What is Commedia Dell'arte?
Created during the Italian Renaissance, Commedia Dell'arte is - at its core - a wild and hilarious form of street performance. Troupes of Commedia performers would travel to cities and towns throughout Italy (and later most of Western Europe) performing in squares and on street corners. These performances were never scripted. Scenarios were outlined and performers relied on their quick wit, crowd response, and circus like skills to create new performances each time. These zany creations mixed highbrow word play and low brow physical humor. In fact the term SLAPSTICK comes from Commedia (named after the loud paddle used by characters to smack each other around). All scenarios revolved around a stock set of characters which included: foolish servants, corrupt masters, lovers, braggard soldiers, and more. Over time these would become the base for many of the various comic characters we know now (From Shakespeare to The Simpsons).
How Will Commedia Improve my Skills as a Performer?
Physically: Commedia Requires rigorous physical control. Actors must be able to physically communicate emotions and intentions that extend beyond the pedestrian and every day behavior (otherwise the mask itself will remain lifeless). Furthermore, each character's unique physique allows them a wide array of physical stunts and acrobatic possibilities. All of which promotes a greater awareness of body, self, and space.
Crafting a Character: Because the characters in Commedia are set, performers must be able to embody them physically and intellectually. Honoring circumstances, background, and behavior of each character - while still being able to walk the tightrope of improvisation - strenghtens every performer's ability to successfully embody any role whether in Commedia or in other comedic or dramatic forms.
Comedically: Commedia is the ORIGINAL IMPROV. Scenes are created through verbal and physical play, and over very little is permanently set. Each performance requires a level of wit and clarity equivalent to the highest levels of modern improv. Furthermore the timing as well as the ability to craft hilarious bits (or lazzi) is central to a strong and comedic (and dramatic) performance.