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 investi-
gate 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
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