Staging in “Six Characters in Search of an Author”
Pirandello’s masterpiece, “Six Characters in Search of an Author” is well known for its innovative techniques of characterization, especially in the fullness of character as exhibited by the Stepdaughter and the Father, but it is especially renowned, and rightfully so, for the brilliant staging techniques employed by its author. Pirandello uses his innovative staging techniques specifically to symbolize, within the confines of the theater, the blending of the theater and real life.
Chief among these, of course, is the way in which the author involves the audience in his production, to the point which, like a medieval audience, they become part of the action, and indeed, a character in its own right. The use of lines provided in the playbill was the first of its kind; never before had an author dared to ask the members of the audience to perform, even though unpaid, and indeed, paying for the experience themselves. But without those lines, how much less impressive would that moment be when the Director, understandably at the end of his rope with the greedy characters (who have been from the start trying to coerce him into writing a script for non-union wages), shouts “Reality! Fantasy! Who needs this! What does this mean?” and the audience, in unison, shouts back, “It’s us! We’re here!” The moment immediately after that, when the whole cast laughs directly at the audience, pointing at them in glee, is nearly unbearable for an audience, as shown by the riot after the first performance, when the audience not only ripped the seats out of the theater, but stole the popcorn.
Pirandello also used a technique he inherited from the “Cirque de Soleil,” involving a trapeze hung from the catwalk. But though the trapeze was not in itself his own invention, its use during the intermission as a means to annoy the audience was absolutely innovative. He had gotten the idea from watching the inhabitants at the mental institution in Switzerland where his wife was recuperating from a Venetian holiday. The Swiss hospital, renowned for its experimentation, had started a program of gymnastics, meant to boost the patients’ self-esteem. The Stepdaughter’s foray above the audience’s heads, during the “intermission,” is a direct reflection of that Swiss technique; no one before Pirandello had dared to use it in the theater before, but it not only symbolized neatly the problems with defining reality inherent in the text, but kept the audience from actually getting a rest during the intermission, since they couldn’t tell when it started and began.
Last, though still important, would be Pirandello’s nod to Brecht, with his medieval circular staging. With the voices of the Actors, the Director, and the Characters coming at them from all sides, and with the members of the cast actually clambering over the audience members as if they (or indeed their seats) were not there, Pirandello masterfully tied the audience members inextricably in to the action, bringing home the meaning.
For the main truth of Pirandello’s play is that not only is there no difference between art and reality, there is no reality, or perhaps more specifically, no art, at all, and indeed, no members of the cast anymore than there are members of the audience. In the final analysis, the only difference between the cast members in Pirandello’s play and the members of his audience is that one paid to get in and the other got hired.