The Street as Venue

Vulgar Comedy has its roots as street theatre, or at least outdoor theatre. Long before the Greeks began building theatres for their dithyrambs and plays there where Thespis and his cart. One can still trace much of business onstage to the needs for outdoor acting, such as the fast tempo, the big size and physicality of the acting, the crude content, the audience participation and so on.

When we play in the street we preferably want to have a stage to be seen over a distance. First of all the actors will be seen in full body, and not only as a couple of heads sticking out over the audience. Second, if the masks get too close and therefore became too small they will lose their power and their force.

The stage has to be at least 1 meter tall over the ground, preferably taller, for the actors to be seen. They have to be seen over a distance also to attract a crowd. But even with a stage taller than a meter one has to be careful with actions and acrobatics that are too low (under ones navel), like sitting or lying down on the stage, going down on ones knees or doing a somersault and so on.

I do prefer a small stage, even that small that the actors feel like they can’t move during the first rehearsal. Most important is that it is not too deep, especially when using masks. It will force the actors to turn away with the back of their heads to the audience or walk backwards to do each exit. A small stage also helps to speed up the performance since there is not a lot of walking on stage.


The stage is getting ready

One thing to think about that is often overseen is that is important to build the stage so that it is easy to set and strike. It cannot take more energy to set the stage than it takes to play, especially since it may be necessary to play several shows a day. When we went touring Europe with Kompani Komedi, we simply built a stage on the platform of a pickup truck with a crewcab. In that way we could have both an easy built stage and transport (sometimes also lodging) combined in the vehicle.
It may also be a good idea to set the stage in character or in mask to attract an audience. Then it is not possible to fuss with tiny little screws and other stuff.


The stage is ready


In practice most shows are played without a permit. Therefore it sometimes can by handy to do a “hit’n run”, in other words strike and vanish fast before the police or other authorizes shows up.

Got to Part 2

See also:
The language of the marketplace
Disciplines in Commedia dell’Arte
AAARRGH! ! – Capitano Catastrofo Collosalle

Filed in 2 Vulgar Comedy | Comment Now

Uniti (the Cohesive) and Fedeli (the Devoted)

Uniti 1578 – 1640

The first time we hear of the Uniti (who are also called “His Excellence the Duke of Mantua’s troupe) is in 1578 when they play in Ferrara.
1583 they have either some kind of collaboration with Confidenti or there is a splinter group from them that are involved in Unit’s performance.
When they play in Padua 1584 we find a Battista da Treviso playing Franceschina and as late as 1614 Ottavio Bernardino da Roma in the same role.  It was hardly of moral reasons or that they were afraid of the censors that they had men playing female roles. It was probably on artistic grounds. The burlesque possibilities with a man in female roles are classic.
1594 they play from the first of November to the first week of Lent in Florence.
They play Milan in 1596.
After they played for two months in Genoa 1614 we don’t hear from them until 1640 when they play in Florence.

Fedeli 1601 – 1620 (or 1652)

Fedeli was founded in 1601 by Giovan Battista Andreini, Francesco’s and Isabella’s son.
1608 they played at the wedding of Fransesco Gonzaga and Margareta of Savoy where also Giovan Battista’s wife, Virginia played the leading role in the first performance of the opera Arianna by Rinuccini and Monteverdi.
In 1613 they go to Paris through Lyon where they play at Louvren, at the Hotel de Bourgogne and at the court in Fontainebleau and in Saint-Germain until 1614. This time they have with them Tristano Martinelli, who refused to go with Accesi and Pier Maria Cecchini, much to Maria de’Medici’s delight. The Queen who was personal friends with Tristano and God Mother to his children, had tried to have him come to Paris the last time.
Until 1620 they are visible here and there in northern Italy. They don’t reach Paris, where they were heading, until 1620, after a death during the journey.
From 1649 to 1652 we know that Giovan Battista Andreini was in Paris among other places, but we don’t know if he was there together with Fedeli.

