One of the texts I studied at university was Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. In the absurdist Italian play from the 1920s, six fictional characters interrupt a rehearsal which is being held in a theatre, and explain that they have been abandoned by their author. They are looking for an author to finish their story, and The Director of the theatre company agrees to do so. I was fascinated by the play, the blurred lines between fiction and reality, and the effect reality has on fiction and vice versa. When I listened to The Amelia Project’s Percy episode in season one, I was reminded of the play – Percy is a fictional character, who contacts The Amelia Project looking for help to disappear.
Initially, this episode has the same basic premise as any other Amelia episode, or the episodes in its first season at least – someone leaves a message on the voicemail, contacting The Amelia Project because they desperately want to disappear. It takes some time to establish that Percy’s a fictional character, however. His voicemail gives no clue to his fictional state – he’s being watched, someone’s listening to everything he says, and watching every move he makes, but who’s actually doing this is an unnamed ‘they’. Even when he meets the Interviewer it isn’t immediately obvious to him or the audience that Percy isn’t actually a real character – that is, until he asks the Interviewer to pinch him.
Even when I was listening to the episode, what first came to mind when Percy said that he was a fictional character was that he was a character from a novel or a play. But no, Percy is a character from a fictional podcast. He only exists in this particular episode, and he’s not happy about any of it. Through Percy there are some jabs at common stereotypes about fiction podcasts, with Percy saying that nobody concentrates on them as they’re doing something else at the same time, like washing the dishes. The interviewer is not so critical, but agrees to find him a different medium, where he’ll be appreciated by both his writer and his audience.
Towards the end of the episode, the story gets much more meta. Percy can’t die, he’s a fictional character, so faking his death wouldn’t be believable. The Interviewer has to get him out of the episode some other way. But the problem lies in Percy being a fictional character, someone’s writing him, so both the Interviewer and Percy’s choices and the words they say are controlled by unseen, omnipotent beings. Much like puppets, they can’t cut their strings, and have to think of a much more creative way to escape from the episode. There’s a direct mention of Pirandello (and also of Italo Calvino, who wrote the postmodern novel If on a winter’s night a traveler, in which the reader of the book is one of the characters in the novel.) as an influence on the writers’ ideas for this story. There’s an interesting examination into how much control fictional characters have on their own story, which leads to an ending that breaks the usual Amelia format.
That isn’t the end of the episode, however. During the epilogue we see who was behind the episode, with Philip Thorne and Øystein Brager playing themselves – or a fictional version of themselves, I should say. Echoing the mix of reality and fiction seen in the episode, it’s not the ‘real’ Philip and Øystein – they’re writing the words they’re saying right at that moment, and the scene only ends when the laptop that they’re working on runs out of battery. Outside of the words they write, this Philip and this Øystein no longer exist – much like the characters we saw before the credits.
This episode is a wonderful example of how The Amelia Project doesn’t take itself too seriously; but how also, at the same time, episodes and plots are used to explore different themes and genres seen in more traditional forms of media. Many episodes are almost like an augmented form of our reality, taking the absurd and the unusual of society, and putting them under a microscope to be examined by the agency. There’s the founder of the Apostles of Antithon who is going to get shot into space from a cannon, a YouTube reality star who’s going to be played by someone else, and later on, there’s a very well-known mythical figure who wants to disappear. And of course, the Interviewer (known only as the Interviewer, even to himself, as he points out during this episode) has a lot of fun with clients – our first introduction to him in episode one is when he asks if he can blow bubbles during a client consultation in episode one. His childlike wonder and curiosity is a stark contrast to the shady dealings of an organisation that has to keep itself secret in order to operate.
The end of this episode isn’t the end of Percy’s story, however. For World Audio Drama Day in 2018, Percy Part 2 was released, with the Interviewer taking Percy to find a new writer for him. It’s a wonderful way of playing with the medium of audio fiction, and such a fantastic piece of collaborative storytelling.
The Amelia Project is currently on its third season, with a new episode released every fortnight.
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