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Founder's Note

I was drawn to Commedia dell’Arte originally by a happenstance finding of a book entitled “Four Great Italian Renaissance Comedies” which in the notes referenced Commedia dell’Arte as what birthed these plays and what justified certain themes and conventions. I had been doing both improvisational comedy and dramatic theatre. I loved this short form improv much more.

Then college came and I forgot about that little book which I gave to a friend of mine. Sophomore year there was a fireside discussion in my dorm, which was a Commedia Dell’Arte intro. I had heard the term and researched a tiny amount but it sounded amazing, so I went and learned the basics. The seed was planted.

End of fall quarter and the same person is offering a class on this amazingly fun theatrical form. I signed up. There I found that this quirky, fun, and brilliant form is alive!

I say Commedia dell’Arte is brilliant primarily because it blends performative and non-performative concepts into one wonderful performance form. The Mask is the most obvious. The mask is in itself a beautiful work of art, but it truly finds its artistic statement in the performance of it, but only with a well-trained performer. The mask maker and the performer are both highly skilled, highly trained artists working together to create a piece of art.  Within the performance also, is a developed concept of a fourth wall with no fourth wall. The story and the telling of the story are at once the same. These are actors playing characters by wearing a mask. These characters know that a performance is happening, but they are also telling their story and somehow the audience believes everything and both laughs and sympathizes.  Also, instead of many improvised forms the plot doesn’t suffer because it is set in advance, as are the characters. The language of Commedia is both oral and physical. This allows the improvisation to become fluid and funny as well as artistic. The actors in a well-trained troupe become all unique characters that interact perfectly and react instinctively as both characters and actors.

I say quirky because there are elements of this traditional theatrical form that are downright odd. So much of the elements of traditional Commedia are old Renaissance cultural existences. Even though all the characters exist in some form in human cultures now, the specific characters of the Italian Renaissance are present in Commedia in a way that sometimes feels out of place in the anachronistic world of the Commedia stage.

And finally Commedia is fun. It is physical theatre that is improvised as a unit with no director, just actors reacting to each other. A powerful ensemble is an artistically beautiful thing, but at the same time it is one of the most fun groups to be in. An ensemble that knows each other and their habits and their weaknesses and their strengths puts on fun shows and has fun rehearsals.

-- Aaron Quick, founding Player