Southeast Student Takes First Place in Prestigious Set Design Competition


Buttrey, MattCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., March 24, 2014 – Southeast Missouri State University junior Matthew Buttrey of Scott City, Mo., won the prestigious Undergraduate Scenic Design Award presented at the Southeastern Theatre Conference’s 65th annual convention for his work on a set design for William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

“Matt’s one of the hardest working students we have,” said Dr. Kenneth Stilson, professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance and advisor to Buttrey. “He was here before in the 90s, and he is such a talented young man that he was hired by Disney and choreographed for them. As that came to a close, he decided he wanted to come back. He’s a very natural visional artist and because of that he wanted to be a designer someday.

“He has a level of maturity and brings such experience that he’s like having a graduate student in our department,” Stilson said. “He’s super hardworking, smart and talented. I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”

The convention is one of the largest theatre conferences in the United States and always has a very high-profile judge, according to Stilson. Donyale Werle, the Tony award-winning designer for Peter and the Starcatcher, adjudicated the scenic design competition this year. Other competitions include lighting, costume, and sound design. For the set design portion, Buttrey competed against students from major theatre programs such as Florida State University, Virginia State, and other schools from around the southeast region of the US, according to Stilson.

Buttrey was one of a half-dozen students from Southeast who attended the conference, and when he found out he had landed the first place prize, he was both surprised and excited.

“It was very unexpected as this is my first year back in school after 16 years,” Buttrey said. “I am grateful for the constructive feedback that was provided in the publicly juried critique of my design. The takeaways are continual attention to space planning, details, research and drafting, drafting, drafting.

“The aspect of the design that was most appreciated was the energy and dynamic flow that was created with the sculptural design in such a small space as well as the attention to the research and thought process of my design for ‘The Tempest.’ I have a lot to work on and as always, we will never stop learning. It was also a great opportunity to get my name out there as I am headed for graduate school, hopefully in fall 2015.”

The conference took place March 5-9 in Mobile, Ala. The event, sponsored by Sculptural Arts Coating, also allowed Buttrey the opportunity to network.

“The exposure helps tremendously, especially when it’s such a competitive field. It’s a great resume builder as well as a fabulous talking point in interviews,” Buttrey said.

He participated in 12 interviews for summer jobs and internships and shared his portfolio with top graduate programs, including Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

“It’s a pretty big deal, and this will go a long way with the next step, helping him into a top graduate program in the country. Our goal for Matt is to get him into someplace like Yale, UC College-Conservatory of Music, or Northwestern – some of the top graduate programs for Scenic Design in the nation because that’s what he wants to do after he graduates,” Stilson said.

He interviewed with several schools to get his name out there and prepare them for when he applies to graduate school. Eventually, he would like to land a position as a scenic design assistant or apprentice.

“It was definitely a learning experience with the interview process. After performing and directing with Feld Entertainment’s ‘Disney on Ice’ for 16 years, it was definitely a learning curve getting back into the swing of things in a new field,” Buttrey said.

Buttrey is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in design and technology. Buttrey, who attended the University for two years before working with Feld Entertainment as performance director for 16 years, finally returned to Southeast to complete his degree.

“He is a very gifted and special student, and with his experience and knowledge he’s such a role model for our other undergraduates as well,” Stilson said.

Buttrey’s award-winning designs emerged from a class project he was assigned under the tutelage of Justin Barisonek, a faculty member in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University.

“I am very happy to be returning back to Southeast Missouri State University and being a part of the BFA program. There is a wonderful faculty here that cares and helps to guide the students to get the best experience possible. I am grateful for the guidance of my advisor Dr. Kenneth Stilson and the technical design faculty – Justin Barisonek and Travis Richardson who are great at pushing you to go for what you want and showing you how to accomplish it,” he said.

Buttrey isn’t the only one proud of his accomplishments.

“Anytime one of our students excels in the outside and professional world it reflects well on the department and the University. How you measure the effectiveness of any program in the country is by how well current students and young alumni are doing. This is a real feather in our proverbial cap. It reflects well on all of us, the faculty, the department and the University,” Stilson said.

To view images of the award-winning set design, visit Buttrey’s website at

Matt is currently serving as the set designer for “Almost, Maine” debuting at Southeast’s River Campus on March 26.