The FrAME: introducing the characters
The sheer number of characters that we created and the range of storylines they appeared in necessitated a way to both introduce the characters to the audience as well as help them keep track of who was who from moment to moment.
As we went through the research phase, each creator connected to certain stories or ideas more than others. The research we did generated a vast amount of material, and gradually we each took responsibility for turning those ideas into characters and stories, some eventually rendered much as they were in real life, others much more invented. When it came time to meld all of these ideas into a final, singular performance piece, it made sense to embrace the origins of the characters and the process required to both develop and inhabit them.
To that end, at the start of the show, all the performers came out in character and played a moment from elsewhere in the show. They then--in full view of the audience--took those characters off quite literally: the actors all had specific costume pieces that signaled their different characters over neutral basic costumes, and in this moment they removed them. From the very beginning, then, we signaled to the audience that the characters were always only aspects of each performer. This allowed each performer to play several different characters and for the audience to keep track of who was who when.
We also used the research in another way, by literally bringing it onstage with us. In the downstage left corner of the stage, we had a table with piles of paper and books which represented everything that we had collected. In the first scene, the performers who had just taken off their character costume pieces also had a stack of research materials that they held as they talked to the audience about our working process. At the conclusion of the introductory scene, the performers filed out past the table, depositing their research materials on it. Throughout the rest of the play, actors would take materials from the table to use in various scenes, literally reminding the audience where the stories they were watching came from.
Finally, in addition to being very up front about our working process, throughout the show, each performer took a moment to talk about a character they'd created in terms of where the idea for him/her came from as well as what they connected to about that person.
The actors introduce the show, holding their character costume pieces with research items at their feet.