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Designing Hedda: Questioning the Canonical Play Hedda Gabler, as a Feminist Text Through Abstraction

A thorough reflection on the process of costume design for the theatrical production of Hedda. An adaptation of Hedda Gabler, by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Eva Le Gallienne, edited by Finn Lefevre and Directed by Christina Pellegrini. Performed at The Rand Theater, University of Massachusetts Amherst, February 24th to March 4th, 2017. Ibsen is considered “The Father of Modern Drama”, with Hedda Gabler as one of his most widely performed plays. Hedda Gabler in the 1890’s was a disruptive reflection of society, and is considered by many to be a feminist work. I disagree with this assessment of the text. There are relevant gendered issues present within Hedda Gabler, however the play presents suicide as the only solution. Hedda Gabler could become a feminist work if presented in a way to address the issues raised. A collaborative, devised process, was used to produce this play. This created an iterative process of design reacting to discoveries made throughout the process. Costume design, in concert with set design, functioned as a visual medium creating the abstracted world of Hedda. Tracking artistic and social influences on costume design for Hedda; I provide the evolution of the design from analysis to production while examining the design’s influence on show development, and role in the devising process. Our show featured a seven women ensemble, each actress alternatively portraying Hedda and each of the other characters within the play. Set in a flat, surrealistic, paper covered library, the paper costume constructs blended with the background when each was not in use. This role switching resulted in the presentation of Hedda as a widely felt feminine experience rather than a singularity. Through the abstraction of Hedda Gabler we presented a production that challenged the canonical text while reviving its feminist dialogue with our contemporary moment.
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