In my theatre studies at the University of Utah in 2000-2004, I came across a strange play called Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello. It is an Italian Absurdist play from 1921. It’s not typical fare, and I found it highly unsatisfying in a way that stuck with me over the years as a creative and philosophical mental exercise. When live theatre shut down with the pandemic, and Anthony Buck and I started collaborating on virtual theatre simply so we could practice our craft and expand our technical abilities, Six Characters in Search of an Author kept bumping up against my thoughts and feelings. In a wave of frustration and angst in the summer of 2020, I sat at my keyboard and began the story of Six Actors in Search of a Theatre.
This has been the most lengthy creative undertaking Anthony and I have collaborated on this year, and we have done a startling number of creative projects lately. For me, it has been a hugely cathartic piece and process. It brings up so much of what this year has pressed on my mind and feelings: the unprecedented situation theatres and actors unexpectedly found themselves in, sexism, institutional racism in American theatre as well as more personal experiences surrounding racism, and the issues of physical safety and sexual harassment in theatre that became a local flashpoint in late 2019.
Unlike all of our other collaborative works, Anthony and I decided to expand the dialogue creation to include the actors that would make up our cast. We set the premise, basic plot elements, themes, functions of the characters, and a structure for improvising dialogue. The actors were cast immediately. We wanted them not only for their talents, but because we felt they were naturally on board with what we were trying to say, and that they would not bring any of the difficulties our content would cover into our own process. Whatever the flaws of their characters in the play, these would be great people to work with.
The entire piece is very intentional, including its ending. I hope you enjoy it, but I also hope you don’t enjoy it too much. I want it linger in the back of your mind in the productive way a certain Italian play tugged at mine for almost two decades. I don’t want you to be completely satisfied, or comfortable, not even at the end. But I do hope, however it strikes you, you’ll want to think and talk about it. And if you do, I hope you’ll talk about it with me. I’d love to hear.
A Note on Absurdism: by Anthony Thomas Buck
Literary Absurdism seemed the natural way to respond to the wild emotional ride that was 2020. “Absurdism” sounds understandable without a technical definition, but the scholarly translation of the term is very useful in regards to our digital play Six Actors in Search of a Theatre and in studying other pieces in its genre.
Absurdism and its two sister philosophies, Nihilism and Existentialism, are responses to life’s apparent meaningless chaos. Nihilism contends that life has no meaning and that searching the chaos for it is ultimately futile. Existentialism also admits that much in life is meaningless, but argues that God can help human beings discover a higher transcendent existence. Absurdism agrees that life is indeed meaningless, but that human beings’ quest to create meaning out of that chaos is inherently meaningful. For artists, the creation of meaning out of chaos meets a need rivaled only by the inhalation of oxygen. As a year of “unprecedented” chaos, 2020 begged us to find meaning.
Six Actors in Search of a Theatre asks questions about finding meaning in a pandemic world but doesn’t limit its questions to Covid’s effects on us. During our lockdowns and quarantines, we have grappled with the meaning of so much of life’s chaos, it sometimes makes our heads hurt. The characters in this play walk the same path as they attempt to mount a production of Shakespeare’s Othello in the early months of the pandemic.
Liz and I have created a lot of scripts, films, and books over the pandemic. Most of the time we have simply been trying to keep our heads above water. Rather than setting out to write about what we’re all going through, we did a lot more of “Doing this project would make me feel better, would give some actors something to do, and might please the people who watch it.” Six Actors in Search of a Theatre should accomplish all of the above, but creating it also gave us a sense of catharsis in exploring what we’ve been through this year. We hope it does the same for you.
- Kessie, the Stage Manager is played by Nadia Sine
- Craig, the Director is played by Dane Ficklin
- Rebecca/Desdemona is played by Kristen White
- Derrik/Cassio is played by Rusty Bringhurst
- Max/Iago is played by Andrew Heyward
- Lisa/Emilia is played by Megan Smyth
- Trent/et al is played by Josh Curtis
- Howard is played by Jeremy Jonsson
- Nestor is played by Luke Haueter
- Allison is played by Kate Beckstrand Williams
- Stewart, the Fight Choreographer, is played by William Killingbeck
- Kathy, the Producer, is played by Kellie Chapman