Michael Scott-Mitchell

Designer - Set/Costume

Management: General

The Merry Widow, Opera Australia
“…Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set is a sumptuous filigree of art deco panels, glittering almost as much as Lehár’s popular and bubbly score. And perhaps purists may think its gilding the lily a little, but moving the setting forward into the decadent excess of 1920s Parisian society, gives director Graham Murphy licence to create a lavish spectacle to delight the eye as much as the ear”.
Dennis Clements, Australian Stage Online, January 2018

Carmen, Opera Australia, Arts Centre Melbourne
.”……a seedy, decaying town square as the superb set (Michael Scott-Mitchell), full of delightful details.”
Barney Zwartz, Opera Critic May 2017

“One of the biggest stars is set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell whose church of Sant'Andrea della Valle (Act I) is quite magnificent, while the Act II Palazzo Farnese and Act III Castel Sant'Angelo are highly effective”
Barney Zwartz, Sydney Morning Herald 

“Set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell belonged centre stage, holding Rachelle Durkin’s hand as the crowd stomped the floor and called for more. Because his incredible quasi corrugated iron sets weren’t just the real stars of show – they stole the show.
Andrew Mole, Riverine News

“Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set designs are fabulous, ranging from imposing pillared columns retreating in perspective (a mix of real sets and CGI) to once grand, bombed out buildings and shattered glass windows in the midst of the civil war. Projections (e.g. photos of soldiers) are also used to great effect. I also particularly liked the use of the revolve/platform for the ‘train’.
Lynne Lancaster ArtsHub

“Swift-moving and packed with detail, Des McAnuff’s well-drilled production is greatly aided by
Michael Scott-Mitchell’s brilliant settings.”
Frank Hatherley, Stage Whispers

“Elke Neidhardt, with her team – Michael Scott-Mitchell (sets), Nick Schlieper (Lighting & associate designer) and Stephen Curtis (Costumes) – have come up with one of the most beautiful, thoughtful and spectacular stagings of recent times.”
Hugh Canning Opera (UK)

“The ravishing sets, designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell-who was also responsible for the recent Adelaide Ring Cycle and the cauldron design at the Sydney Olympic Games-are magnificent, making use of rich, burnished jewel-like colours to create an iconic medieval fantasy world.”
 Bill Stephens ARTLOOK

“The set alone is worth the price of admission, though part of its brilliance is that it complements the play rather than competing with it.”
Allen Myers Green Left Weekly 

“An absurd corrugated-iron set which succeeds”
Peter McCallum Sydney Morning Herald

“But back to the greatest of the many good elements of this production: the design… While the individual artistic influences of each of the designers were distinguishable, there was nevertheless a strong sense of thematic cohesion in the production…I sensed that this production involved the vision of a group of strong creative genii who thankfully knew how to co-operate.”
Nicholas Cavanaugh M/C Reviews

“Olympic-quality settings like Scott-Mitchell’s magical balloon forest, his mix of water and fire and the rising rings that were surely descended from his iconic Sydney Games cauldron”
Jeremy Eccles State of the Arts

"There were four stars in this Production, and the first was the set."
Ballet Talk

Art and education were the mainstays of Michael’s upbringing, with an architect father who was also a painter and lover of poetry, and a mother who was a lecturer in children’s literature and a musician, librettist and writer. Intellectual and artistic pursuits were prized above all. His career has been based upon the synergy between artistic pursuit as a practitioner and a passion for passing on the knowledge gained through his practice. The collaborative nature of the performing arts has proved to be fertile ground for nurturing these passions.

Building upon these formative influences, Michael has established himself as a formidable force within the arts in Australia as well as internationally, designing a raft of highly acclaimed productions and events across a broad spectrum of theatrical and architectural genres: drama, opera, musicals, dance, Olympic and National Ceremonies, restaurants, hotels, exhibitions, film and television. He is also a highly regarded educator, holding significant teaching and academic positions.  

After studying architecture at Sydney University he received a Bachelor of Dramatic Art - Design from NIDA.  Shortly after graduating Michael was invited by the inaugural Sydney Theatre Company (STC) Artistic Director, Richard Wherrett to design for the STC. Richard and Michael formed a strong artistic bond and collaborated on many productions together over the next 18 years. There have been a number of mentors whose collective influence has been profound – Roderick Bowie, Michael’s drama teacher at Barker College, Robin Lovejoy, Head of Design during Michael’s NIDA education, Ruth Cracknell, Richard Gill, Brian Thompson, Jim Sharman and John Bell. With the benefit of hindsight, Richard Wherrett proved to be one of Michael’s most influential mentors; he provided insight into the role of mentor/established artist and ‘novice’. This revelation has had a profound effect on Michael’s engagement with pedagogy and how best to support emerging artists. 

Michael has continued to collaborate with each of STC’s Artistic Directors, designing 37 productions for the company to date, most recently Arcadia, Arms and the Man, Switzerland and Storm Boy

As he was emerging as a designer of note in the performing arts, Michael began looking for a means to further explore the synergy between his architectural and theatre training. At the age of 27, he became a founding director of the design firm D4DESIGN, formed in 1987 with partners Bill MacMahon and Stephen Roberts.  D4 quickly established itself as a preeminent Australian interior design, theatre design and architectural company. The company was envisioned as a limited-life-venture, closing as planned five years after its inception. In the spirit of broadening their knowledge across many areas, the partners intentionally embraced a wide range of briefs. Amongst the most notable and enduring were the multi award-winning Rockpool Restaurant in Sydney’s Rocks, which was to become Neil Perry’s flagship restaurant remaining unchanged for 21 years and Regents Court Hotel in Kings Cross, which established itself as the preferred destination for many artists visiting Sydney. Furniture designed by D4DESIGN is today held in the permanent exhibition of the Powerhouse Museum. 

