A complete introduction to Commedia dell’Arte

Ready to move and learn how to mimic Commedia dell’Arte characters? Our February performance in school was Aria di Commedia” on Friday February 27th at Burlington High School where we performed for children 4 to 17 in occasion of Commedia dell’Arte Day.


March 27 at 5pm in the Northeastern University Blackman Auditorium, we will perform “Masks in Motion” a lecture, practical workshop and demonstration of Grammelot with the scene “Lady of the Rings”.


The grand finale will be our original scenario “Lady of the Rings” with music by Renaissonics. The event is co-sponsored by ISSI World Languages Center  – Italian Culture Society at Northeastern University: it’s free and open to the public. To participate, please sign up in advance on the ISSI website: northeastern.edu/issi under “Life at NU” or at http://www.northeastern.edu/issi/events.html For more information, contact l.maiellaro@neu.edu – FOR MORE INFO ABOUT CARNEVALE 2015 EVENTS AT International Students and Scholar Institute, look here   

This essay was written last year by the Northeastern University student Camila Viola after watching “Aria di Commedia”. I truly enjoyed the Aria di Commedia debut performed by the professional Pazzi Lazzi troupe that is native to the Boston area. The group was able to entertain the audience while simultaneously educating them on the form of theatre and entertainment that was prominent in Italy during the Renaissance in the 16th century. I believe that the success of the production was a result of a several different factors that the troupe excelled in including, but not limited to: the level of realism conveyed by the actors’ acting and full immersion in the role they were playing; the quality of the script’s embodiment of humor, farce, and crude insinuations; the cohesiveness of the various acts and elements of the show; the style, intricacy and symbolism of each of the characters’ costumes; and the degree to which the performance encompassed the use of space and lighting. All of these factors contributed to my emotional attachment to the both the characters and the scenarios they were in which resulted in my undivided attention throughout the entirety of the show, allowing me to gain full insight into what street theatre was like during the Italian Renaissance. All of the actors’ performances were truly impressionable throughout all three of the acts. However, one of the aspects of the play that I truly enjoyed was how the characters involved the audience during the show, in the sense that they tended to directly address the audience during the performance. One of the characters that really caught my attention doing this was Chiara Durazzini in playing the Arlecchino, particularly in the opening act of the “The Sweet Smell of Money.” For example when she is referring to the delicious aromas of the ‘soup’, she goes on to say “Woooaah, I smell it!! I wish you people down there were closer, as the aroma is unbelievable!” [as she points to the back of the audience]. Although this may seem like a minor detail in the performance, I believe that little moments like these are what retain the audience’s attention throughout the performance. Furthermore this actor was one of performers of the cast who projected her lines very loudly, but she was also the actress who most successfully used change in tone in accompaniment with active bodily gestures to get the audience’s attention. For instance Chiara actively used her hands while she spoke and constantly bounced all around the stage with heaps of energy throughout the acts. Her loose and floppy joints kind of resemble the poses of a string puppet, which could be metaphoric in the sense that because Arlecchino is a technically a servant to Pantalone, Pantalone has control over his puppet strings. Because this show uses very few props and stage elements, using gestures and active bodily movements is essential to fully communicate the comedic and satirical message to the crowd. Another actor whose performance I sincerely enjoyed was Emanuele Capoano as Pulcinella in “The Lady and the Ring.” Emanuele truly made full use of the space available for his performance even during the times where he had no lines. In this third act Emanuele was playing a crafty and slightly mean character that was trying to steal the ring off the infamous Flaminia, a rich woman who was evidently of a higher socioeconomic class whom he pretended to love in order to trick her. During this scene while Flaminia is giving her monologue about her background story, you see Emanuele consistently getting closer and closer to her hand in attempt to inconspicuously steal the ring off her finger. Even though he had no lines of grave significance during her long oration, Emanuele still vastly contributed to the scene and the plot through his gestures. Although Maya Attia’s character, Flaminia, in “The Lady of the Rings” was somewhat bothersome because of how arrogant and self-absorbed she was due to her superior socioeconomic class, Maya herself was a fantastic actor. Just like Chiara, she did a wonderful job vocalizing her lines to the audience in terms of using a various changes in pitch to set the tone of the conversation. During this third act when she had long monologues explaining who she was, she was able to capture the audience’s attention through her change in tone. According to her biography, she is a certified Speech Level Singer which makes sense as to why she excelled at using a change in pitch to express the message she was trying to convey. This is reflected when she is describing the type of jewels on her tiara and the expensive silks used to make her beautiful dress to Pulcinella; she uses a constant change in pitch and tone to convey exactly how luxurious her belongings are. In the end, it was a combination of