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Commedia Dell’ Arte

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Essay title: Commedia Dell’ Arte

Commedia dell' Arte

The first question is why use "commedia dell' arte" as a training tool for modern actors at all, since drama and the business of acting has hopefully moved on since the Italian Comedians finally left Paris. The fact remains, however, that the dominant form of acting today that both exists as the aspiring young actor's performance role model and as a category of performance in itself is T.V. naturalism. We are lucky in that something both inspirational and technical has survived from those heady times. When contemporary acting technique does not provide all the answers that actors may be looking for, it is not surprising that they look towards the past for inspiration. It is in this grey area between researching historical certainties and reconstructing guessed at acting technique that we must look. These Martinellis and Andreinis were the superstars of their day and the question that most often gets asked is "how did they do it?"(Oliver Crick).

The fact that some of these performers were verging on genius is without dispute. This fact alone does not help us at all in training a contemporary performer. What can help us, though, is the wide variety of theories concerning the acting techniques, styles and training of these late entertainers. In a sense it is irrelevant where these theories come from and even how historically correct they are. As an actor (and a trainer of actors) one has a duty to choose what will work for an audience and to ignore the rest. The current historical theory as to how Isabella Andreini performed a particular

"lazzi" might come from an impeccable source, but if a contemporary audience is unappreciative, then dump it quick, and on with something will work. There may be a case for re-creating "commedia dell'arte" as it was done, but does this really help the modern actor? Even in the more old-fashioned drama school period movement is meant to help an actor interpret a historical role, and is not mean't as an end in itself (David Claudon).

One solution is to approach an actor at the beginning of their training, and see where knowledge of "commedia dell'arte" and its performance can expand a performer's range. The contemporary young actor's most familiar performance role model is that of television, and in identifying the differences between this and "commedia dell'arte" can be the first step. Once identified, these differences become very useful points to start exploration (John Rudlin). It is easy to understand that the distance over which a T.V. can communicate is a matter of metres, depending on screen size. An actor's training can begin with the question: "How can communication occur over a greater distance?" This immediately leads us into questions of physical and emotional stylisation, emotional range, voice training and most importantly, those techniques used to perform out of doors. The question which should always remain in the students' minds: "How does one, on a six foot high trestle stage, communicate well enough with an audience in order to make them laugh?" One should begin by looking at the trainee actor's body and asking oneself whether anything about it changes when he or she comes onto the stage. This is the most fundamental question. Without change, there is no acting, no magic, no technique, hidden or otherwise. Not only do actors have to assimilate a physical, mental and emotional change when they enter the stage, but they have to do it on cue as well, otherwise the action fails to make sense and the rhythm of the piece dies. Actors, therefore, have to be seen and believed to have changed from their everyday habitual selves. This is encapsulated in the phrase "making a good entrance." How does "commedia dell'arte" help this fundamental piece of learning? To answer this question I will concentrate on one particular aspect of "commedia dell'arte," that of its reputed outdoor performance (Crick).

This brings us to the function of the mask. One of the important tools an actor has to help project over distance is their mask. Activating a "commedia dell'arte" mask involves extreme body positions which, being expanded versions of normal movement, read better over distance. Let us start by simply putting one on an actor's face, and finding out what this tells us? A mask put on an unresponsive body simply lets us know that an unresponsive body is wearing a mask. It brings no special magic, no increased sense of being or anything. How then does the mask work over distance (Crick)?

Well constructed commedia dell'arte mask contains many keys to action. It contains within its design three elements: the devil, an animal and the role of the character. The animal, of course,

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