As the D4DESIGN partnership exemplified, a central plank in Michael’s career has been the belief that the whole has the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts – that a collaborative art form can lead to truly exceptional works of art. Joining forces with his long-term collaborators director Elke Neidhardt and lighting designer Nick Schlieper, Michael undertook the set design for the long-awaited and first all-Australian production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, mounted by State Opera of South Australia in 2004. A monumental design challenge requiring more than 20 set models; the process spanned 4 years and was a huge undertaking. The production received worldwide acclaim and continues to be held in high regard as one of the landmark productions of Wagner’s epic work. The production received 11 Helpmann Awards in 2005, an unprecedented number for any production to date, with Michael being awarded Best Scenic Design

A major exhibition of Michael’s photographs of the Ring Cycle was mounted at the Sydney Opera House in 2005 under the auspices of the Goethe Institute. The National Library has since acquired the collection. 

Michael has established a solid track record of meeting complex, challenging, high profile briefs with incisive, clear artistic vision matched with versatile management skills. 

Arguably the most wide-reaching production Michael has been involved in was the 2000 Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which was televised worldwide to billions of viewers. His design of the Cauldron & Ceremonial Stage was a major triumph, with the cauldron being lit by the final torchbearer Cathy Freeman. 

After the conclusion of the Games, the Cauldron was installed as the centrepiece of Sydney Olympic Park as an enduring symbol of the successful Olympic and Paralympic Games. In a national survey undertaken three years after the games, the image of Cathy Freeman lighting the Cauldron was deemed as the moment that most penetrated the national psyche, encapsulating the spirit of the Sydney Olympic Games. The cauldron was given permanent heritage protection to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the 2000 Games, and is the youngest item to be placed on the State Heritage Register. 

Following the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Michael was invited to design the Cauldron, Ceremonial Stages and a number of Cultural Segments for the Opening Ceremony of the 15th Asian Games in Doha, Qatar in 2006, which was also televised worldwide. The Cauldron, in the form of a giant astrolabe, was lit in a spectacular manner by the Qatari Emir’s son, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani, who rode his horse to the top of the Khalifa International Stadium, climbing to a height of 30 metres. The pioneering work Michael undertook on the Sydney Olympic Cauldron was further explored with the Asian Games Doha Cauldron, which embraced kinetic transformation on a massive scale. Like the Sydney Cauldron, it remains on permanent display at the starting point of the sport city and is lit on ceremonial occasions. 

Michael continues to contribute to landmark international productions, most recently the Scenic Design for the prestigious Broadway musical Doctor Zhivago, directed by Des McAnuff and the LA and Kennedy Center (Washington DC) seasons of Debbie Allen’s Freeze Frame, with further seasons of this production throughout the States in 2018.

In 2017 Michael designs a new production of The Merry Widow for Opera Conference, which will be seen in Perth at His Majesty’s Theatre for West Australian Opera, and in Melbourne at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne for Opera Australia. His production of Carmen for Opera Australia will be seen in Melbourne at the State Theatre, and Tosca enjoys another revival season at the Sydney Opera House.  2018 productions include Diplomacy at the Ensemble Theatre and Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story for Sydney Theatre Company. The Merry Widow will be seen in Sydney at the Sydney Opera House for Opera Australia, at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre for Opera Queensland, and at the Adelaide Festival Theatre for State Opera of South Australia, while Carmen returns to the Sydney Opera House and Tosca to the State Theatre at Arts Centre Melbourne, and L’elisir d’amore will be seen in Auckland and Wellington for New Zealand Zealand Opera.

He has received a great number of awards and nominations recognising his contribution to the performing arts, recently for Doctor Zhivago, for which Michael received the 2015 Australian Production Design Guild (APDG) Award for Best Set Design and again in 2016 the same award for Arms and the Man with STC. 

Balancing his practice as a designer, Michael is highly regarded and sought after as an educator having offered lectures and critiques at Carnegie Mellon University, Tisch, UTS, Wollongong University, NAISDA, Sydney University and NIDA. He has also taught Interior Architecture at the University of NSW. For many years Michael has been an integral part of NIDA, Australia’s leading national institute for training students in the dramatic arts. For many years he was a regular tutor in the design department, joining the Board of Studies in 2006. In 2008 he was appointed Head of Design and from 2011-2016 Director, Undergraduate Studies, and from 2016-2017, Deputy Director of NIDA, and Deputy CEO, both highly regarded positions that utilised Michael’s strategic vision and well-honed management skills. In 2017 Michael was appointed Adjunct Professor of the University of New South Wales.

Much of the work Michael has undertaken at NIDA in recent years has been focused on exploring ways to provide the education and skills to best support emerging artists and performance-makers in a fast-changing world - how to enable each student to speak with a clear and individual voice.

Michael Scott-Mitchell is managed by Sarah Holloway:  sarah@artsmanagement.com.au

January 2018
This biography is for general information purposes only and not for publication.
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