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Undergraduate Capstone Paper

Here you will find a 3/4 production design for the play "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell. This included significant research into the hisotry of the playwright and the play itself. I focused on three modes of the design process: scenic, costume, and sound design. I included some in depth text analysis of the script along with loads of visual research images. You will find sketches, renderings, and documents for each area design.

This paper was written and approved prior to graduation from Adelphi University. The research and design process was advised by Professor John McDermott.


Scenic Design

Properties List.jpg

Concept Statement

    Throughout my study of the histories of both Trifles and Susan Glaspell, I ran into a strong visual draw towards Glaspell’s tie to the Provincetown Players. They were a very important beginning to American theatre and their origins in Cape Cod served as my inspiration for the scenic design. One of the original theaters used by the Players was lovingly called the Wharf Theatre, as it was originally a boathouse which belonged to a loyal patron. With the theater being on a pier over the ocean, the group had the ability to create a realistic setting for shows based near the water, such as Bound East for Cardiff by Eugene O’Neill, with something as simple as opening the loading doors to show the sun setting outside.

    I wanted to place the very specific world of Trifles within those walls. What would it have looked like if the original production occurred in that space? My concept will consist of treated wooden walls, extending into the audience to make everyone feel a part of this world, including benches like those that patrons would have sat in at the original Wharf. The play is very specific in what it calls for and those period appropriate appliances and furniture will be placed on stage.

A key factor in houses during the early 1900s was the small size of the rooms. Each room, based on my research, felt packed to the brim with furniture, with not much moving space. This works nicely with a play like Trifles in which the entire play is based on an ever-present tension between the characters as they are surrounded by the probability of a murder. Playing with the amount of acting space available will help make that clear and I hope palpable enough for all to feel.

Costume Design

Concept Statement

     The costume design featured here for Trifles serves to convey both period and economic class, as those are the two most prominent things apparent in this play.

The female silhouettes of this period were varied but had a very masculine feel to them. As the men were sent off to war, the women remained at home to run things and their clothing reflects that. There were overcoats that were inspired by men’s jackets, and shoes were dark and multipurpose. Waists were high, and patterns were more popular with the working classes, as their clothes were handed down and worn to work on farms. The male silhouette was drastically different depending on economic status. The wealthier members of society had thigh-length suit jackets and vests. The working class had khaki pants and button up shirts for their everyday life.

     The other factor of costuming that is utilized in this design is the use of color. Overall, the color choices for all of the characters are muted and dull, as the show takes place in a small country town. Throughout the story, the audience sees the men brushing aside important information and being very focused on looking for what they believe will get them results. They are not thinking outside of the box to find smaller hints of the crime. For this reason, the men are in black, brown, and dirtied white clothing.

     The women on the other hand have a bit more color in them, although still muted. Blues and purples were added into their costumes to hint at their ability to see more than what meets the eye. They are more in-tune with the ways in which the scene of the crime is set up, which leads them to make the important discovery of the dead bird.

Mrs. Hale.jpg
County Attorney.jpg
Mrs. Peters.jpg
Mr. Hale.jpg

Sound Design

Concept Statement

     In most theatrical works, sound design has an incredibly crucial task in simultaneously setting up the scenes and yet fading into the background and not stealing focus. My concept for Trifles is a unique way of doing both of those things, and more.

     The death of John Wright within the play is the main event in question. What the women discover when gathering Mrs. Wright’s things is a dead bird with a broken neck. A connection is silently made between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, as they think that they have found the sign of motive that the men have been looking for. A throughline for the remainder of the piece is the importance of music and how the lack of it can drive a person to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

     Using this as a jumping off point, I would like to play with silence. There are two points of importance within this design that will play off each other in a very important way, beginning as soon as the audience members enter the building. The speakers in the main lobby of the theatre itself will be playing period-appropriate songs, which tend to focus on the beauty and innocence of love and life. They will then enter the theatre, in which it will be shockingly quiet, with nothing playing except the sounds of a faint wind blowing outside and the crackle of the dwindling fire in the stove.

     Through this, I hope to set the same tension that the scenic design is working towards, as quiet makes people uncomfortable. It will point to something being not right, and force the audience members to notice where they are, along with spring them into the world of the play’s off-putting situation.

Track Listing

  Preshow Music (Played in the Lobby)

  1. A Broken Doll - Al Jolson

  2. Good-Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You - Henry Burr

  3. I Sent My Wife to the Thousand Isles - Al Jolson

  4. Listen to the Mockingbird - Alma Gluck

  5. Somewhere A Voice is Calling - John McCormack

  6. St. Louis Blues - Prince’s Band

  7. The Lights of my Home Town - The Peerless Quartet

  8. Watching the Trains Come In - Jack Pleasants

  9. There’s A Little Bit of Bad in Every Good Little Girl - Billy Murray

  10. There’s Someone More Lonesome Than You - Frederick Wheeler & Reed Miller

  11. Turn Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday - Henry Macdonough & The Orpheus


  Environmentals & Show Cues

  12. Outdoor Wind (Sample)
  13. Fire in Stove (Sample)
  14. Dog Bark 1 (Bassett Hound)

  15. Dog Bark 2 (Border Collie)

  16. The men walking upstairs

09. There A Little Bit of Bad in Ever Good Little Girl Billy Murray
00:00 / 02:33
06. St. Louis BluesPrince's Band
00:00 / 04:07
07. The Lights of my Home TownThe Peerless Quartet
00:00 / 03:07

Text Analysis

Plot Summary

Biography of Susan Glaspell

Click Here to read the full paper!

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