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Commedia Dell’ Arte and Influences on Modern Theatre

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Commedia Dell’ Arte and Influences on Modern Theatre

Commedia dell Arte is an interesting form of acting in the history of theatre. During the 16th, 17th and 18th century, in the midst of the renaissance, there was a very delightful source of entertainment that people where privy too. This archaic form of acting was based around improvising and the use of masks. I am comparing this to modern day comedy since I have seen direct examples on television, which use this method of acting, in modern day shows. The fact that some of these performers were verging on genius is without dispute. Contemporary performers have looked into the past finding resourceful techniques to further illustrate comedy to their peers.

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 left Paris. The leading form of acting today both exists as the aspiring young actor's performance role model and as a category of performance in itself. We are lucky in that something both inspirational and technical theater has survived from those exciting times. When contemporary acting techniques do not provide all the answers that actors may be looking for, it is not surprising actors look towards the past for inspiration.

The wide variety of theories concerning the acting techniques, styles and training of these late entertainers, can give us a better understanding of Italian comedy and its influences on acting today. There may be a case for re-creating Commedia Dell' Arte as it was done. Even in the more old-fashioned drama school period, movement is meant to help an actor interpret a historical role. As an actor one has a duty to choose what will work for an audience and to ignore the rest. This holds a lot of the same principles of Commedia Dell' Arte.

The contemporary young actor's most familiar performance role model is that of television. In identifying the differences between television and Commedia Dell' Arte can be the first step in understanding comedy within acting. A popular TV show called "Who's Line is it anyways?" is a perfect example of how modern day comedians can use this style. Despite the use of masks the actors in this popular TV show have to be extremely quick-witted, tough, and versatile, much like they had to be in the 16th century. This style is brilliant and the audience can relate greatly to this form of comedy because in society, real comedy is very spontaneous. 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. This might have happened to many actors in Italy in the renaissance era since acting was still in its primitive form. However, actors today are quite professional and can accomplish improvising on cue, working together with other actors, and developing hilarious skits that bring the audience into a fit of laughter.

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. It brings no special magic, no increased sense of being or anything. How then does the mask work over distance?

Well-constructed Commedia Dell' Arte masks contain 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, is specific to the character and role, and the devil is an indication as to the particular form of bad behavior that this mask will follow. Fusing together these elements, a mask-maker produces a shape that is no longer purely human. Hence, if a human wears

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