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Tag: Gettysburg College

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Commedia! - A semester's journey

This blog chronicles a whole semester of my Commedia! course taught at Gettysburg College in the Fall of 2011. The course is based on the teachings of maestro Antonio Fava, with whom I studied at his international school in Reggio Emila, Italy.
Compared to the full-time experience afforded by Fava's school during an intense month of physical training, a first year seminar consists of just two weekly classes of 75 minutes for 14 weeks. Despite this limitation and the little time available for two groups of 8 students to rehearse outside of class, the results are often impressive.
You can read some comments I received from the students who attended this course by clicking here.
If you have time for just a couple of clips, you could watch at least:
1. An example of a full canovaccio
2. An example of a solo performance, otherwise known as "commedia gabrielliana"
However, if you have the time, you can start at the bottom of these posts with the very first class, and then follow the groups' progression as they learn new characters and skills, including some stage combat and musical pieces. Below each video, you can read some of my comments, which are intended as further coeaching outside of class.
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Final Canovacci 2011

In contrast to the previous exercises, this time the two troupes were assigned different "classic" canovacci (rather than the same) and also needed to devise from scratch a shorter "contemporary" piece based on a current issue, although still in dialogue with the conventions of commedia dell'arte.

Classic Canovacci

Contemporary Canovacci

A canovaccio inspired by the recent controversial events at Penn State University
A commedia look at the Facebook trend
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Solo Performances - Commedia Gabrielliana

Each student was asked to perform a solo piece in the style of Commedia Gabrielliana. The name refers to Giovanni Gabrielli, a 17th century actor and company manager who - thanks to his talent - could perform all parts in a single play. Here, students play Pantalone, the old man who, because of his age, went through all phases of life represented by other fixed types, from the Zanni to the Lover to the Capitano. Thus, his physical stance, steps, and behaviors somehow summarize all the others, depending on the situation he is faced with. Of course, his body is older and therefore limited, but his energy is still vibrant and active.
Here are some of the best performances:
A hilarious Jewish Pantalone (7.5 minutes)
An accurate and fluid solo by a female Pantalona (5 min).
A modern Pantalone in a nursing home reminisces about his past, including a battle in Vietnam (7 mins).
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Chaz (from Luigi Pirandello’s Cece')

Stevens Theatre, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA
An adaptation in four parts for the students of my Modern Italian Theatre course. Based on a list of physical actions, we devised and rewrote four versions of the same play set, in turn, in an informal college environment, a morbid Eighteenth century, a flashback from the point of view of one of the minor characters, and finally a puppet world.
An account of the theory underlying this course can be found in my article “The Short Play and Postmodernist Stage Directing: A Virtual Experiment with Pirandello’s Cecè.” published in Quaderni d’Italianistica 32.2 (2012)
Hover to see inside of tri-fold for the performance
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Canovaccio #8 - Love Intrigue

Group A
Wow guys, I was watching the video and I can only say: great job! Clear exposition, dialogue understandable at all times with no overlaps, duets and group scenes in a balanced flow, characters well put together at (nearly) all times for movement and behavior. All could be improved with further work, of course, but for such short rehearsal time this really looks like a Commedia troupe: congrats! I’ll say nothing more, as this is one case when saying less is a good sign.
Group B
In general:
  • Guys, you need to sense where the audience is: all that stuff far away, oh boy!!!
  • John: Great “bro” Capitano! Props need to be real, so you need a real letter.
  • Jordan: you proved that one can flaunt being Jewish in commedia, with all cultural references, and be a LOT of fun.
  • Ilana: great Signora!
  • Alex: you’re a funny Lover, although you’re commenting on yourself all the time... And, the energy that moves your arms comes from the heart, you can’t really move them “poetically and tragically” otherwise. Also, please no direct religious references: priests don’t belong to Commedia.
  • Adam: nice choice for Pedrolino, a low-life dealer of some sort. But what steps are those?
  • Alexis: Funny lines interspersed here and there. Same as above for steps: we need a review.
  • Both of you Zanni work well together, with Alexis learning new vocab along the way.
  • Mikes: not sure of your role in this canovaccio guys...
  • Mike M: I see no desperation for not being able to marry Isabella, nor am I sure the upper body works as a Lover.
  • Finale with little crescendo, between quotes as it were.
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Canovaccio #7 - The Magnifico's Birthday

