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LOL: Commedia Dell'Arte - Ten Scenarios for Adventurous Actors
by Jonathan Potter

ISBN #1-60513-220-9
JAC #2013-0004


Introduction

The Commedia is a theatrical phenomenon lasting over 400 years. It has traditional characters, some of which wear highly stylized masks, stock situations, and highly-developed bits of comic business. Its roots can be found in the masked drama and comedies of ancient Greece as well as the popular sit-coms of playwrights such as Plautus and Menander in ancient Rome. It was hugely popular among ‘ordinary people’—not the aristocrats—all through the middle ages, and still flourishes, in one form or another, today.

Most of the early Commedia actors were highly skilled, working in the tradition of what we today call “New Vaudeville”— that is, they were specialists in physical comedy: gymnastic feats, tight-rope walking, fire-eating and so on were commonplace for these actors. Many were excellent singers, as well. There were several things about these actors, however, which set them apart from the players who worked in theatres, or in sections of palaces or castles. First, they often would play one character their entire working lives. Second, they were perfectly comfortable playing an entire show with no rehearsal, after a quick reading of the script. Lastly, the actors who played older characters—fathers, doctors, military men, and so on— were masked.

The masks are traditional parts of the Commedia, just as a clown’s makeup is traditional for the clown—both came from the same roots. Clown makeup defines the expected behavior of the clown. The same is true for the mask of Commedia actor. When the actor had climbed into his traditional costume-- even the colors of the costume were defined by tradition-- and donned the mask, his behavior became limited to the behaviors the audience expected of that character.

There were also actors who did not work in masks. These were the actors who played the love interests—the young, beautiful women, and their ardent boyfriends. It’s interesting to note that unlike a lot of early theatre, women actually were encouraged to act in these companies. The ancient Greek comedies used male actors to play women’s parts—and you’ll remember that boys played women on the Elizabethan stage, as well.

Since Italy was the cradle of this kind of theatre, many of the traditional characters were associated with specific towns or regions in Italy, . Originally the actor playing a character in Commedia would use a specific accent from that town or region. Since the inhabitants of certain towns and regions already had country-wide reputations for various types of behavior, these reputations were exaggerated and satirized, to the delight of the audience.

 

Jonathan PotterIn the included scenarios, I have used the characters drawn from the Commedia tradition, involving them in a variety of comic situations. Actors and directors who are used to conventional scripts may be startled at the difference between these scenarios and scripts with dialog. Young actors I have worked with enjoy the freedom to experiment with character and language, while at the same time feeling the security of a framework in which to work. Another huge advantage is that nothing ever remains fixed. There are no boring bits which take ingenious staging to make work. If something is boring on one run, it’s thrown out by the actor, and something else is substituted. Parts are as large or as small as the energy and imagination of the actors. - Jon Potter

A
bout the Author

Jonathan Potter was born in Bridgeport (CT) and grew up in New England. Aside from childhood productions of folk and fairy-tales in cooperation with neighborhood children, his first contact with theatre was in high school, where he acted in Shakespeare and Chekhov. He continued working as an actor in college, and briefly joined an independent group for summer stock. After graduate school at Harvard and a summer at the Stratford Institute he began teaching and directing at a variety of small secondary schools, ran a traveling Commedia del’ Arte troupe, and eventually ended up in Maine, where he resides today. Along the way he began writing scripts for his students, community groups, and University players. Many of these have been performed locally, and several regionally. One was produced in New York City. Nine of his plays have been published.

 

Don't miss Jon Potter's shorter plays 5 Plays for High School Students, The Test, The Trunk, and The Most Awesome Sleep-Over in the History of the World

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