By Stanley Allan Sherman
copyright May 9, 2012
If your sides are bursting from laughter – you could be watching some great Commedia dell’Arte.
The latest Broadway hit One Man, Two Guvnors, is based on Commedia dell’Arte. For centuries the funniest, most powerful, and profound form of theater has been the Commedia dell’Arte. Our training program was founded in 2001 and every year we have refined it. From a week and a half, our Summer Intensive Workshop has grown to three weeks. This is what it takes for students and professionals to truly discover, know, and be able to play the Commedia dell’Arte. Students completing the workshop will have the skills to play from a scenario.
Rhythm, as Richard Hayes-Marshall, an old friend and fellow student said to me when I was studying at Ecole Jacque Lecoq in Paris, France 1970 – 1972; “Stanley, I think everyone has their own personal rhythm inside of them and we must discover and develop our personal rhythms.” Richard was right. That is why we have so many activities that involve rhythm. Dances from the era of the Commedia dell’Arte are taught by Caroline Copeland and Meggi Sweeney-Smith of the New York Baroque Dance Company. We explore rhythm play, playing music and especially tambourine. We learn to play both the Northern and Southern styles of tambourine. The Northern style will be taught by Paul Shipper who also does Commedia dell’Arte voices and helps each student discover our own unique voice for each character. Paul is an Early Music musician, opera artist, voice expert and 2011 Grammy Nominee. Singer and musician Michela Musolino will be teaching Sicilian and Southern Italian tambourine. A student from our 2010 Intensive Workshop asked, “Did we become tambourine stupid in this country?” The answer is, “yes”. All this leads to the performer’s discovery of the rhythms within their own personal Commedia dell’Arte character as well as those working with one another. In theatre and as in life, timing is everything. Commedia dell’Arte rhythm is an essential part of finding and refining your timing. Rhythm improves everything.
Finding your Commedia dell’Arte character is a major part of the workshop. Which characters can you play with theatrically? Which characters can you let out that are inside you? R. David Robinson, a student from our class of 2006 said, “I was always sure I was an Arlecchino but no, I am Pantalone! Playing within this character form has proved immensely freeing.” R. David in August 2012 will be reprising his wonderful performance of Big Daddy, a type of Pantalone in Tennessee Williams‘ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” directed Obie-winner Austin Pendleton. The students explore all the major characters of the Northern Commedia dell’Arte. Not only from exercises I learned from Jacque Lecoq and Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, but those we have developed. Most improvisation exercises are from scenarii written and performed in the 1500 to 1600’s by famous Commedia dell’Arte companies that performed throughout Europe to commoners and royalty alike.
Women and men play everything from Lovers to Capitano. Some of the most powerful and hilarious Capitanos have been women. One of the funniest and most convincing female lovers was played by a man well over six feet tall. It’s fun.
Every masked character has their masks. There is great variety in the different masks of each character. Not all Pantalone masks are the same. In fact they are all different. The character of one Pantalone mask may not be right for the performer while a different one is a perfect fit. I am a mask maker so I have a variety of different masks for each character. When working on improvisations, a variety of masks for a single character is laid out on a table. A student goes up to the table and carefully meditates on the masks, selecting which mask is best for him or her. There are often at least four to five masks on the table to choose from, all with different features and details; eyebrows, color, design, which all affect character. After selecting the mask the student preps and enters. The right mask, and suddenly the character comes alive and the performer is carried to places they never dreamed possible. This is why it is essential to have a variety of masks for each character.
The versatility of the original Commedia dell’Arte performers was extensive. They were experts at a variety of disciplines. That is why we dance, do prop manipulation, play music and much more. Keith Nelson of the famous Bindelstiff Family Cirkus and I teach prop manipulation. You need to be able to balance not only yourself but also manipulate any manageable object that comes your way. You not only play the tambourine but also use it as a prop. This will be the second year Keith is with us and he is one of the best teachers of prop manipulation I have met.
To jump into this lively, funny, powerful, and profound Commedia dell’Arte Intensive Workshop, contact Roving Classical Commedia University* for an application.
Roving Classical Commedia University* (*totally unaccredited)
2012 Summer Intensive Workshop June 17 – July 6
2012 End of Summer Intensive Workshop August 19 – 31, 2012
pierStudios, New York NY