Group A
In general:
  • Interesting, clear beginning – totally lost direction in the middle: actions were lost and there is a big hole in the action... Ideally, there would have to be much more cooperation among the troupe members and a clearer line of action. Good song, although rap is what it is and some more music with it would have enhanced the effect, I think.
  • John: you don’t necessarily need to walk like a crab all the time, nor are your arms blocked like a scarecrow
  • ). Pantalone does go forward, he is in fact rather agile despite his decrepit body. He gets more in line with his body when he tries to escape Pedrolino’s clutches. Mentions of JC should be substituted with classic deities, “By Zeus” or something similar. Taking the mask off and getting back to your body posture while the canovaccio is still running: should I make any comment on that?
  • Alexis: it’s good to explore other facets of the Lover, thus interesting interaction with Pantalone and refusal to touch his button, a distraction from your love worries.
  • Jordan: your Lover is a mix with a Capitano. Why is that? Also, it appears you did not rehearse much to have any role in the canovaccio. With your indubitable skills, I cannot figure out why.
  • Mike R: the drunken Capitano’s action behind Pantalone’s back is one of the few times when this makes full sense – we wouldn’t want the details... You should work more on the Capitano’s body posture and attitudes.
  • Mike M: appropriate balance between the two souls of Pedrolino, “fluid” with sudden bursts of rage for good reasons.
  • Ann: Memorable: “Is fixing a button something like eating food?”
  • Alex: you have a steadier, less mechanical body as Zanni, which is good. Also better variety of steps.
  • Adam: the Doctor’s feet (as Pantalone’s) should be closer. Good explanation step.
Group B
In general:
  • Finally a crescendo to the climax of the action: good job! Also, nice ensemble work. How could you have closed the canovaccio in a more pointed way?
  • Will: Your Pantalone works extremely well, his steps look like those of a dancer sometimes though...
  • Ilana (and Jeremy): the packages serve you well for your interactions with Pantalone. It’s not clear, at the beginning, whose father Pantalone is.
  • Jeremy: you begin well, then lose the Lover’s body... Nice bit when you play the guitar.
  • Samantha, Tori, Jane: the group of three Zanni is delightful, roasted pig and all.
  • Andrew: Capitano is convincing, with appropriate and varied steps, but once you stand, where’s your “monument,” “ready to be photographed” posture?
  • Erin: Funny “serious” Doctor! You could definitely enhance the “being full of yourself” part. Great toilet paper prop.
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Canovaccio #6 - The Serenade

Group A
In general:
  • General level of energy is pretty low guys, but most of all there is not much thinking behind the story, so all seems weak and disconnected. Why don’t people want to sing? Are they busy doing something else? Do they dislike the First Zanni? Finding the reasons would help you move the situation and weave it together. Where is the SILENT scene? Really, how long did you actually rehearse TOGETHER?
  • John: Good explanation of the situation. FYI: Pantalone is no scarecrow, he uses his arms freely, and uses a normal voice, not a semi-falsetto. Your version is funny though
  • ). But what happens at the end, when his plan of wooing Isabella goes south? Why no reaction at all?
  • Mike R: 1. You were supposed to play the White-Face character, who does not have a mask and has a completely different movement. 2. But even as Zanni, TOUCHING THE MASK IS FORBIDDEN (I counted at least 11 times!), plus you cannot really walk as yourself when you have the mask... oh boy! The “4 o’c(l)ock” pun is somewhat funny at the beginning but unsupported by more stage business, actions, character, etc. and it becomes boring soon. Long time with your face to the back and covering other characters...
  • Jordan: What happened to the Zanni steps? Not very clear by any means: you look like a Capitano at the beginning and then I am not sure about your role in this canovaccio at all...
  • Adam: A modernized version of the Lover with glasses is very interesting and so is his story. However, this should not be the pensive and meditative contemporary Lover, who paces back and forth: really, we need more urgency, grandeur, looking straight to the audience, tragic postures, please.
  • Mike M: Good that you’re in character all the time. Capitano’s slap should be better planned so Mike R does not have to touch your mask. Posture works, but I wonder what really happens between the Zanni and you. Why do you accept to sing? For fear? Ok, but how can you two make this FUNNY and not just violent? Btw. Do NOT touch the mask, please!
  • Alex and Alexis: Why would the Zagne be so disengaged? Why not use the situation to play tricks on the First Zanni? Is Alexis a cat??? Why?
  • Andrew: Congrats for the beautiful song you composed! Please work on your movements and relationship to the audience (no more back wall cleaning, please).
Group B
In general:
  • clear, well-thought-out canovaccio with interesting interactions and creative solutions. The mouse-chairs-fall gag is a BRILLIANT example of pay-off of a previously introduced element, ensemble work, and of how the action should be structured. Great, funny song! BRAVO!!!
  • Will: Pantalone’s speech is clear and sets the right mood for the subsequent scene. Steps could be smaller and quicker. Funny Marlon Brando reference. Body work interesting, with gestures appropriately resized to Pantalone’s body. It all works nicely, just remember no touching the mask and no more “God****it” in any future canovacci. Use Zeus or other classical reference if you want to mention the name of a divinity...
  • Jeremy: Pedrolino’s arms/hands are raised, not completely down in his basic stance. Where’s his specific movement? We see a lot of Jeremy and not enough Pedrolino... Also, what about making that dialogue with Pantalone worth some laughs? Why does he comply immediately? What does he want in exchange? How does Pantalone convince/force him? etc. Dialogue with Doctor and Capitana is much better, between being nice and assertive: good! Overall, we need more energy for this guy, much more over the top.
  • Ann: Great Doctor of Music! and the special “clarinet”, and specific movement/steps. Brava!
  • Jane: Great funny idea of using the trombone as a hat and duster, what about blowing it at that time and “finding out” what it does and get scared, and then marvel at the prodigy, etc. etc.? Careful with position on stage: why on earth would you start so upstage at the back of the room? And what about some more words?
  • Ilana: good movements, nice shoes idea, but maybe a Zagna does not clean only... any other possible options? The mouse is funny, but cannot be “materialized” on the spot: you would need to find a moment behind something/someone or another way.
  • For both Zagne: when Jane drops the broom, that would be a good opportunity for Ilana to jump and grab it before it falls thus avoiding the noise. The mouse chase at the beginning is confusing because we don’t understand why/when it’s a mouse or a Zagna. The idea pays off nicely, however, with the concerto and chairs gag.
  • Erin: funny butch Capitana, weights and all! Why no reaction to the slap? Interesting stage fright reference: why not show a follow-up?
  • Samantha: Signora’s attitude works great, you just need more body awareness. Memorable: “I could play my bongos” for its boob-y undertones
  • ). Great song.
  • Tori: credible lover , nice energy and attitude, funny and thoughtful solutions to your problems.
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Canovaccio #5 - The Panacea

