It has had a significant influence upon clowns, circus, physical comedy
puppetry, comic theatre and then film and television. It has influenced writers
from Shakespeare Moliere and Goldoni.
Commedia was improvised around a tight structure of stock characters. They
included Harlequin Pantalone La Capitaine and Brigella.
The scenes were on themes of everyone’s concerns including money, love
and death. They were about the hierarchy that mirrored society at the time time. It was satirical mocking the upper classes including doctors
landowners and soldiers.
Harlequin was the hero of commedia. He was very much the everyman
that audiences could identify with . He was the servant class character, who would always try to
do their best, but always failing. However he would not dwell sentimentally, but would be ready to meet another day with purpose.
Brigella is Harlequin’s portly friend who hates working loves eating and would always get into to trouble, and tells outlandish stories to get out of trouble and blame
Pantelone is very, very old but highly energetic. He is a very rich master of the house who is paranoid that his money may be stolen. He is also very fond of young women who he would love to bed, but of course the detest him. The servants would always be hatching plans to steel his money.
La Capitaine. He was a soldier to claimed to be a hero at war , where he fought of the enemy army single handed, But would really be frightened
of the smallest thing. He would believe that everyone especially women would love him but no one did and would often mock him.
There were many other characters are many variations of them all.
To play these roles actors wore half masks. In wearing the masks actors have to
improvise with a strong physical passion. It was played facing the audience,
there was no attempted at having a fourth wall.
Actors have to be much more aware of how their body moves when working with masks.
There no extraneous movement when working with masks.
There is no complex motivational journey for the characters to follow their wants and
desires are very black and white.
It was very theatrical in style and incorporated many theatrical
disciplines, including mime, acrobatics and slapstick.
We don’t need to learn commedia for the sake of it, but it reminds us of our roots and
traditions and what work well in theatre. When I worked on this
form of theatre of theatre I always been reminded of a number of all
slapstick vaudeville routines, the puppets of Punch and Judy and
the silent comic films of Chaplin Buster Keaton and others.
Not that any one of these brilliant actors studied commedia, but it is in our
European theatre culture, it is part of us.
In having commedia as part of an actor’s training, it is an opportunity for
students to loose inhibitions, play big passions with and strong archetype
characters, whose motivations are clear and simple. By having an understanding
of commedia helps when rehearsing a farce or a Shakespearean comedy.