Department of Performing Arts

Text Only Version
  Classic Commedia

Director's Note

Commedia Dell'Arte has had a long and quite illustrious theatrical history with its highest popularity from the 17th to the mid 18th centuries. A very broad and sometimes bawdy comedy style, it evolved out of the "commoners" established forms of entertainment (fairs, street performances) and ended in the royal courts of France with playwights as noted as Moliere using the Commedia as impetus for his works. Today CDA is little known in this country although it is used extensively for actor training and productions through-out eastern and western Europe, Canada, and Australia. Our production was created using the traditional commedia elements of stock masked characters (characters who evolved and stayed the same for centuries), improvisation to investigate the characters, and lazzi (individual abilities put into a show which don't necessarily effect the plot line). This show is one of true collaboration and exploration. The performers first explored mask construction elements in David Regan's Mask Theatre class and, ultimately, sculpted their own masks for the show. In my Improvisational Theatre class we explored creating our own ideas which resulted in a scenario (ideas for a script but not the full script) to play with in which the students wrote most of their own characters' situations and dialogues.

Classic Commedia is very much a student production and from my viewpoint a most impressive one. I hope you enjoy the product as much as I have enjoyed the process. -LH

Dramaturg's Note
Although the origins of CDA are difficult to trace, it first seems to have taken root during the height of the Hellenistic Age and makes its appearance in "The Characters" by Theophrastus (370-287BC) in which he attempted to categorize the types of personalities playing forth aroundhim such as the Boor, the Boaster and the Skinflint. From this early Greek exploration of stock characters came the masked comedy of the Roman Empire, featuring new stock characters such as the Crafty Servant and the Obese Cook found in the works of Plautus. During the Medieval Period, after Theatre was banned by the Church, professional performers went underground, forming travelling troupes who performed on the streets, at fairs and in the homes of rich patrons. Some performed or directed performances of Church sanctified medieval plays. During the Renaissance, masked comedy re-emerged as a popular form of entertainment. CDA, drawing upon the Carnival tradition of Tuscany, were lively events held in the market place. Travelling troupes spread this satirical, improvised and very physical Theatre style throughout Europe. It was brought into the courts entertaining the nobles and royal families of the Continent becoming less satirical and very stylized, extravagant and, ultimately, scripted. Its effects upon the cultural mind of Europe and later the Americans, from Shakespeare and Moliere onward, can still be seen in popular entertainment today. If not for Pantalone, there would be no Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons." If not for Capitano, "M*A*S*H" would have not had the comic effect it did. In fact, the stock characters of this Italian Renaissance Theatre style are infused in our culture and our cultural subconcience. -TRH

83 Windham Street, Willimantic, Connecticut 06226 USA
Phone: (860) 465-5325 | Fax: (860) 465-5764
Contact Us | Directions | University Disclaimer | Eastern Home