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Designing Metamorphoses

Designing Metamorphoses

Written by : Sarah Uwadiae, MFA student

After studying Theatre Arts at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, I moved to Canada to pursue my MFA in Theatre Design at the School of Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Calgary. I started designing costumes during my MFA program. Prior to my thesis project, Metamorphoses, I had only designed costumes for smaller cast performances. The last drama production I designed costumes for was Splendour by Abi Morgan and directed by Dawn McCaugherty, the show only had four female characters. This productions has 19 actors and more than 30 characters and such a rich text based on Greek mythology, I had my work cut out for me.

After reading Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman for the first time, I was left with a childish excitement. This play felt different, it is different. It’s an adaptation of the epic poem Metamorphoses by Roman poet Ovid., which describes the creation and history of the world and includes many of the best known Greek myths.

It is so much more than just drama, and it is not ordinary in any way.

This production of Metamorphoses contains live string music, poetic language and choreographed sequences. And there will be a pool on stage! The play offers a lot of room for interpretation and imagination.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for the costumes or props design. I read the play multiple times and did some initial research on the playwright, Mary Zimmerman. I felt connected to her. I saw her as a fellow dreamer and storyteller.

Before researching further, I needed to meet with the director of the play. My supervisor informed me that the play would be directed by Haysam Kadri, the Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Company. Haysam also works as an actor, director and producer within Calgary’s theatre community. At the time, he was performing in The Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth by Williams Shakespeare. I went to see the play and introduced myself. It was a pleasure to meet him.

Later in the spring, we had our first meeting to discuss the production. Haysam made it clear that he wanted to help support my vision for the play under his direction. We talked about the heightened storytelling, language, and feeling. Haysam was also fascinated by the sexiness, the sensuality and the delicacy in the world of Metamorphoses; the purity and innocence that the water brings in its big and sweeping way and the possibilities of playing with (partial) nudity. He was also very excited about the possibilities the pool offers – being able to appear, disappear, hide, and drown even, to name a few. We agreed the play isn’t limited to a time period and that this production has to be big, epic, and yet something people could connect to.

A word that kept coming up in conversations to describe our goal for the production is “non-pedestrian”, something that is not usual, extraordinary, larger than life.

This word became my propellant in the design process. Through my designs, I wanted to show how unbelievable the play is; a world where gods walk among men and have such a blatant and unquestionable impact.

Being from Nigeria, I look at things with an additional cultural filter. I could not help but compare the Greek gods in Metamorphoses with the Yoruba gods. In the Yoruba culture, Òrìṣàs are deities with the capability of reflecting one of the manifestations of the Supreme God Olódùmarè. I was inspired by the Òrìṣà Ori, a personal god who only serves one individual. It is said to be the spark of divinity within each of us. The word “Ori” itself literally means “head” so I decided to apply this “glorification of the head” to the gods in this production. I explored multiple images and ideas and paid attention to the details in the design, which ultimately affected my choices and decision making.

I showed Haysam some images of exaggerated headpieces I had pinned on Pinterest. I stumbled upon them and they lit a spark in me. I also talked about my desire to play with fabric that would float in water. He shared my excitement about the headpieces and encouraged me to continue in the direction I was going. We were both willing to dream big first and worry about the budget and practicality later.

Having a director who is one hundred percent ready to support a designer’s vision is extremely liberating and I am grateful Haysam has been so great to work with. 

As you can imagine, when assigned this play, my mind began to run wild. I once asked Haysam if we could have a mirror ball as Apollo’s headpiece in the show because it would reflect light beautifully and probably blind the audience – which is okay since he is the Sun, right? Anyway, he said no. I wonder why?

Designing costumes and props for Metamorphoses has been an invaluable and unforgettable journey. I’m grateful for the team who helped to transform my vision into reality. Observing how my designs have evolved into what they are now and looking forward to what they will be on stage when the whole picture finally comes together, is both nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time.

Sarah Uwadiae, MFA student

Costume and Props Designer for Metamorphoses

University of Calgary – School of Creative and Performing Arts


Head pieces for some of the Gods.

The Underworld Denizens’ masks.

Eurydice’s Wedding Gown before she gets bitten by the snake.

Midas’ daughter’s dress in which she turns to gold.

The Glowing Orb – “The Jar of Water and Sand”.

Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman runs from Nov. 24 to Dec. 2 in the Reeve Theatre at the University of Calgary. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

If you are interested in guest writing for the blog please send an e-mail to: marketing@theatrejunction.com.