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Designing
for an empty  Space

The stage is a place where we can project our imagination into.

The physical relationship between two actors already provides a dynamic that allows drama to happen. A simple change of this spatial relation indicates a dramatic scenario.

Every object, furniture or Scenic element either supports or hinders this Drama to evolve. Therefore I tend to choose simple scenic elements that help the audience to indicate a place, and at the same time provide a playground for an actor to inhabit.

When devising, Without the context of a play, designing for the stage is painting on a three dimensional canvas. Rather like a painting by Joan Miro or Wassily Kandinsky,  each element, actor, furniture, colour surface and line stands in a delicate balance with each other. If one element shifts, the grouping needs to be reconfigured to create a new balance. 

For example, a long carpet that unrolls and divides the stage immediately creates three separate spaces: one to the left of the runner, one to its right and the third is the corridor space of the runner itself. If each space is inhabited by a performer, we happily accept, the convention that they are not visible but may be audible to one another. Or alternatively, with the simple expanding of lighting the three spaces unite unquestionable into one large room. 

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If you place a scenic corner somewhere in the space, you immediately create an off stage on stage. An actor can disappear on one side and a beat later reappear on the other side as someone else. This architectural element also provides a visible hiding place, shadows to play with and at the same time indicates the proportions of the building in relation to the actor it houses. 

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The physical nature of the performers for The Doubtful Guest required a design that allowed the actors to grow into an imaginary space into which they can take the audience.

I created a skyscape, a truss that was fixed into the theatres rig, from which furniture and props could fly in and out. An elaborate pulley system allowed the actors to set up the scenes in full view and gave the audience a hint of the helpless Marionettes these characters have turned into. The house in which the story was taking place was represented by a scaled down doll’s house. 

Dress Rehearsal of The Doubtful Guest by Hoipolloi TheatreDirected by Shon Dale-Jones; Music: Alexander Rudd; DESIGN: Stefanie Mueller; performers: Stefanie Mueller, Ben Frimston, Jill Norman, Andrew Pembrooke and Trond Erik Vassdal

Working with Hoipolloi or similar companies, we start with an R&D phase. I accumulate materials, props and costumes that I think interesting for the story or theme and bring them into the rehearsal room. There I have the time and space, alongside the other actors, to explore visual aspects of the production as it develops.

The director and I have to agree on a set design sometime after this research, with the aim to have set-elements as complete as possible for the beginning of the rehearsal period. Tweaking and amendments to these elements happens along side the rehearsals and completion takes place leading up to the production opening. Most often I have an assistant that can take on tasks if I am required as the actress in the room as well.

The Hugh Hughes productions have taken a slightly different approach.

The character of Hugh Hughes was a novice to theatre while creating his first show called floating. Everyone involved in the production was exploring afresh, all aspects of ‘not knowing’. This led to a production that exposed and shared all sorts of theatrical tools while celebrating them with the audience.

Every show from then on has been a slow progression in Hugh’s craft. The chaotic assembly of objects from the past in floating becomes a gallery of memories in Story of a Rabbit and followed on with an empty space for the imagination in 360.

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Samples

Correspondence by
Menagerie Theatre

DESIGN: Stefanie Mueller 

Directed by Patrick Morris
Music: Andrew Lovett

 performers: Stefanie Mueller & Jeremy Killick

The Impostor by Hoipolloi Theatre

directed by: Shon Dale-Jones
Music by Adam Cork

DESIGN: Stefanie Mueller

performers: Stefanie Mueller; Andrew Pembrooke, Ben Frimston, Jill Norman,

Trond Erik Vassdal

The Impostor by Hoipolloi Theatre

directed by: Shon Dale-Jones
Music by Adam Cork

DESIGN: Stefanie Mueller

performers: Stefanie Mueller; Andrew Pembrooke, Ben Frimston, Jill Norman, Trond Erik Vassdal

The Doubtful Guest by Hoipolloi Theatre
DESIGN by Stefanie Mueller 

Directed by Shon Dale-Jones
Music: Alexander Rudd

 performers: Stefanie Mueller, Ben Frimston, Jill Norman, Andrew Pembrooke and Trond Erik Vassdal

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