Emotional Creature

Miami University Theatre • October 2014

About the Design

Eve Ensler's book of poems I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Lives of Girls Around the World chronicles the many struggles young women face in today's world: body image, human trafficking, violence, love....This stage adaptation uses music and dance to empower the cast and inspire the audience. It is a fantastic piece of theatre, especially as conceived by the director, Rosalyn Benson. The play itself doesn't call for bells and whistles. It needed an environment that could provide levels and provide a surface for movement. In one monologue the actor has just climbed to the top of a mountain, and in another an actor is hiding from a captor. I went with levels legged with pipe and accessed by ladders to accommodate some of this staging. Levels could be climbed onto and hidden under. 

The proscenium architecture in this space really separates the stage from the audience. We built an extension off the front of the stage to help overcome that distance. That seemed important for a show with a small cast that directly addresses the audience.

One of the major influences to this design was the art work of  Gwenn Seemel. I had never heard of her before, but was fascinated by her background, her artwork, and her subject matter. She is primarily a portrait painter, and the majority of her subjects are women. She created a children's book addressing gender issues. In it she points out how some animals take on different gender roles than humans, and how that is considered normal in the animal kingdom. I loved her message, its connection to the play, and the vibrancy of her artwork. She paints in bold colors and with geometric pattern and line.

I sampled her paintings to create the palette for the show, and mirrored her use of shape.

We did want to use projected images at various points to add more visual texture to the storytelling. I wanted the projection surface to be something more than a rectangular screen that flew in and out. I wanted it to flow out of the architecture of the environment. In this my visual inspiration was architect Zaha Hadid, especially her Mobile Art Pavilion. I was drawn to the movement of the biomorphic shapes:

As the design progressed, the screen structure was pretty large. We were ready to build it, but worried about finishing it in time. I wanted to make sure there was adequate time before tech to create a projection mask to keep the image tight inside of the shapes. I simplified the structure into the series of shapes seen in the production photos.

The images themselves were chosen to either suggest location or to accent themes in the monologues:

A student, Hunter Doebereiner, created a series of video projections as well. Two dance sequences were done with the actors lit by full stage front projections. Hunter also interviewed women on campus, asking questions about topics covered in the play.  The resulting videos were shown during preshow.

Here are the sketches and other materials created during the process:

And here is a PDF of the drafting plates (VectorWorks 2014) >>

Production Credits

Directed by Rosalyn Benson
Video Design by Hunter Doeberiener
Costume Design by Meggan Peters
Lighting Design by Jessy Henning
Technical Direction by Curtis Mortimore