Introducing Commedia dell'Arte
Commedia dell’ Arte is a 2000 year old improvisational, satirical, masked theatrical tradition from Italy. In times past the players would travel from town to town in horse-drawn carriages, carrying the news and playing it out, with much innuendo, humour and acrobatic performance, to people in the towns as they went.
The masked characters were ‘stock’ characters, never changing, like ‘old friends’ to the people who came to see the performances. Characters were formed from archetypes found in the general Italian rural and small town population at that time, to whom the audience related.
Commedia was both entertainment and political and social satire. The general theme of all Commedia plays was the rich versus the poor with a great sympathy toward the poor. The rich were the objects of lampoonery and the poor (who represented the audience), were variously maligned by their wealthy tormentors, but always prevailed in the end.
Commedia is essentially about the class struggle in pre-industrial Italy. The heroes are members of the peasantry or working class, who manage, with great wit, humour and inventiveness, to get the better of those who have economic and social power over their lives.
In such a long theatrical tradition, there is a record of Julius Caesar commanding a Commedia performance, there have been a number of shifts in the characters over the centuries. In the 1500’s the French took an interest in Commedia and began a long history of Commedia performance in that country. The format changed somewhat from travelling performers to staged shows, and the masks altered to reflect the French culture with a greater emphasis on love and beauty and less on humour and politics.
Our masks are drawn from the older, original Italian manifestation of the Commedia dell’ Arte tradition. They come as a set of 10 but can also be purchased individually.
Every mask comes with a comprehensive character description, a Black Bandanna and a very instructive workshop on performing with Commedia masks is available on DVD.
We also supply lesson plans for teachers that provide step-by-step instructions on teaching a 10-Lesson unit on Commedia masks; which includes an introduction to mask work and assessment tasks. All these components are available either individually or can be purchased as a COMPLETE COMMEDIA TEACHING KIT.