UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“I want to be a machine” : how costume design directs and challenges the human in the machine, Hamlet (Ophelia) machine Ortner, Ines


This report analyzes the principles behind my thesis production of Hamletmachine (Heiner Mueller, 1977) at the University of British Columbia in April 2013, explains the concepts underlying the design and production, documents the stages of development towards production, and describes the challenges and the final results. Hamletmachine was work-shopped over a period of two school terms in 2012/13. The production intended as an exploration of a directorial/design/dramaturgical model in which costume design does not simply fulfill its traditional function of supporting theme, characterization and narrative but rather plays the leading role in determining and shaping these aspects of the theatrical event through the very materiality of, and physical restrictions inherent in, the costumes themselves. My concepts are grounded in the theories and practical work of Bauhaus artist and theatre designer Oskar Schlemmer from the historical European avant-garde, as well as the East German playwright, author, dramaturge and poet Heiner Mueller. At the core of this project was the idea of “Man as Machine”. In the anticipation of a post-apocalyptic age, humans are becoming increasingly machine-like, as evident by the development of the cyborg. For my design and production, this awareness resulted in the application of abstract and geometric design principles as well as LED technologies embedded in the costumes. In addition, my design and production were based on the themes addressed in Hamletmachine, specifically Heiner Mueller’s concerns with the mechanisms of history and myth-making grounded in the “Age of Reason”. I was interested in Mueller’s redefinition of Ophelia as a revolutionary figure and how the costume can reflect this rethinking of the female role in society, politics and the arts. The success of the workshops attests to the costumes affect on the performers’ bodies, together with the movements that were inherent in their shape and function. The conclusion also addresses the challenges of the production, as they materialized in the costumes as well as in the process of the production. In the end the costumes not only reflected the play and its structure, but also shaped the production and projected a new understanding of the theatrical script.

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