Costume and set design: Behind-the-scenes of Rhinoceros

Natalie Sweet, Staff Writer

A dark atmosphere permeates the Black Box, actors in ferocious rhinoceros costumes fill the inky, bare set of the production Rhinoceros.

Unlike past productions, Rhinoceros uses multi-casting, in which two or more actors play the same role. The main character, Berenger, is played by four students, and two others are played by two students.

However, multicasting presented a challenge for costume design, Head of Costume Department Wendy Kahn said. Consistency in costumes helps the audience follow the character’s identity, and helps the actors identify with one another, she said. In all the scenes, Berenger wears a flannel shirt and raincoat, while the character Daisy dons polka dots.

A unique challenge was transitioning a character into a rhinoceros mid-scene, Khan said.

“This transformation is done purely through the actor’s physicality,” she said. “We only give the actor and the audience some textures and shapes to help suggest the change.” 

The rest of the actors change backstage into rhinoceros costumes, which consist of horns constructed on pollution masks and thuggish leather jackets. “The greyness of the costumes suggests an oppressive conformity that the characters follow,” Khan said.

The set design also reflects the dark tone and thematic elements of the play. “The majority of the set is grey, like the skin of a rhinoceros, and the background gets darker as the play goes on to match the theme of the production,” Samantha Tsai (10) said.

To create the set, the stage crew had to acquire special tools, Senior Technical Director Maya Dubno (12) said. “We used flexible wooden boards to connect the walls of the awning to the floor,” Dubno said. The crew also experimented with Homasote boards, a foul-smelling paper product that composed the texture of rhinoceros skin.

The design choices of Rhinoceros make the main themes very straightforward and easy for the viewer to understand, Yana Gitelman (10) said.

Towards the end of the play, two rolling walls close in on the characters to tighten the set, representing the world closing in on the main character, Dubno says.

“Perhaps the rhinoceros represents the brutality to which tyranny and other forces in our world reduce us,” Khan said.