Southeast Alum Returns from Broadway to Design ‘Sister Act’

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Matthew Buttrey

Southeast Missouri State University alumnus and Scott City, Missouri, native Matthew Buttrey has returned to his stomping grounds from The Big Apple to guest design the production of “Sister Act” being performed at the River Campus this weekend.

The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance is presenting “Sister Act” at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, Feb. 22-23, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23 and 24, in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall at Southeast’s River Campus.

“He’s a marvelous person, and we are so lucky to have him back with us for this show,” said Rhonda Weller-Stilson, dean of the Holland College of Arts and Media

The set for “Sister Act” is a larger scale set, Buttrey said, explaining that the Bedell Performance Hall is larger than most theatres on or off Broadway and allows for more space utilization by the creative team.

“‘Sister Act’ definitely has more scenery than other projects I’ve worked on,” Buttrey said. “I knew I wanted it to be an audience immersive experience, so when they walk into the theatre it looks like a cathedral. It really has that church feeling, with the high ceilings and the stained-glass colors, and some of the actors have times when they are performing in the audience.”

Buttrey has been living his dream in the theatre industry in New York City as a theatre scenic designer. His most recent project designing the Off-Broadway production of “Pound,” starred Christopher Lloyd. In addition to “Pound,” Buttrey has designed the Mirror Room Lounge at the Big Apple Circus at The Lincoln Center in New York and been an assistant art director on Sesame Street’s Sesame Workshop. He is currently designing Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman,” which will open this spring in Las Vegas, and Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat,” which will open at the Adventure Theatre in Washington, D.C. He also has several other projects currently in the works.

“I am so proud of Matt that I am just bursting at the seams,” said Dr. Kenn Stilson, chair of The Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance at Southeast. “Matt is just exceptional. He is one of our most distinguished alumni. I expect great things out of him.

“He is an extraordinary artist and designer,” Stilson continued. “It’s a pleasure to work with him. And to know he came from this program, we are just so very proud of him!”

Buttrey said his design approach is influenced by many factors.

“I love to go to the art museums and be inspired by the things I see there,” he said.roach. “Each project is unique in its design from the research, reading the script, dreaming up the play, the design team, everything.”

Buttrey’s career as a set designer began at an early age when he would use construction paper and Legos to create sets for his toys. He later met Cynthia King, a drama teacher at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau, who was a creative outlet for him.

Buttrey began his undergraduate program at Southeast in 1995, prior to the University’s development of the River Campus. In those days, he says, the theatre program’s productions were held in the Forrest H. Rose Theatre in the Grauel Building. In 1997, he decided to postpone his studies to tour with Disney on Ice for 16 years as a performer and then a performance director.

In 2013, Buttrey returned to Southeast to complete his degree.

“When Southeast began offering online classes, I thought that would work well with my schedule, so I started taking one online class per semester and that bolstered my credits. Then I decided that I wanted to get back into the creative side of things, so I enrolled as a design student at the River Campus.”

After graduating from Southeast with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre design and technology, he earned a Master of Fine Arts in scenic design from The University of Maryland.

He says the skills he harnessed while working on tour are some of the most transferrable skills a designer can have.

“Being on tour and working on a creative team taught me the importance of organization, reliability, dependability, adaptability and how to embrace change,” he said. “All of those are important for working in theatre and as a set designer.”

When trying to balance multiple projects, he emphasizes the importance of time management and prioritization.

“I lay my projects in different levels, so I may spend some time on one and then take a breather and spend a little time on another that has a different deadline,” he said “Sometimes, I’ll be designing the model for one project and a certain aspect of the set, whether it’s a crown molding or a window, will give me some inspiration for another project I’m working on.”

He also stresses the importance of a positive outlook.

“Stay as positive as possible – getting angry doesn’t solve anything,” he said. “If I find myself working with people who are maybe not the most enjoyable to work with I will try to engage them in conversation or ask their opinion about a certain design aspect, which can sometimes lessen the tensions.”

For more information about “Sister Act,” visit https://news.semo.edu/musical-comedy-sister-act-brings-disco-to-southeasts-river-campus-feb-20-24/.

For more information about Buttrey and his career, visit matthewwbuttrey.com

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