Group A
In general:
  • balanced scenes (although a little too silent at times) with clarity of when things happen. The two planes of action, downstage and upstage, work well together without interference. However, we need more voice guys, this is commedia, not drawing room drama! Interesting dark room situation: very daring! Good. Also good idea of forming a crowd around the Doctor and corner him. The song is a little unsupported by what happens before...
  • John: Great know-it-all doctor! Careful not to weigh on your toes, but rather on the heels, and you do need to use/show your belly more, for instance to push the drugged Zanni away. Memorable: “The dog pee will chase the cat pee off you”. But you should speak in the breaks between characters, no? There’s an abyss of silence otherwise... You are a Doctor who does everything, so even the “green card” or the psychiatric problem is in your realm for you to fix.
  • Jordan: Capitano’s problem is very appropriate, but what about you beef it up and tell us the whole, incredible story? Your character is not very present in this performance.
  • Alex: the Zanni is not a robot... change rhythm of your movement. The “death” story is interesting: but what happened in reality? What is the Zagna believing and why? Explain! Or we’re going into a sad mood but this is comedy.
  • Mike R: Pantalone, apart from the strage initial voice, is very much in character.
  • Mike M: Loopy zanni, how else could he become funnily obnoxious?
  • )
  • Alexis: Great updating of Commedia, accent and all. Let’s keep using more languages please 🙂
  • Adam: Lovers have more urgency in general (obviously you cannot laugh during the performance...). What happens between you and Ann after the dark scene? I cannot see much connection.
  • Ann: Perfect state of mind for the Lover. Same question as for Adam after the dark.
Group B
In general:
  • I am not sure that chairs are a good idea if not absolutely necessary, as they detract from your freedom of movement. What about one or two Zanni as chairs? Also, you border many times on dangerous ground talking of actual serious illnesses: it could be funnier if the problems were less serious and/or odd. Memorable: Doctor “It’s going to change your racial orientation” Zanni “I want to be Hispanic”. Great song guys!
  • Ilana: good Capitano body/behavior. The fact that she trips is unsupported: what about having someone else make you fall? Good story/lie about falling during a battle!
  • Will: Forgetting the mask/posture is like playing in a different play... and that vibe lingers throughout the canovaccio. Why use a computer that closes/blocks your movements and what you can show us? For example, the family charts could be drawn on the “fourth wall” (although there isn’t any in commedia, of course) towards the audience. The plutonium idea, and the thinking step, would deserve some extension. The patronizing works very well for you as “all-knowing” Doctor!
  • Jeremy: good problem and attitude for Pantalone. Could Pantalone be more interactive?
  • Andrew: right energy for the Lover!
  • Jane: also right level of energy, a good direction to pursue for the future!
  • Erin, Samantha, and Tori: Good idea to have all Zagne enter as a group and then line up to talk. Could you have played more on that? Great energy for all!.
  • Tori: Very good use of the mask towards the audience.
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Canovaccio #4 - Night Appointment

