Meet Shea O’Neil, Costume Designer for “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”

Featured: Costume Designer Shea O’Neil

Q: Were there any activities you did as a child that led to your passion for the arts?

I was raised by a single mother growing up which led to a lot of self-guided alone time. My imagination was my best friend and when my Mom realized how “in the clouds” my thinking was she put me into a lot of acting classes. I started out as a performer, up until my senior year of high school. I was lucky enough to attend a magnet arts Middle-High School in my hometown that, oddly enough, offered a costuming class as an elective. I took that my senior year… and the rest all just sort of fell into place. Having had a lot of training from the ages of 10 to 17 of how to act and embody a character was the best kind of costume design training I could’ve asked for.

Q: Where did you receive training?

As stated I went to a wonderful school called “Manatee School for the Arts” in my hometown of Bradenton, FL. From there I went on to a 2 year program (a sort of art school boot camp I like to refer to it as) called Florida School of the Arts. There I got an A.S. degree in Technical Theater with a focus in Costume Design. When I was attending FloArts I entered into the undergraduate design competition at S.E.T.C. (Southeastern Theater Conference) and won first place for a costume design I did at FloArts for Clue The Musical which, yes, is a musical based off of the board game. From that conference I was recruited by Toni Leslie-James who, at the time, was the Professor of Costume Design at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. I studied under her and learned everything I could from her (she has been a working Broadway designer since 1992.)

Q: What other companies have you most recently designed for?

I have only designed at one other theater. I was the Costume Designer and 1-man-costume-shop for the Barter Players. The Players is an offset of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. (which is the oldest professional rep theater in the country). The Players was the Children’s theater part of the company. I was the Designer in Residence there for almost 3 years and designed over 24 productions with them, including 4 regional tours and 1 national tour that was based off of a Disney book series. I have assisted a good friend/designer that I met at VCU at many places in between leaving VCU and working at The Barter. I assisted her at Virginia Rep (Richmond, VA) and The Warehouse Theater (Greenville, SC).

Featured: A rendering by Shea O’Neil of Aslan in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”.
Featured: Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Katelyn Crall as Aslan.

Q: Please discuss your design process.

So first, like all designs, it begins with a meeting/chat with the director. My job is to facilitate the director’s vision while bringing my knowledge of the history of clothing and other various things to the table. For this show the key phrases I took from that first meeting were “Game of Thrones meets How to Train Your Dragon/Nordic Viking.” After that I got to work researching images that spoke to me and started to put together a Powerpoint for each character/look in the show. Once I showed that to the director then I started doing my sketches (for every sketch that you see that is good, there are about 20 ones that get ferociously scratched out) once those get drawn, then they get approved by the director. I then move to the “finding fabric” and actually figuring out the logistics of how to build/buy or pull from stock the things that I have drawn. I have meetings with the person in the shop who makes the patterns for the clothing (which is sometimes me as well) and talk over how I believe these things are constructed, and the process begins for real.

Featured: A rendering by Shea O’Neil of the White Witch.
Featured Right: Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Eden Stroble as the White Witch.

Q: What are you most excited about that audiences will experience with your designs?

I’m excited for the audience to see the amount of love, care, and artistry that the whole Costume Department and I have put into this show. One thing I learned in my time as the Barter Players Costume Designer was that most “family” or “children’s theater” tends to be patronizing to children. Gives them cartoonish pops of color and simplified costumes. But children, more than adults, have such beautiful and vivid imaginations. So giving them a real world that is extremely well flushed out is what I am most excited for these families and groups of school kids to see with this show. Children of all ages (and that includes adults) deserve the most inspiring thing I can offer and I’m excited to give it to them.

Q: Tell us a little more about yourself.

I really love knitting and have recently picked up baking and cooking as a lovely hobby. I spend a lot of time in the costume shop so when I’m not here I tend to do things that are very relaxing. i.e. going to see movies, a fine night of eating out (because I LOVE eating out at restaurants). I also have my own costume business on the side where I make costumes and various things for people on a commission basis. I also really love hiking and things that are outdoors which is a nice way to clear out my brain in between and kind of reset my headspace before heading into the next production.

Featured: Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Members in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”.
Featured Center: Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Katelyn Crall as Aslan and Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Sophie Rees as the White Witch in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”.

Performances of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” run Jan. 25th and Feb. 1st at 11am and Jan. 25th, Jan. 26th and Feb. 1st at 2pm. For tickets, click here.