A Dive into Production: ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’


The “outer-cast” sits in costume rehearsing their roles. Photo by Eric Foster.

Carly Busfield, Howl Editor

Behind-the-scenes is the part of a large production that no one gets to see. To put the scene onstage, a continuous amount of action happens backstage. The behind-the-scenes can be the most impactful part of the show.  

BU Players and the professional Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) have teamed up once again to adapt to the suspenseful, immersive production of ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’. The production will be held from February 23 through March 12 at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble downtown.  

Rebekah Vermuelen, a rising freshman theatre major with an emphasis on performance, has defined the phrase “Behind-the-Scenes” as, “everything leading up to the actual performance and beyond.” Even playing the role of just an actor and not being onstage does not cover behind the scenes. There is a whole other world beyond that will not even be onstage that the audience does not acknowledge.  

Vermuelen went on further to say, “Behind-the-scenes is an all the time thing for us.” 

Creating an Engaging Performance 

The show was originally written and performed in 1921 by Luigi Pirandello, and now has been adapted and directed by David A. Miller. In the play, six characters who were deserted by their playwright interrupt a rehearsal of a theatre company in an effort to finally share the dark, introspective story they each possess within them.  

To create a compelling, authentic show, it becomes the duty of the theatre company cast to understand these roles and embody these identities. But the mischief and conflicts between the “inner-cast” and “outer-cast” make this production immersive for the actual audience watching the showcase. The audience experiences each scene along with the “outer-cast” whose rehearsal was just interrupted by eerie, uninvited guests.  

A show’s production involves more than just placing actors and a script onstage. Every detail and precise location are carefully considered, and plans are made based on what the audience will see. Each and every symbolic element of “Six Characters in Search of an Author” was carefully put together by the production crew. Every light flicker and every sound had been precisely placed for their specific moment.  

Sketch of set onstage along with outer-cast characters drawn. Photo by Scenic Designer Jen Varbalow.

Johanna Gelbs, a junior Theatre major with an emphasis on performance, plays a member of the “outer-cast” named likewise, Johanna. She emphasized the strong impact of lighting and how it pairs with the audio affects. The actual performance begins with a preshow to the play the “outer-cast” is in rehearsal for. Gelbs shares, “The preshow [or beginning of the production] is cool because it is not really a part of the show yet, or so you think… And the preshow music is actually for the show that the outer-cast is in rehearsal for. [It is] really mind bending.”  

Everything on set is articulated and planned for exact moments. For example, there is a number of blackouts in the show which the cast had to adapt to navigating around a pitch-black stage! Gelbs continued to share, “There’s a lot like you’ll see a bunch of hanging light fixtures and they light up at very specific times. I think that is my favorite part tech-wise. It just allows to see the space come to life in a totally new way.”  

Abigail Golden, senior Theatre major with an emphasis on performance, plays The Step-Daughter. Golden highlights that each sub piece to the set symbolizes an aspect of the show. “There’s this TV that lights up”, she notes, “and it is just fun to see all these weird things you like. It is not just overhead lights. It is actual light fixtures we like.”  

It’s not the simplest task to replicate a rehearsal set for a theater group. Instead of a typical practice room, a production crew frequently develops for other plays with a variety of scene settings like a town or wilderness. The cast members spoke highly of the production team’s efforts in realizing every last detail. In this specific show’s set, attention to detail was crucial. The work for the set had been going on since the summer. From every lightbulb to every residue mark, a group of people worked hard on it.  

A Dive into Production 

“Hell Week” in the theatre realm can take over the lives of the cast members. The week before a play, musical, or similar production’s opening night is known as the “technical week,” during which all the technical elements—including the costumes, lighting, sound, set, and makeup—are used for the first time during a rehearsal. All the drawings, sketches, “costume renderings”, “mood boards”, and more are visualized for real this time which is one of the most impactful steps of production. 

The cast met for dress rehearsal for 3 days in a row on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the show. Each dress rehearsal lasted about three to four hours. The costume designer is Emily Weisgerber. Before the audience sees the performance, this practice is used to polish it and ensure that every aspect of the production lives up to expectations. During the dress rehearsal, the cast members don their costumes and props.  

Dress rehearsals are not merely opportunities to see the performance while dressed up. They evaluate the cast’s hair and makeup issues as well, but they aim to fix and enhance them. Changes will undoubtedly be made once the creative team has reviewed the end design in its entirety, including the lighting and technical aspects. The cast says that so far, the process has been smooth. 

Mood board for The Step-Daughter. Photo by Costume Designer Emily Weisgerber.
Costume sketch of The Step-Daughter. Attributed by Costume Designer Emily Weisgerber. 

Vermuelen went onto share that there is so much more beyond the time they spend together involved in the work process. Whether it is memorizing lines or perfecting your persona, the cast has ultimately put their hearts into the show.  

Impact Upon Cast 

The Step-Daughter onstage in costume played by senior, Abigail Golden. Photo by David A. Miller.

This production’s cast represented a diverse range of theatrical experience and ages. The BU Players were given yet another fantastic opportunity to perform with BTE. Abigail Golden, a senior in her final play, finds special significance in this production. The fact that Golden’s first performance with BU Players also happened to be a performance put on in collaboration with BTE makes it special to end her BU Players career on the same note as it began.  

Vermuelen is only a freshman who has never done a show with BTE before which contrasts to Golden’s experiences. Vermuelen noted how special the impact that each and every person made had touched her heart. To be acting with professionals and the younger generation is always a newer or lesser common experience for many student performing artists.  

Golden continued to share, “The thing about this play is this isn’t like this isn’t necessarily a ‘feel-good show’. So, the point of this show isn’t necessarily… going to entertain, but at the same time, I think that this [show] will make you think more than just being entertained. There are some scenes that are more to think about.  Just learning to do those scenes is tricky sometimes because they’re pretty serious.”  

These members of the cast had to work together to put on a performance about a whole other set of actors and characters putting on their own performance. Golden shared it has been a little while since they have teamed up with BTE, but they also have cast members who are as young as 9 and 14 years old. All these members learned to act together while portraying as a whole other group learning to act together, what a twist!  

The cast noted how amazing the children were portraying their roles and the camaraderie amongst the cast. Gelbs described their fates onstage as a “Marley and Me” moment within such a serious role. It can instill such a gut-wrenching feeling. Yet, backstage the young stars laughed, bantered, and blended well within the performance family as Golden noted.  

“As students in [this field of] academics, sometimes we don’t necessarily get that chance. Sometimes, it was really great to do. Sometimes, it was just a mental adjustment.”, expressed Golden when going about the script with a new cast.  

She continued, “And it’s weird because I don’t necessarily think of that as a negative part of the process. I do think that it is heavier. There are a lot of things that the outer-cast has to react to because there’s some things in the show that we have to navigate. Understanding how exactly the playwright and director wants us to think about those things is a little bit difficult. But I wouldn’t say it’s a negative part of the experience.”  

See the show at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble by March 12 to see David A. Miller’s adaptation on ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’.