Attractions Expert Q&A: Josh Steadman

Josh Steadman has spent some 22 years as a set designer, art director, creative director, show designer, and Illustrator working in television, theater, and theme park design/build.

Enchanted Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disney Resort
Photo courtesy of Disney

By Kendall Wolf

During his career, Josh Steadman has worked with numerous clients and on fun projects, including Shanghai Disneyland, Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. in Las Vegas and Singapore, Cartoon Network’s The Wave Cruise Ship, Evermore Park in Pleasant Grove as Director of Show Design and Production, Creative Director on Genting Skyworlds, and as a ride designer/illustrator on Warner Brothers Park – Abu Dhabi.

Josh Steadman

While working at Walt Disney Imagineering, he conceptualized, designed, and installed the Enchanted Storybook Castle Walkthrough for the world’s largest Disney castle in Shanghai. He simultaneously holds Thea Awards (Themed Entertainment Association) for both Show Design and Production Design for his work on Shanghai Disneyland.

In addition to working in themed entertainment, he has also worked part-time as an adjunct Art Professor and is currently a full-time Professor of Production Design for Film, TV, and Entertainment.

What theme park souvenir might we be surprised to find on your shelf? What’s the story behind it?

When I got married, my partner and I spent our honeymoon at Tokyo DisneySea and the opening of Ghili Park in Japan. Although we’re not huge Duffy fans (Mickey’s teddy bear pal), at Tokyo Disney, we bought a special anniversary Duffy cottage for $600. It’s Cape Cod style and has Duffy furniture and action figures. We actually bought it as an investment because we think in five years it will be worth like $5,000!

At Ghibli Park, we bought t-shirts and a buildable model of Howl’s Moving castle. It may take a while to assemble, though, as the directions are all in Japanese.

 What theme park(s) have you always wanted to visit but have never been to?

Efteling and Puy du Fou, to see their award-winning show

Was there a theme park or attraction that made you want to be in this industry? How did it inspire you?

When I was a kid, I saw a sneak preview on the Disney Channel of the Tower of Terror, which I thought was amazing, and I wanted to be a part of it. In 1998, I got hired as a bellhop cast member at the Tower of Terror just so I could to learn the operations side of theme parks. 

What was your favorite ride/attraction as a child, and why?

Peter Pan’s Flight at Disneyland because it was pure theater. Also, the Storybook Land Canal Boats – I loved the idea of the Lilliputian village you floated past. Everything was in miniature.

Was there a ride, attraction, or character that frightened you as a child?

Space Mountain. I just wasn’t partial to roller coasters. 

What is the oddest or coolest job you’ve had in a theme park?

In 1998, I was a character in the Mulan Parade as a Mulan soldier. I wore a big frou-frou costume with polka dots on it. And I had to carry a large flag on a heavy pole while dancing the whole time.

What ride/attraction do you think everyone needs to experience and why?

Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean – start there. Also, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Tokyo DisneySea. Those attractions use and employ technology that will never be replaced and will always hold up. I’m not a fan of all this digital technology. Dark rides have been around forever and are tried and true. 

Pirates of the Caribbean Shanghai is fantastic. When I was on the ride as just a guest, not an Imagineer, I could tell from the sounds of amazement from the other guests what a great success it was.

If you were tasked with creating a new theme park food, what would it be?

When I walked around Tokyo DisneySea and tried all the flavored popcorn (Milk tea, black pepper, garlic shrimp), I thought that was the best theme park food in the world. But then I tried Dollywood’s cinnamon bread. With honey butter and frosting, it really can’t be beat. If I were going to create a new food, I would add rum to Disney’s Dole Whip

You’re a walk-around character for a day; who do you choose?

The costumes are SO hot – especially in the Florida humidity – I would never want to be one.

What types of attractions would you like to see more of and why?

Attractions with original content, not IPs. Anything with no IP attached. An original ride with only real creative thought.

Do you have any interesting theme park pandemic stories?

During the pandemic, I produced an outdoor holiday event at an aquarium in Utah. Everyone wore masks and enjoyed an experience outside their homes with their families. People were so starved for entertainment the event was sold out for the whole season.

Can you talk about what you are working on these days?

I am currently a professor of Production Design for film and entertainment at Savannah College of Art and Design. Production design for film and television is also the basis for design in theme parks. I have students interested in all kinds of design, so I have to tailor my classes accordingly. 

You are going to your favorite theme park – which industry people (dead or alive) are you taking with you?

  • Doris Hardoon – My second Mom who mentored me at WDI
  • Brian Crosby – A good friend, Marvel-Themed Entertainment Development
  • Kourtney Day – A good friend, the Jim Henson Company
  • Jim Clark – Another good friend, Disney Imagineer on Tokyo Disney

Kendall Wolf is a long-time consultant in the themed entertainment industry. She has worked with designers, producers, and fabricators to help developers create unique and successful projects around the world. In 2017, she introduced Merlin Entertainments to a development group in Sichuan province for the first Legoland park in China. Kendall continues to consult for the developer to open more themed resorts in China.


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