to build a team, and cater to the abilities of the team members. We had an unrealistic deadline, but we had a blast getting there. My role was in many ways comparable to a music conductor for scenery, at least that’s how it felt. My biggest takeaway on that project is, leadership and humility go a long ways when a team is stressed. I learned it personally and also witnessed how egos can get in the way. There should be no “I” in the team, ever. And no department is bigger or better than the other, all have to communicate to execute beautiful work.
In the end, it’s about collaboration, being kind to each other, and making something amazing. Those are the reasons why I love what I do.
And conversely, what has been your biggest learning curve?
How to communicate effectively and cautiously. That’s the learning curve for any artist. It has definitely been mine. After graduate school I worked in TV. Being on a TV set is very different than designing a theme park ride at a huge Fortune 500 Company. That was a learning curve. It would take a bit to explain.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the industry?
BE TEACHABLE, AND JUST LISTEN!!!!!!!! If I could emphasise this even more, I would. I’ve hired young people, fresh out of undergrad and some of them (today) just have a really hard time with this. You don’t learn the world through Tik Tok, you learn the world through being in it, and experiencing it first-hand.
Internet experts are everywhere. Don’t be one of them, please.
For your own sake and for the sake of having a career. And please don’t have your Mom call your boss and explain why they should make you an Art Director yesterday. This is a real example, this actually happened.
And final thoughts on art from you Josh?
Be the kind of artist that improves the world. There are great ways to do that. Art communicates. Make great art.