BRATTLEBORO—A group of young actors will perform a seminal modern classic of theater.
For two consecutive weekends, beginning Oct. 7, New England Youth Theatre will present the still-innovative play, “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” by Nobel Prize-winning Italian author Luigi Pirandello.
Rebecca Waxman directs NEYT’s Senior Company in this sophisticated drama which, due to mature content, is recommended for ages 13 and older.
Written in 1921, “Six Characters” marked a turning point in theatrical history in which theater itself becomes a character.
As Youth Theatre Publicist Elissa Pine explains, “This play is a theatrical classic where the theater itself is a setting and subject in the story; a mirror on theater itself so to speak. The story begins on a bare stage where a troupe of actors is in mid-rehearsal. Six individuals break into the theater and demand an author who will cast them in a play — and literally save their lives. Six characters, eager to become realized, recount their lives to the actors who will ultimately play them on stage.”
A sophisticated text
The interactions between the actors, the characters, and the manager create an exploration of identity.
“Rebecca Waxman has used the rehearsal process itself as an exploration of the thematic material,” Pine says. “It has proven to be extremely interesting for the young cast to contemplate issues of identity as both teenagers and actors.”
Waxman, whose last directing assignment for NEYT was “Urinetown” last year, is a director and educator with an extensive background in theater, film, and television. She is a graduate of Vassar College and the American Repertory Theater Institute at Harvard who has spent many years acting professionally in New York, Los Angeles, and in regional theaters across the country.
She says that for “Six Characters,” she will be directing some of the most seasoned actors at the theater.
“Kids start performing here at NEYT as early as 9, but for the Senior Company the actors are all 13 or older,” she adds. “They have great stage experience and have performed here a lot. Audiences will undoubtedly see a lot of familiar faces in this production.”
Waxman realizes she is tackling a challenging text that at first may seem too sophisticated for teenagers.
“I once studied the work with a group of adults readers here at NEYT, and they struggled to understand the implications of the drama,” she says. “So to do it with young adults is especially interesting.”
However, the director believes that in some ways the play is a better fit for teenagers.
“Pirandello asks tough questions that are especially relevant for teenagers,” Waxman explains. “‘Six Characters’ makes our actors face such issues as the nature of reality, duality of identity, and the intricacies of the artistic process.”
She believes her actors are at an age that makes them experts on the trials of facing reality from varying points of view.
“Teenagers are critically involved in figuring out their own identity, that is, who they are,” Waxman says. “Young adults constantly struggle to ascertain how to really be true to themselves, while at the same time remaining unsure who they actually are. To achieve this, they are constantly watching themselves and analyzing how other watch them. ‘Six Characters’ is a great drama to explore these issues central to the teenage experience.”
Waxman believes the play is exciting for her actors on a more basic theatrical level.
“This is a play with compelling characters who are full of pain to which our actors find they are easily able to relate,” she says. “Remember, just this last summer they tackled Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ and made that into something really compelling.”
A living script
Although written almost a century ago, “Six Characters” remains a play with a strikingly modern sensibility. Originally written in Italian and translated many times, Pirandello’s study of the nature of reality versus illusion, truth versus artifice, and the workings of the creative process has been given a wonderfully fresh update in Robert Brustein’s contemporary script, according to Waxman.
“You know, though, all the translations, however different from each other, all have the same jokes and the same knots that are inherent in the play,” Waxman says.
Consequently, she isn’t afraid to tinker with the text.
“This drama lends itself — really asks — that each production of it be accessible and familiar to its audience,” Waxman says. “The work is now in the public domain, so you can play around with it more than you could a text that is in copyright. Consequently, we rewrote the company’s lines quite a bit and modernized the play so the audience can believe what is being presented.
“It will be about a group of people today putting on a contemporary performance. For instance, there will be a lot a in-house NEYT jokes. These changes help make what the play explores more immediate and compelling to both our actors and audiences alike.”