See also:
Commercialism in Commedia dell’Arte 
A Commedia dell’Arte chronology
Micke’s courses

Filed in 1 Commedia dell'Arte | Comment Now

Accesi (the Lightened) 1590 – 1628

Accisi had probably existed for a while when we first hear about them in 1590, when they get a permit to play in Brescia.
As early as 1583 Pier Maria Cecchini says that he played for Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Modena, in a letter to the new Duke 1622. That doesn’t say that he played with Accisi back then.
In 1599 they are probably in Paris, in any case does Tristano Martinelli get presented to Henry IV and mimic him until the king sat: -“Good, You have imitated me long enough, let me do it now”.
In 1600 they travel, under Pier Maria Cecchini, to Lyon where they play before Henry IV in August, after recommendations from Vincenzo Gonzaga. They stay long and play at the wedding of Henry IV and Maria de ’Medici in December and then at the French in Paris court until October 1601.
1606 they are temporarily collaborating with Fedeli, which was led by Giovan Battista Andreini.


Already in 1607 they are self-sufficing again. They go back to Paris where they play during the spring of 1608 before Henry IV and gives public performances. Despite strong pressure from Henry IV and Maria de’ Medici, Tristano Martinelli, the now famous Arlecchino, stays home, since he cannot stand Pier Maria Cecchini and the other actors. Instead he joins the Desiosi under the leadership of Diana Ponti.
When they get home in 1609 they go back to collaborating with Fedeli, also this time temporarily. It seems as if both groups are tied to the Duke of Mantua. That might be the reason they tries to work together. But the leaders, Pier Maria Cecchini (who at least according to Francesco Gabrielli seems to be irascible and false) and Giovan Battista Andreini do not pull evenly.
In 1610 they have separated and Accisi tour northern Italy and abroad.
1613 and 1614 are they touring Vienna and Linz. In Linz Matthias, the Holy Roman Emperor,  ennoble Pier Maria Cecchini.
Pier Maria Cecchini publishes his book Brevi discorsi intorno alla comedia e comedanti e spettatori in 1616.
In 1618 they play in Naples.
In 1622 they rent San Luca in Venice for two year.
The last we hear from them is 1628 when they play in Parma. The same year as Pier Maria Cecchini publish his second book Frutti delle moderna comedie et avvisi a chi le recita.

See also:
A Servetta’s prolog
The mask and the actor
Workshop in stage acrobatics

Filed in 1 Commedia dell'Arte | 1 Comment

Confidenti (The Confident) 1574 – 1639

The first time we hear about Confidenti is from 1574, during a tour in Cremona, Pavia and Milan. That part of northern Italy was their primary tour territory.
Between 1570 and 1580 they were more or less tied to the Duke of Mantua.
In the spring of 1581 they played at the wedding between Vicenzo Gonzaga and Margareta Farnese in Bologna and in Mantua.
1583 it seems like the company has split up or divided for some time. Two companies under the name Confidenti are playing at the same time, in Mantua and Genoa. The first company that played Mantua may have had a temporary cooperation with Uniti. In any case they called themselves “Uniti Confideti”.
The next year, 1584, the company was united again. They toured Milan and Turin and further to France, where they stayed until, at least, 1585.
1587, father and son, Drusiano and Tristano Martinelli became leaders for the group. The tour Spain for at least one year.
In 1590 Vittoria Piissimi are leader for the company during an Italian tour. I Mantua they play Vittorias dash performance La Zingana.
Tristano Martienelli publishes Compositons de Rhetorique in 1561.
The next time we meet them is in 1612 when Cosimo II de’ Medici take them in service. It seems Flaminio Scala were their leader and that the company was relatively solidly intact during that time.
At least until 1620 when he tried to leave the company due to internal opposition. In a letter from 1620 Giovanni de’ Medici writes and complains:

My dear Sir, the Lelij, the Florinde, the Flamminie, the Frittelini and the Arlecchini, are all famous and celebrated as people eager and ambitious for power and control. These other poor players, accustomed to fraternal associations among themselves, would never submit to a peaceful and quiet subservience. The former, however, could never be weaned from their wish to dominate and give orders, for they are too accustomed to so doing, and have been doing so for too long a time.”