the actors’ active use of body gestures, loud verbal projections with the extensive use of change in tone and pitch, and the full immersion of the actors into the roles that they were playing that allowed for the realism of the characters to shine through to the audience. This allowed them to connect and resonate with them on a more personal level, and understand what it was that they were trying to convey, whether it be humor, tragedy or satire. The whole production element of the play also immensely contributed to the success of the performance. First off the costumes not only aided in giving the audience an idea of what the attire at the time was like in the 16th century, but also contributed to understanding the personality and role of each character throughout the show. The audience was able to pick up from each character’s apparel exactly the type of person that they were representing. Arlecchino’s outfit for instance was a multi-colored, diamond patched outfit that resembled that of a jester’s, which portrays the humorous personality that he had and resonates with his role as a servant to Pantalone. He also wears a tanned mask (deeper than any normal tan) which could represent the complexion of the inhabitants of those who worked long hours under the sun, once again lending credence to the role of a ‘servant.’ Flaminia’s costume on the other hand, was that of a prima donna. Her stunning silk dress, and necklaces made of gold and pearls, along with her huge diamond ring and diamond tiara represent her superior status to rest of the characters. Her silk dress also represent the antique Renaissance style of the time which was prominent during the 16th century for those of high status. Flaminia wore no mask, but as a substitute wore heavy make up as though it were a mask. Overall, all the fixed character types who represented figures of humor or satire wore colored masks. Their opposites, usually pairs of young lovers around whom the majority of the stories revolved, had no need for such props. In a sense, I feel like the incorporation of masks forced the characters to express their emotions through bodily movements; hence the leaps, tumbles, and obscene antics that were integrated into the acts. Furthermore, each of the elements of the production all fit together seamlessly. This was reflected throughout the various costumes, stage sets, musical sets and lighting effects. For instance, because there is minimalistic stage scenery, the producers use this to their advantage by highlighting every other aspect of the production. This is reflected in the symbolism and intricacy of each character’s costume, which is complemented by the bright stage lights that follow them as they hastily move around the stage keeping the audience’s eyes on the actors. Even as the actors moved towards all areas of the stage and crowd, the stage lights were always shining on them so that the audience wouldn’t lose focus. This brings me to my other point of the effective use of space that the characters use throughout the acts. Because there was no use of stage backdrops or sets, the characters actively moved throughout the entire stage and even throughout the crowds. This is evident in the third act when Colombina, Pulcinella and Flaminia are running throughout the audience making full use of the venue accessible to them, constantly keeping the audience on their toes not knowing where they will go to or what will happen next. The music that constantly played throughout the acts also fit in with the context of the act. For instance during the third act, just as Colombina, Pulcinella and Flaminia begin running throughout the crowd, the pace of the music picks up speed to reflect the context and movement of the situation. I am under the impression that the reasoning behind the minimal stage setting is to adhere to how it really was during the authentic 16th century Renaissance Commedia dell’Arte performances that were merely showcased on city streets or market places. The script of the performance was truly humorous and crude in its nature. I believe it was a tool used to provide entertainment and comic relief to the communities of Italy at the time. Not only did the actors use these performances as a way to draw attention to themselves and complement their physical and acrobatic skills during the Italian Renaissance, but also used Commedia dell’Arte as a form of self-expression, which relates back to the one of the strongest philosophies associated with the Renaissance. These skits, while absurd, humorous and crude in nature, were also in a way representing exaggerated realities of life, which ties back to the most prominent element of the Renaissance; the depiction of realism. While one of the main motives of troupes like the Pazzi Lazzi’s is providing entertainment for our contemporary society through old-fashioned forms of theatre, it is also a form of education and insight into what theatre was during that era. However this level of education could not have been reached without properly incorporating the same elements of acting and producing that were accomplished back in the day. The Pazzi Lazzi was such a successful and insightful performance because it was really able to reenact Commedia dell’Arte in its most authentic form through the effective use of lighting, scenery, costumes, directing, space, and by casting such strong actors like Maya Attia, Emanuele Capoano, and Chiara Durazzini to commendably impersonate the main characters of the various acts. By resembling how it was really done during the Renaissance era, the audience in a way gets ‘transported’ back in time to the 16th century and gets to experience the show as if they had lived during that time, which in my perspective is the definition of a successful performance.

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