Imagine empty theater stages and dim movie screens: without commedia, modern entertainment would be lifeless.
Commedia dell’Arte is the actor’s toolkit. It is a key to understanding and creating character, and the foundation of many forms of classical and modern entertainment: animation, cartoons, vaudeville, music hall, stand-up comedy, Shakespearean comedy, Restoration comedy, melodrama, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin movies, TV sitcoms. All of these forms spring from a set of rules that define how humans respond to each other: how servants and masters behave, how bosses treat their workers (and vice versa). Commedia provides both the roots and the grammar of modern European theatre.
Commedia dell’Arte started in Venice in the 1600s. It was a marriage of literary societies and street performers. It had one foot in the palace and the other foot in the street. It was popular theatre, and the characters represented everybody in society. Commedia was a form of actors’ theatre: the actors were authors, editors, and performers of all their material. The troupes were run very democratically. Everybody got paid, and women were seen on stage for the first time.
All of the stories or scenarios were improvised from a very, very basic shopping list of entrances and exits. Therefore each actor had to understand how a story or performance was constructed (what the architecture was) and no scene lasted more than 3 minutes. The comic business within the scenes was known as the lazzi. It was verbal or physical comic business that interrupted the action of a scene, took it off in another direction, then brought it back to the backbone of the story.
The relationship with the audience was absolutely key: they had to understand what the actors were doing and the actors had to listen to and understand them. Working together they made successful theatre. Deep-set, human patterns such as stereotypes, class structure, and character quirks were discovered and dramatized through the creation of Commedia dell’Arte. If you want to understand your audience and yourself, and tap into your own physical power and “quirk,” discover Commedia.