1615 they play in Bologna, according to a letter of recommendation saying they were the best and the most booked company touring there at the time.
1616 they played Lucca.
1618 they played Venice.
In 1621 Domenico Bruni publish his book Prologhi.
In 1623 Domenico Bruni publish his book Fatiche Comiche.
1639 they play in Milan and travel to France on an invitation from Louis XIII, but there is not much written about that visit.

See also:
Women in Commedia dell’Arte
The Official Theatre
Boioioioioing!!!

Filed in 1 Commedia dell'Arte | 1 Comment

Gelosi (the Zealous Ones) 1568 – 1604

Gelosi was the most famous of the Commedia dell’Arte companies of the time, the superstars of their time. They had a crest, a Janus head, and a motto: Virtù, fama ed honor ne fèr gelosi (Virtue, fame and honor made us zealous).
They played all sorts of theatre: comedies, tragedies, tragicomedies, intermezzi, and pastorals, using both Scenari and scripts. For instance are they involved in the first performance of Torquato Tasso’s pastoral Aminata. They used advanced stage technique and scenography, professional costumes and a very developed ensemble work.

1568 is the first time we meet them, in Milan.
They play in Paris the first time 1571, invited by the Duke of Nevers, Luigi Gonzaga.
When they play in Venice 1574 is seems like Vittoria Piisimi is their primadonna. In any case it is what Alvisio Mocenigo say in a letter where he ask them to come to Venice.
In 1575 Henri III of France traveled to Venice, on his way from Poland, just to see Gelosi. When he came back to Paris he sent a message to the Dodge of Venice asking him to let him invite them to his court. The Republic of Venice immediately sent for Gelosi, who were playing in Milan, and sent them to Paris.
We don’t know when Francesco and Isabella Andreini joined the group, but they were not with the Gelosi could continue. They played in Blois, at the court in Paris and publicly in Salle de Bourbon. The last shows were an outstanding success despite expensive ticket.
They came back to Italy in 1578 and toured there. They have been seen in Florence, Ferrara, Genoa, Mantua and Venice. The might also have been back in France, but there is no evidence of that. There are also those who think they went on a short tour to England.
1578 was also the year when Francesco Andreini married a 16 year old Isabella Canali, later Andreini. It is possible that it was then when she joined the company.

The Duke of Mantua banished Gelosi in Maj 1579, for reasons we don’t know. In July 1582 they were in conflict with him again.
1579 they also play Venice and Genoa. They play Milano in 1580 and at the Carnival in Venice 1581 and 1583.
In 1586 it seems like Gelosi and the Duke of Mantua when Prince Vincenzo Gonzaga accepts Isabella’s and Francesco’s daughter as godchild.
1588 are they back in Paris, but the all actors gets forbidden to play comedies, acrobatics or other refinements, neither in French or Italian.
The same year Isabella Andreini publishes her pastoral Mirtilla.
In 1589 they play at one of Europe’s grandest event – the wedding between Princesses Christine of Lorraine and the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand Medici I in Florence. They played intermezzi in between other shows, like La Pellegrina by Girolamo Bargagli. This is also when Isabella Andreini and Vittoria Piissimi, the two prima donnas of Gelosi, quarrels about who’s dash performance should be played, La Pazzia d’Isabella or La Zignana.
1590 they plat in Milano for two months, where they seek help to pay the rent of their stanze by the Duke. They also play for the Duke of Manuta just after Vittoria have been there playing La Zingana with Confidenti.
1561 Isabella Andreini publish her book Rime.
During the winter and the spring 1603 and 1604 Gelosi goes back to Paris and play the French court, this time invited by Henri IV. When they return to Italy they are equipped with expensive gifts, a letter of insurance and a letter praising their skill by Catherine de’ Medici. When they stopped in Lyon Isabella Andreini died in miscarriage 11 of June 1604. It was an enormous funeral with princes and celebrities from near and far. Francesco Andreini quite acting and dissolved the company and the actors spread to other companies. Instead he sat down to write and publish his performances and Isabella’s letters.

