Monday, December 1, 2008

On creating a Unicorn for the stage.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This post contains specifics about the show itself, and how we're achieving certain elements or designing certain aspects. If you want this kind of thing to be a surprise to you when you see it, skip this post!

"The Unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone...
She did not look anything like a horned horse...possessing that oldest, wildest grace that horses have never had...unicorns are immortal...they are a little vain, knowing themselves to be the most beautiful creatures in all the world, and magical besides."

Nifty, right? This description of the nature of unicorns comes from the opening pages of Mr. Beagle's classic. How do you represent something as (as Rukh would put it) "Universal as the unicorn" on stage? This is a creature that is supposed to be the most beautiful, graceful creature in the world. Therefore, I believe that the way to represent it on stage is NOT to do something like THIS:

I know, I know, the kid is adorable, but what about this costume captures the wild immortal beauty that unicorns are supposed to possess. I think that where people go wrong when they try to represent unicorns on stage (in productions of Children of Eden, for example, or Griffin Theatre's stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust) is they try to be too literal. The last way to represent a unicorn effectively onstage is to stick an garish and ungainly headress or a white unitard on them! I think that we're shown the way by such story theatre pioneers as Mary Zimmerman and Frank Galati. So, instead of trying to literally represent the animal and her horn, let's come up with imaginative and evocative ways to represent that to the audience.

First, the Unicorn in the story is supposed to be gorgeous and graceful. The key is, we want something that will be gorgeous and graceful to the audience as well. So, instead of a pretty young actress in a unitard and headdress, hows-about we just go with a basic pretty white dress or frock? Something that breathes and that she can move in freely, with the additional ripple of fabric to help evoke that grace we're talking about, instead of something skin tight that bunches up in inappropriate places. Just say no to spandex, kids.

Next the horn. We want something that is a symbol of the Unicorn's immortality, and that can be used by the actress in the same ways that the Unicorn has to use it in the story- i.e., she needs something that she can touch to things to heal people. My current best idea: a long stemmed white rose that she carries with her:

It's important to me that we see her strength as well. I'm thinking we'll also give the Unicorn a silver dagger to have with her to symbolize her horn when she has to fight things with it (Harpies, for example...)

What do y'all think?


Anonymous said...

Ed, you have this thing about the horn exactly right. But about the spandex....couldn't you pander a bit?

Ed R said...

Thanks! Hmm...if you mean what I think you mean, trust me, the actress playing the Unicorn (when we cast her) won't *need* spandex. Um, if you mean something else, um, disregard. :-)