I am currently working with Commedia Dell’Arte in my IB first year group (year 12 in the British system). We have been working on the physicality of the characters, scenarios, lazzi, theatre history and masks. So far I have found several useful websites that illustrate the physical aspects of the character movement for the basic 5 stock characters, and have also used websites that give key information about the individual characters. For useful links see the information below:
1. Commedia examples: Pantalone, Arlequinno and Columbina:
2. Masks and costumes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9ZRZWJ90Ic&feature=related
3. The role of masks/characters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_t8FFEdig0&NR=1
4. Masks/characters http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUnaNTfTzuM&feature=related
5. Characters: http://www.shane-arts.com/commedia-stock-characters.htm
6. Scenarios: http://www.isebastiani.com/Scenarios.html
As an introduction to working with masks specifically I ran a workshop based on Trestle Theatre Company’s work with masks, character and awareness in an ensemble to develop focus and physicality. The most successful exercises that we did in class were ESCAPE and HOT SEAT. Escape focuses on passing the focus within the group, physicality and facing front with the mask. Hot seat focuses on communicating answers and reactions through physicality:
4.4 ESCAPE – The class is divided into groups of about 5. Each group starts at one corner of the room. They are prisoners. They must escape by crossing the room at different stages. Only one person, in major (with the group all focusing on him/her) can move. Each person can move a maximum of 3 steps at a time. One person starts in major, the rest of the group watches him/her. When 1 stops he looks at number 2, who continues with the escape, when 2 stops he looks at 3 and 3 continues, and so on. By passing the focus they cross the room. They can change the order. Encourage imaginative ways of escaping, e.g. over ladders, walls, digging a trench etc.
7.3 HOT SEAT – Students don masks and one takes a seat to be questioned. Firstly simple questions are asked that can be answered with a nod or a shrug. Secondly a few harder questions are thrown at the mask or they are accused of something. Encourage the mask to look at the audience and around the room to explore the effects of what the mask is saying.
(Taken from ‘Trestle Theatre Company Teachers’ Pack’, Trestle Arts Base. www.trestle.org.uk)
Visit the Trestle Theatre website for more information or try out these exercises along with your own Commedia and mask work. I found that the foundation work created by Trestle is an excellent foundation for Commedia masks.