See also:
Prolog or opening in Commedia dell’Arte
Stage strategies
Morens fånge (The Prisoner of the Moor)

Filed in 1 Commedia dell'Arte | Comment Now

The famous Commedia dell’Arte companies and their time.

During the heydays of Commedia dell’Arte, from the fifteen sixties to the middle of the seventeenth century, there was some real famous companies. Many of them were established as soon as around 1570 in larger parts of Europe. Many of those famous companies in the end of the sixteenth century could work relatively independent as artist. Among others we know that Francesco Andreini refused a contract with the duke of Manuta in 1585. Some of these actors were not even attached to any specific company and work as freelance.

It is also these groups and actors we know most about since they often played at banquets, anniversaries and state visits at the great courts among the intelligentsia in contemporary Europe, where they often got described in letters and diaries. Many of the members of the famous companies were also educated and from better families. Off course that helped to gain social and cultural recognition and thereby get accepted and be able to enjoy stardom in royal and other powerful circles.

Francesco Andreini

The elite of the Commedia dell’Arte groups were, as we can see HERE, inter-braided in networks or coteries where everyone must have known each other. It is easy to think that they also functioned as separators, where they were careful not to let in any other competing companies in the elite that could tour the royal castles and palaces of Europe. We also know about the harsh competitions among the companies. (See HERE)

The famous groups were either in service at one of the courts or had strong tires to a powerful patron. To be engaged at a court was at the time the only possibility to gain social status and be recognized.
The duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga, married the young Commedia dell’Arte actress Aurelia. Connections with the duke, who was a great theatre lover, was a backdoor to stardom for actors.
As these successful Commedia dell’Arte groups become recognized they also became more aware of their strength, both professional and social. Many of them got letters of insurance, both from their own patrons and from other rulers. That could protect them from other princes who might not be as benevolent.

See also:
The life among Commedia dell’Arte companies
The comic, dramatic combat in Commedia dell’Arte
Commedia dell’Arte-lecture

Filed in 1 Commedia dell'Arte | Comment Now

A list of actors from the heydays of Commedia dell’Arte

What we will be looking at are the actors from the most famous Commedia dell’Arte groups of its time. It is also those actors we have most and most interesting information about. Let us not believe that they are representative for al Commedia dell’Arte groups from the time. That would be like studying that Rolling Stones or Lady Gaga to learn about the general music scene today, or that Broadway or European royal institutions would be representative for today’s theatre just because it is what the media writes about. Neither are there any evidence that they would be better than their less fortunate colleagues.

Here is a list of actors of some of the most famous actors from the middle of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century:

Here is a list of actors of some of the most famous actors from the middle of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century:

  • Andrea Frajacomi da Bologna                  Uniti                                            Trivellino
  • Andrea Mangini da Genoa                         Uniti                                            Adriano
  • Adriano Valerini da Verona                        Gelosi                                         Aurelio
  • Antonella Bajardi                                        Gelosi                                         Vittoria (The role that Vittoria Piissimi created)
  • Batta Fiorillo                                                Uniti                                            Scaramuzza, at least from 1614.
  • Battista da Treviso                                      Uniti                                            Franceschina, 1584
  • Domenico Bruni                                           Gelosi, Confidenti                 Innamorato 
  • Drusiano Martinelli                                    Confidenti , Uniti, Accesi    Arlecchino, capocomicofrom 1587. He was also Tristanos older brother. He also travelled to England 1570 with his wife Angelica.
  • Girolamo Fiorillo                                         Uniti                                            Innamorato
  • Diana Ponti                                                   Desiosi, Uniti                           Innamorata och capocomico in Desiosi
  • Domenico Biancolelli                                  the Fiorelli company            Arlecchino
  • Flaminio Scala                                              Gelosi, Confidenti, Accesi and Desiosi. He was Innamorato and capocomico for Gelosi and Confidenti.  He was Gelosis first leader. We don’t know when he abdicated to Francesco Andreini, but it was after that he joined, and sometimes led, other groups. He also wrote the first printed collection of scenari, Il Teatro della Favole Rappresentative in1611 and Le Bravure del Capitano Spavento in 1607.
  • Francesco Andreini                                     Gelosi                                         Innamorato, Capitano, Dottore, and more. He was for the longest time Gelosi’s undisputed leader. He was faithful to Gelosi and dispended the company and quit acting when his wife Isabella died in 1604.
  • Francesco Gabrielli                                    Confidenti, Uniti, Fedeli     Scapino
  • Gabrielo Panzanini                                   Gelosi                                         Franca Trippa
  • Girolamo Salimboni da Firenze              Gelosi                                         ZanobioFedeli
  • Giovan Battista Andreini                         Fedeli, Gelosi                          Innamorato, Arlecchinooch capocomico. The son of Francesco and Isabella
  • Giovanni Gabrielli                                     On his own                               Charlatano The father of Francesco Gabrielli
  • Giovanni Pellesini                                       Accesi, Uniti, Fedeli              Pedrolino
  • Giulio Pasquati da Vicenza                       Gelosi                                         Pantalone
  • Isabella Andreini                                        Gelosi (Uniti, Confidenti)   Innamorata and primadonna or Isabella, the role she created herself and wish got her name. She was Commedia dell’Arte’s and the sixteenth century’s mega star.  
  • Jacomo Braga da Ferrara                        Uniti                                            Pantalone
  • Lidia de Bagnacavallo                                                                                        Gelosi             Innamorata
  • Luigi Riccoboni                                           His own company                  Innamorato
  • Ludovico da Bologna                                  Gelosi                                         Dottore
  • Nicolo Barbieri                                            Confidenti, Fedeli                 Beltrame
  • Ottavio Bernardino da Roma                   Uniti                                            Franceschina
  • Orazio Nobili                                               Gelosi                                         Innamorato
  • Orsola Cecchini                                           Accesi                                         Innamorata
  • Pier Maria Cecchini                                   Accesi                                         Fritellinoand capocomicoHe seem to be known for being a selfish leader and hard to work with
  • Ricci Frederigo                                           Accesi                                         Pantalone
  • Ricci Frederigos son                                  Accesi                                        Innamorato
  • Silvia Roncagli da Bergamo                    Gelosi                                        Franceschina och Lesbino
  • Silvio Fiorillo da Napoli                           Uniti, Accesi, Desiosi            Capitano Matamoros
  • Simone da Bologna                                  Gelosi                                        Arlecchino
  • Tiberio Fiorilli                                           the Fiorelli company            Scaramuccia och capocomico Probably son to Silvio Fiorillo
  • Tristano Martinelli                                   Confidenti , Accesi, Desiosi                         Arlecchino and later capocomico He wrote Compositions de Rhetorique in 1601. It can also be he who ”invented” Arlecchino.
  • Vittoria Piissimi                                         Gelosi, Uniti, Confidenti,    Innamorata and probably Gelosi’s firs primadonna capocomica. Her stardom was probably gradually overtaken by Isabella Andreini, who joined the group about 1578, 16 years old.
  • Virginia Ramponi/Andreini                      Fedeli                                         Innamorata, Giovan Battistas fist wife
  • Virginia Rotari/Andreini                           Fedeli                                         Innamorata, Giovan Battistas second wife
  • Zan Ganassa                                               With his own company       Second  Zanni and capocomicoHe and his group was the first we know the name of, but apart from that we don’t know very much.

