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X-ray technology provides surreal glimpse into the darker side of scientific discovery in Bone Portraits

Steampunk influences the design and sensibility of MainStage Season's production of Bone Portraits.

Photo by Tim Trumble

October 22, 2009

The ASU Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film

A kaleidoscope of images, people and events surrounding the development of the X-ray sets the stage for the ASU Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film’s latest MainStageSeason of Science and Mystery production, Bone Portraits. Set amidst the Chicago world’s fair of 1893, the play by Deborah Stein is a roller coaster ride through the archives of history, merging historical figures such as Thomas Edison, Clarence Dally, Wilhelm and Berta Roentgen with imagined vaudeville characters.

Masterfully directed by Rachel Bowditch, School of Theatre and Film assistant professor, the set is illuminated by scenes from the 1893 pivotal world’s fair where many Americans first were introduced to the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jacks, and this new X-ray technology that first made it possible to gaze inside the human body without cutting into the flesh. It only was after scientists developed radiation sickness that people began to suspect the new technology could have a darker side.

According to Bowditch, the Bone Portraits design team drew inspiration from steampunk for the sets and costumes. Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that emerged in the 1980s, which imagines what the future world where steam power still is widely used might look like through the lens of the Victorian era.

“The result is a fusing of leather, metal studding, buckles, and goggles with Victorian silhouettes and technological contraptions that are both Victorian and oddly futuristic – as seen in films like Brazil and City of Lost Children." Bowditch says. 

Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, 51 E. 10th St., ASU Tempe campus

Nov. 6–7; 12–14; 19–21; 7:30 p.m.

$7–$22; Receive half-price tickets on the First Friday of any MainStage Season production; ASU faculty and staff receive special rates.

Public Contact
Herberger Institute box office, 480.965.6447; School of Theatre and Film, 480.965.5337;

The School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University provides a comprehensive range of courses in performance and directing; design and production; new work development; theatre and performance studies; film; and theatre for youth. Its Theatre for Youth program is nationally ranked in the top three and the dramatic writing/playwriting program is ranked 15th among public institutions by U.S.News & World Report. To learn more about the School of Theatre and Film, visit

Media Contact:
Laurie A. Trotta Valenti
ASU Herberger Institute
School of Theatre and Film