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When I started doing improvisational theatre, I learned among other things the concept of the ‘fourth wall’: the one that separates the stage from the audience, and therefore, the viewpoint of the spectator. The classic rule is that the fourth wall never breaks, so the actor cannot look at the spectators, let alone physically cross the barrier to mingle with them. But as we know, in modern theatre this happens easily and it is enough to think of Pirandello, for example.

In September 2018, a cover by Adrian Tomine was published for the New Yorker that is precisely titled “Fourth Wall”:

Set, of course, in New York, but it reminded me of when I was in Berlin and I used to go to cafés like the ones in the picture, with the seats directly facing the window: so that the customer is looking at the street in front of him as if he were the spectator or the director of a film. And the window of the café is like the fourth wall of the show. I loved these places.

In Adrian Tomine’s image, however, there is an element of ambiguity. The diner’s customer, a girl who is probably an aspiring screenwriter who dreams of making it, is looking at a movie set, with all its characteristic comings and goings. It’s certainly something very common in New York, but the question is: is the girl watching what’s going on out there with the crew at work, or is she herself the show the crew is about to film?

I mean, if there is a fourth wall, are we sure we know which side the audience is on and which side the actors are on?

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