Six Characters in Search of an Author
These resources have been written as a tool to explore the play Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello.
They are relevant for anyone who is reading or studying the text, who has an interest in Twentieth Century theatre or literature, or who has seen any production of the play – in particular the recent co-production between The National Theatre of Scotland, Citizens Theatre and The Royal Lyceum.
Various ‘Discussion Points’ provide opportunities to reflect on the play and the questions it raises.
The Exercises allow drama students to explore these questions in a more practical way.
If you haven’t read or seen the play . . .
What response does the title ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ provoke in you?
What situations – real or imagined – could this phrase apply to?
If you have seen the play…
What did the title make you think of the first time you saw it?
The play is set within a rehearsal space. At the start of the play we see a theatre company about to rehearse a drama - a comedy by Pirandello, which the Director says is incomprehensible. Just as the rehearsal starts, the stage is interrupted by a group of six individuals. They claim to be Characters who are looking for their Author.
It appears that the Author who began creating them decided against putting them in a drama. The Characters have taken on a life of their own because their Author has failed to complete the story. Their only chance to truly live is to find someone willing to put them in a play. After much confusion between the rehearsing company of actors and the Characters, the bewildered Director finally consents to let the Characters live out their own story on the stage, mimicked in turn by the actors present.
Within the course of events, philosophical questions relating to reality, truth, illusion, art and the creative process are raised – discussed on stage and provoked in the audience’s or reader’s mind. The final moments of the play offer no answers as to what was the ultimate truth of the drama which has been unfolding. The play has been called ‘meta-theatrical’ – a play about theatre and theatricality.
In what situations do we usually talk of someone being a ‘character’?
What ‘character’ do you present to the world- socially, and through online tools like MySpace? What sides of yourself are other people familiar with? And what sides of yourself are less familiar?
In groups of 3 or 4, take it in turns to ‘sculpt’ each other into different aspects of yourself. You are creating still images that embody a part of who you are. We could all think of dozens of these given time, but there you are choosing only 3.
One should be a family role (e.g. daughter, cousin, big brother), one could be a social aspect of who you are (e.g. footballer, Muslim, singer, from Orkney), and one a side of your personality (e.g. thoughtful, short-tempered, good-humoured).
The images should be completely still, and very expressive. You don’t have to tell anyone what it is they are representing either! In turns, present the images to the rest of the group.
The need for stories to make sense of human existence is a central theme of this play. What are all the different forms a ‘story’ can take’? ( personal anecdote, newspaper article, fairytale, joke…)
Split into pairs and find a space out of earshot of others in the room.
Take it in turns to tell each other a personal anecdote or story, or to share a significant, funny or memorable event from your life. It should be something that no one else in the group is familiar with. One of you will be the Listener, one of you will be the Author.
Each should be timed to last no longer than 2 minutes.
In your pairs, pick one of the stories.
Author, tell the story again.
Listener, now you tell the story, as if it is your own.
Practise it so that it’s authentic.
Change details and personalise it, but keep the heart of the story. Find what true for you in it, and speak from that.
Come back into a larger group and set up 2 chairs on a ‘stage’.
Each pair has their turn of taking the stage and telling the story twice- once each.
Everyone else votes on whose version they believed, and discusses why. What conveys truthfulness in a character or performance?
The true ‘Author’ stands up.
In groups of 4-6, discuss stories that have caught your imagination in the news. This can be recently or from some time ago, it doesn’t matter.
Decide on one. You are going to create a short dramatic improvisation, communicating this story as clearly as possible.
It’s very important that each performer has an key role within the story. Even if it’s a small part, everyone needs a character with a job in moving the narrative forward.
The story can be adapted as much as possible. Even elements from some of the other news stories mentioned can be incorporated to flesh things out. Get on your feet quickly and don’t take more than 10-15 mins working on it.
Present the improvisation.
Next, all the ‘cast’ should stand together, facing their audience in character. They idea now is that they are in a hot air balloon which won’t take off unless they get rid of someone. Each character must take it in turns to explain why they are the most important character in the story- why they are fundamental to the action.
The audience then votes on who should leave the balloon, and the improvisation is replayed without that character. What happens?
If time permits, the improvisation can be repeated again, but with a different character missing.
The French Philosopher Rene Descartes said ‘ I think, therefore I am’ – the proof of his existence was that he was aware of himself. More recently, Hollywood movies such as ‘The Matrix’ have prompted us to question the nature of our reality.
How would you finish the sentence "I am real because . . ."
Everyone in the group should offer two suggestions of what makes them real. There is absolutely no right or wrong answer - the first thing that comes into your head is preferable to something you’ve thought hard about.
This can be carried out as both a group discussion and creative writing exercise