Pirandello’s masterpiece, “Six Characters in Search of an Author” iswell known for its innovative techniques of characterization, especially in thefullness of character as exhibited by the Stepdaughter and the Father, but it isespecially renowned, and rightfully so, for the brilliant staging techniquesemployed by its author.
Pirandello uses his innovative staging techniquesspecifically to symbolize, within the confines of the theater, the blending ofthe theater and real life. Chief among these, of course, is the way in which theauthor involves the audience in his production, to the point which, like amedieval audience, they become part of the action, and indeed, a character inits own right. The use of lines provided in the playbill was the first of itskind; never before had an author dared to ask the members of the audience toperform, even though unpaid, and indeed, paying for the experience themselves. But without those lines, how much less impressive would that moment be when theDirector, understandably at the end of his rope with the greedy characters (whohave been from the start trying to coerce him into writing a script fornon-union wages), shouts “Reality! Fantasy! Who needs this! What does thismean?” and the audience, in unison, shouts back, “It’s us! We’rehere!” The moment immediately after that, when the whole cast laughsdirectly at the audience, pointing at them in glee, is nearly unbearable for anaudience, as shown by the riot after the first performance, when the audiencenot only ripped the seats out of the theater, but stole the popcorn. Pirandelloalso used a technique he inherited from the “Cirque de Soleil,”involving a trapeze hung from the catwalk. But though the trapeze was not initself his own invention, its use during the intermission as a means to annoythe audience was absolutely innovative.Order now
He had gotten the idea from watching theinhabitants at the mental institution in Switzerland where his wife wasrecuperating from a Venetian holiday. The Swiss hospital, renowned for itsexperimentation, had started a program of gymnastics, meant to boost thepatients’ self-esteem. The Stepdaughter’s foray above the audience’s heads,during the “intermission,” is a direct reflection of that Swisstechnique; 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 inthe text, but kept the audience from actually getting a rest during theintermission, since they couldn’t tell when it started and began. Last, thoughstill important, would be Pirandello’s nod to Brecht, with his medieval circularstaging.
With the voices of the Actors, the Director, and the Characters comingat them from all sides, and with the members of the cast actually clamberingover 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 notonly is there no difference between art and reality, there is no reality, orperhaps more specifically, no art, at all, and indeed, no members of the castanymore than there are members of the audience. In the final analysis, the onlydifference between the cast members in Pirandello’s play and the members of hisaudience is that one paid to get in and the other got hired.