In Search of Meaning:

Chris Gonnella

“So tell me, what do you think happened?” I ask first-year Ayesha Bhagat, one of the stars of a recent student theatre play—Six Characters in Search of an Author.

With a grin she shrugs her shoulders and I realize Ayesha, just like everyone else in the audience, including myself, has no idea what the dark and contemplative play by Luigi Pirandello is about.

So at a table in the overexposed, sunlit Café of Case Library, Ayesha and I attempt to understand what Mr. Pirandello was writing about over 87 years ago. However, what our conversation ends up discovering has less to do with Pirandello’s play and more to do with Colgate and the community that exists on campus.

In a play that deals with the idea of reality versus fiction, where a set of people come into a theatre during rehearsal and claim to be actual “characters,” stuck inside a story that has no ending, Pirandello begins his argument of the imperfection of theatre. The stage is literally and figuratively split as the “six characters” occupy one side of the stage, while the actors occupy the other, a purposeful stage design that is meant to symbolically represent the theme of reality versus fiction. As the six characters tell their tale and the actors simultaneously attempt to recreate it through “acting” and “theatre,” this idea of theatre as an imperfect medium is explored. The characters become enraged at the sight of the actors and the recreation of their story, representing the difficulty in forming realism within art.

And yet with all these ideas the one thing that kept coming to my mind, the one thing I kept feeling the need to ask, had nothing to do with Pirandello’s play and what it was trying to say. I wanted to know why the three main roles of the play were played by first-years. Furthermore, I wanted to know why those three first-years, Chelsea Hoffman, Cooper Sivara and Ayesha Bhagat, absolutely dominated the stage and left the audience captivated. Did Colgate Admissions recruit for theatre last year? Or was this just a coincidence? That’s when Ayesha put it all in perspective for me.

Glancing around and lowering her voice as though what she was about to tell me is taboo, Bhagat says, “Freshmen play a large role in theatre because…well, theatre isn’t that big here; it’s just not that popular.”

On a campus that seems to breed a community of self-conscious students, who are constantly aware of what people are thinking about them, theatre and its spotlight seem to make Colgate sweat.

“Theatre at Colgate is definitely hurt by it. I mean, I’ll be honest: I’m very self-conscious, so I can relate to how a lot of people on campus feel. But I still act because, hey, I’m awful at sports,” Bhagat giggles, then goes on. “And it’s something I love doing. It keeps me focused and organized.”

We finish our conversation and I say goodbye, leaving Pirandello and his play about the realms of reality and fiction behind. But on my way down the stairs of Case and out toward Broad Street, where a row of fraternity and sorority houses loom large, I begin to wonder about this idea of Colgate and our community as a bunch of self-conscious, scared of what he/she might think students lost in the middle of upstate New York. Is it true? Surely the Greek community may beg to differ with its onslaught of social mixers that produce outfits that no self-conscious individual would dare wear in public. Other venues, such as the WRCU radio station, where students offer their thoughts on sports and music, may have something to say. But the debate is most certainly still open, and the more I think about it, the more I wonder if Colgate is not just one big Luigi Pirandello stage, split between “real characters” and “actors” all of whom are searching for reality in the midst of so much fiction.