Last week I had the distinct privilege of being part of a
class intense workshop taught by Antonio Fava, whose family has been part of this fascinating form of theater for generations. I have been part of a small, amateur Commedia troupe before, and struggled trying to get the hang of this art form. We tried several different kinds of plays and techniques, but I don’t feel that it really clicked for me.
Fava made it click. I cannot begin to share with you all that I learned in this workshop, but I will share some highlights. I am hoping to stir my troupe up again, so I will try and update you as that moves along.
I learned that the term arte, which most people translate for this form of theater as simply art, was actually something closer to guild. They were forming a professional group of actors for the first time, and wanted to be clear that they meant it to be a profession.
The basis for every Commedia storyline is the Lovers (innamorati). These characters are always beautiful, always intelligent, born to privilege, and cannot conceive of anything else. And rather than kill themselves for love, they are prone to madness. If ever their ideal of beauty, their beloved, is forced to marry someone else, they go insane which can lead to some hilarity. It is there job to be the plot for the play.
The Servants (zanni) are there to be a help to whoever asks them. Even if they are asked to do opposing things. They also try, in their simple way, to come up with plans to help. They are simple, hungry, afraid, and completely innocent. They provide most of what people think of as Commedia, like slapstick comedy and low humor.
The Old Men (vecci) exist to create obstacles for the lovers. They do not do this out of malice, but a desire to provide for their children. They have the memory of having been all of the other character types in their past lives, and try to do them, but with stiff backs and knees. They do sometimes try to get something for themselves, but usually accept that they can no longer have such things by the end.
The Adventurers (Capitano and Signora) are intruders. They are there to stir things up, but are not natives. They are new and exciting, or at least, are pretending to be. They are definitely out for themselves, but again, not in a terrible way. They end up getting what they truly deserve, which is somewhat less than what they were shooting for.
Each character type has their own specific movements, derived from the mindset of that character. Everything that you perform must stem from that mindset.
Everything must be precise, and clear, and communicated to the audience multiple times. You would be surprised how willing an audience is to follow the rules you set on the stage, if you remain precisely within those rules, and communicate it well.
I learned so much more, and I also purchased Fava’s book. I look forward to exploring this theater form in more depth.