Six Characters in Search of an Author

by Luigi Pirandello adapted by Robert Brustein directed by Steve McCue
designed for Eldred Theater at Case Western Reserve University opened: November 11, 2005

Sounds

Heightened Ambience Download Link

This cue was for pre-show, and played through a quadraphonic setup in the house. As the characters entered the theater, this was faded out to make the space seem more silent and theatrical

End of Play Download Link

This was the last major cue of the show, and played through the theater's quadraphonic surround system. The goal of this cue was to create a ghostly remembrance of the events of the play after the characters exited the space.

Design Concept

Steve McCue’s concept for the production involved playing with the question of what is reality in the theater. The set and lighting design was realistic with some surreal elements: the use of a large back door and moveable set pieces to mask the entrances of the characters, and specialized lighting that adjusted as the characters took the stage.

My goal for the production was to create a clear sonic split between the mundane reality of everyday life and the reality of the stage. I created a cue that was nothing more than heightened background noise: a hum of florescent lighting and an air circulation fan. This heightened background started in pre-show and continued until the characters entered the space, where it gradually faded out. Whenever all the characters left the stage, the background noise was slowly reintroduced. The intent was to design a heightened silence when the characters took the stage.

As the characters played out their scenes, I introduced various elements. Paz’s strip club had its own background music as the reality of the scene was created, and it vanished as the characters were broken from their portrayal. As the scene of the pond was created, the ambiance changed to reflect it.

The end of the play had a stylized sound effect before the Director left the stage but after the rest of the actors had vacated. Footsteps started this effect, followed by echoes of the Six Characters’ lines. They began by whispering and built to a crescendo, ending with the Father saying: “It’s real, my friends. Absolutely real.” As the Director left the stage, the ambient theater noise faded up, and the florescent work lights turned on.

Design Analysis

The ambient noise was extremely effective. I used the four speakers surrounding the house to fill it evenly with the sound. The level was just at the edge of consciousness, so the uninformed theatergoer would not notice it. When the level dropped out, the theater seemed deathly silent, achieving the desired effect.

The racy music during the scenes between the Father and Stepdaughter was a bit distracting, and though the director liked the concept, I wonder whether it detracted from the action on stage slightly. A more subtle sound effect might have achieved the same result, but the rewriting of the script by ART made the entire Paz concept go over the top.

The final sound effects of the play were where I spent most of my time. For technical reasons we could not use a gun on stage, so a stylized gunshot effect was furnished the reverberated through the entire theatrical space: first on-stage, then echoing through the front and rear house speakers.

The last sound effect was considered ghostly by the actors and audience. The footsteps and creaks should have been localized better on the stage floor itself; instead they echoed through the theater space via the house speakers. I would have liked to spread the whispers and echoes throughout the stage and house space through more speakers, but unfortunately there was no capable equipment available. However, the general effect of ghostly remains of the characters infusing the theatrical space was still achieved.