Dating back to somewhere around the 1530’s as near as we can tell, in Italy, Commedia Dell’Arte is credited with many breakthroughs: Working from a scenario, it was the first improvisational theatre; the first time women broke the barrier of playing on stage in Europe; it was strong political theatre and a true theatre for the masses as well as for the elite. Commedia Dell’Arte uses drama, dance, comedy, physical comedy, juggling, masks, music, poetry, scatological humor, song, slack rope walking, stilts, tumbling, and most importantly, the art of improvisation.
All the skills a Commedia Dell’Arte actor needs may be why Commedia Dell’Arte is so difficult to do and why Commedia Dell’Arte is not thriving today, why it died–but it never really died. You can say it transformed into playwrights like Shakespeare, Moliere, Marivaux, Beaumarchais, Goldoni, and Gozzi to name a few. Several of their plays are based on Commedia Dell’Arte scenarios. You will also find stock characters of the Commedia Dell’Arte in situation comedies on television today. In order for this form to work the actor needs to exploit his or her multi-talents. A Commedia Actor is much more than a triple threat. The theatrical edge the actor must play at for Commedia Dell’Arte to work is very high. The Actor must be constantly jumping out into the void, that improvisational unknown, and be able to balance and play with all elements physical and emotional. (continue to read at this link from the NYTheatreWire)
In order to do this, the Pazzi Lazzi group met this Summer for another creative session. We jumped, we danced, we tumbled, we laughed. And we improvised other scenarios that the audience might see in our next production.
We practiced exaggerating our facial expressions to develop our “masks” using our personalities. These looks worn on the faces of the Commedia characters help the audience know each character’s personality immediately. Have you ever tried creating a “mask” for characters like: – a bumbling detective, a snooty salesperson, a clumsy teacher, a crazy scientist, a cranky grandpa.
What would your Commedia character look like? Take a look also at this link on characters in Commedia dell’Arte (The source is from Chicago). Some modern examples of classic Commedia dell’Arte characters are recognizable in these Sitcoms:
Gli innamorati: Jim and Pam from “The Office,” Ned and Chuck from “Pushing Daisies,” J.D. and Eliot from “Scrubs,” – Pantalone: Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons,” Mr. Moseby from “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” – Il Dottore: Frasier from “Frasier,” Dr. Kelso from “Scrubs,” Leslie Knope from “Parks & Recreation,” – Arlecchino: Bart from “The Simpsons,” Cody from “The Suite Life of Zack &Cody,” Mark from “Ugly Betty,” – Colombina: Amanda from “Ugly Betty,” Olive Snook from “Pushing Daisies,” Carla from “Scrubs,” Lilly Truscott from “Hannah Montana,” Maddie from “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” – Brighella: The Janitor from “Scrubs,” Barney Stinson from “How I Met Your Mother,” Tracy from “30 Rock,” Zack from “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody”.
(take a look also at this link of HumanRaceTheatre about a study on development of Commedia dell’Arte. It’s a great source too.)
We also know that Commedia was played to the lower classes of people, so making fun of the higher status characters is the easiest way to make the audience relate to it as they will have wanted revenge on their ‘masters’.
Do you want to see our next “revenge” on stage? Our next event will be in a theater in Methuen, Massachusetts. We’ll keep you posted.