Group A
  • In general, the group works well together, and this is perhaps the best quality of this canovaccio.
  • On the other hand, not much happens and the rhythm tends to be very uniform, with fewer than expected mishaps on the way. For example, the sleep machine is interesting, and well done. However, after a while, it becomes boring: either someone else enters, or the sleep machine should show a different, more complex mechanism.
  • Also, you could dare more for each character: ex. Lovers could be much more desperate and tragic, the Capitani could beat more... around the bush, with more boastful words and more fearful deeds.
  • especially the Zanni, in theory the glue of everything happening in this canovaccio, instead sleep most of the time... One of the reasons of the darkness convention is so that the Zanni can move around and somehow connect all the other characters, who are otherwise condemned to walking around alone. It gets better 2 minutes to the end and nice similar image (circular finale) at the end.
  • Andrew: I’m not sure why you’re still wearing slippers... please use full shoes or barefoot. Careful, most of the time you have no basic stance.
  • Tori: see general observations on Zanni
  • Erin: Zagna’s feet touch the ground fully, no upward toes
  • Jeremy: nice front speech, clear and informative. You can work more on the posture and urgency of the Lover. The agreed upon signal is very funny and would be even more if your Lover were dead serious and tragic. For some reason, eloping to Canada is funny in itself LOL.
  • Ilana: you struck the perfect balance between seriousness of your situation and comic of the frame. Good physical work. Tripping for real could have been funny...
  • Again, for the two Lovers, where is the convention of darkness at the end? Could we for example look for (= create with words) a moonlit spot so as to justify why they look at each other and recognize themselves?
  • Jane: also clear exposition. The Capitano needs some more energy though... Nice long name.
  • Samantha: Good attitude for the Capitano, with corresponding voice.
  • The Capitani, as everyone else, meet in the dark, but it looks almost as if they are in plain sight. Where’s the convention? Also, your gait and physical stance can aim for a larger, bigger, more muscular “appearance” (it’s all in the posture, not in your body size). Why fight at the very back of the stage?
  • Will: At the beginning it’s not clear why you carry the stick. Is looks like a temporary cast... This also happens because Pantalone’s step is a little too similar to the Capitano. It is funny that you act as if you were back in the war, it would be even more so if the change from old man to younger soldier for a moment were more contrasting. Interesting contemporary references throughout.
Group B
  • In general: the couples work well together, but the group overall seems disconnected. In particular, the point of there being dark is that the couples may think they’re interacting with their counterpart but in reality they are not. So for example, Pantalone might get beaten by a Capitano, a Lover might unknowingly make love to Pantalone, etc. so that the entire group could mix more.
  • Ann, Alexis, Mike R. (and Mike M.). Interesting beginning: the Zanni are so tired and hungry that they have hallucinations
  • ). Creative sleep machines all along: bravi! But the Zanni should also be more active during the canovaccio, interact with the other characters, move things around and from one character to the other: see above. The pat on the back gag is funny. How could it trigger a more complex mechanism in the machine? Not sure why they sing at some point?
  • Jordan and Mike M: the cookie idea is great! You both need more “big” posture and alternate legs/arm, but the energy of the Capitano is good. Memorable: “What’s a rhetorical question?” Remember that the Capitano does not really want to fight. He wants to appear willing and ready, but would rather not go through, he’ll get scared by the tiniest occurence, etc. Also, the blows with the sticks are all in the preparation... you can definitely “prepare” longer. It’s the same concept of the lazzo: as soon as you complete the action, the lazzo ends.
  • Ann: Good energy for the cookie.
  • Mike R: why the kid voice? Is the zanni a kid? Please use your own, adult, non falsetto voice. Even funnier if he sees a unicorn, no?
  • Adam: Memorable “Almost as dark as the hole that is my heart without her”. Why would you pick a flower behind you? Could it be in front of you and visible for the audience? Same concept for speaking to yourself: you can definitely do it toward the audience.
  • Alex: the Lover’s hands are really a little bit more independent, not in regular alternation with the legs. What about working on moments in which the Lover is a bit more distressed, or clumsy? (but she needs to stay elegant nonetheless)
  • John: Pantalone’s step works, but the creepy hands and the voice are a bit cartoonish... use your own voice and free those hands/arms or we see a ghost wandering in the woods
  • )
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Canovaccio #3 - Clash of the Titans

Group A
My comments:
  • In general: Why grande zanni step at the beginning? Just looking for a store, or it might be something else, for example invading the others’ territory?
  • Interesting use of the broomstick as horse and how the two groups interact: good! Pity that it’s not in the middle of the space downstage, but so far back upstage...
  • Good interaction, cheering, supporting, echoing, etc. from the whites, but what happens with the blacks? Initially they shout, but there is little physical movement... Mike M does interact more: good!
  • In the second part, after the “water break” everything gets better, more lively. Why not put in that very same energy from the beginning?
  • Great blacks starting the rhythm and music for the dance! We all wish it had continued throughout...
  • The stage combat in such low-ceiling room is problematic, I know... However, the point is to have a bigger preparation before you even go hit the other, whereas the blow in itself is less important.
  • Points 5-7 of the canovaccio (ironies, insults, and threats) are underdeveloped, that’s why you finish too early. Each of the points needs to have a beginning, development, and transition to the next phase.
  • Was the game an on-the-spot idea? And the dance? These are exactly the elements that could pop up in rehearsal...
  • You can’t really kill an imaginary dog, but you could have an imaginary bee (with similar results), since we could assume that the audience cannot see it from afar. The solution with the Zanni taking the place of the dog is even better, because it uses what you actually have at your disposal!
  • Adam: good work in keeping a steadier posture this time, but you need to invent and interact more
  • Will: Nice wordplay on “big deal” and long US-States-name. Great macho Capitano, but don’t forget he’s a coward!
  • Alexis: Yes, coming forward and supporting Capitano. Fantastic dance idea!
  • Alex: basic zanni stance works... try varying rhythms, including moments of calm. Good three-time step!
  • John: much better three-time step! Better interaction in general, and superb play with the dance!
  • Jordan: Interesting combat with Alexis, touting, etc. Nice attempt at playing billiards with the opposing Capitano's... ehm... "balls".
  • Mike R: Great Capitano! and memorable “Don’t get too physical!”. Obviously, slippers are NOT recommended for this type of work. “Time-out” serves nicely to segment the action: but the next action is still the same... what about a variation? (i.e. the next point in the canovaccio)
  • Mike M: Good interaction, you need to review steps and postures. Great dance play!
Group B
My comments:
  • In general: Interesting beginning with the same sound for the whole group. The military step is your "invention": we need to review the actual one, but at least you tried...
  • Tori’s group: Good amplification of your Capitana! (whereas Ann’s group is less responsive...)
  • Good group work for going to sleep, by contagion
  • Those stage combat moves need some rethinking: where is the preparation of each blow?
  • There is little clarity as to each point of the canovaccio: the Capitane seem to be doing all the work, but the Zanni could definitely interact, react, amplify, chime in, much more. Ex: the Capitane shout out that there’s a bee, but nobody hears or even pays attention for a long time!
  • Ann: Great Capitana: the long name, the energy, the speeches, the bravura, the hiding
  • Tory: Great “muscular” Capitana and dialogues, the bravura, etc.
  • Good interaction with the other side’s Capitana for both!
  • Erin: Interesting Zagna’s presentation, and skirmish in the background
  • Ilana: nice attempt at interaction with the opposite Zanni, and general “presence” on stage, including gestures (ex. “smell” part)
  • Jane: active, but perhaps could dare more? Exchanging food with other Zagna: good!, but again toned down: what about being chased for the food you have? You fall “dead” but why don’t you show us your face/mask? I don’t wanna see you on the ground for any other canovaccio
  • )
  • Samantha: does the Zagna not speak when introduced? Interesting witness to Capitane, but... no speech at all? Let us hear your voice please! The idea of eating is right: how could it be less passive? For example by constantly looking for food around?
  • Andrew: Ilana tried to interact with you... you didn’t need to do anything big, since the Capitana was speaking, but you could certainly have done more physically in terms of posture, gesture, etc. Same for the introduction: why are these Zanni so silent? Good idea, battling against the wall, but why would it be the back wall all the time?
  • Jeremy: good responsiveness, steps, etc., but could definitely dare more in terms of interaction!
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