See also:
What we really know about Commedia dell’Arte
Theories of Laughter and Comedy
About Micke’s Workshops and lectures

Filed in 1 Commedia dell'Arte | Comment Now

Understanding the mask

The task of the mask is to enlarge and, at the same time, clarify the character of the mask/role. We have already mentioned that the masks are representing archetypes, that they are driven by their urges, appetites and desires rather than psychology, since they don’t have a past, nor a future. The masks are still human – even if they never become “real humans” – with their own special urges.

When we put on a mask we must, in a way, limit ourselves. The mask does not only have its own way of moving, but also a way to see the world. It is the limitations of the mask that create its character. We must give up for the mask and obey its limitations.
The easiest way in to the masks is through their bodies; their posture, gestures and bodily attitudes. Commedia dell’Arte for example have, during its 500-years of tradition, developed the masks in a way that not only make them visually distinct for the audience, but also physically obvious for the actors, in a way that when putting on the mask, use its posture and voice the actor immediately understands the driving forces and limitations of the mask. When we, for example, use the mask of Pantalone; bending our knees and forward our hips until its hard even to take a step, bend our backs and shoulders as if protecting his purse and genitals, letting the hands from the elbow be constantly active; we can, by listening to what our bodies, in that position, has to say understand that he is an old but virile man, who’s interest is about sex and money.
It is surely good to talk about the mask, its urges, its approach and so on. But the most important work for the actor, to understand the mask, is to simply obey it. It is not an intellectual process – it is the mask that through the body, tells the actor how it is supposed to be played.

The mask is one-dimensional and static. It only shows one side of the human. (See HERE) The actor cannot express him- or herself through the mask. When the actor no longer is letting the mask control the actions, he starts to compromise its limitations and thereby complicate the mask. He decompose the character of the mask. 
Neither does the mask change and therefore cannot develop as individual. Even if the mask goes from happy, uncaring to losing all in shame he will not learn. The mask is the same that it ever was, just as any cartoon.
That also goes for the external circumstances. If the masks would change status and presumptions the contrast between them would, and much of the, drama die. This is also the main reason why the it is very hard to exchange the roles in in modern drama for masks.

On the other hand we may talk about, at least in Commedia dell’Arte, the swing of the character[1]. Every mask includes its opposite. The mask can in any given moment suddenly play its opposite if the plot allows it. These moments are always most temporary and the masks always goes right back to their usual characters, in order not to be obscure.

See also:
Mask and the Sense of Time
The Official Theatre
Micke’s Commedia dell’Arte Lecture


[1] A term that comes from Dell´Arte International School in Blue Lake, USA.

Filed in Mask theatre | Comment Now

Commedia dell’Arte and text

Hearing about how the great Commedia dell’Arte groups trained and prepared their masks, we also hear a lot about how much they read (See example). It doesn’t necessarily mean that they used the texts on stage. It can just as well have been to learn from the style, metaphorical language and the tone they were written in and in that way use the written/learned way of speaking. Except from that we can once again point out that most of our sources come from the groups with better means who both could read and had access to books, we can also see how the theatre begins to glorify the written word and literature as something “finer” than movement and the expression of the body.
Among the most ridiculous examples of that from own time is when Swedish actors, up until the fifties, played Strindberg talking in a pronounced written language from the last turn of the century. They did that to venerate the author by not change in his text, while Strindberg himself definitely wanted his lines said in a spoken language.
Commedia dell’Arte was naturally still a physical form of theatre even among the big groups all the way up to the eighteens century. We can see that in lazzi, collections of burle and the rich material of images we have.
Among the about 800 scenari that are still preserved, the plot was mostly taken from Commedia Erudita, but much was also from popular traditions like fairytales and narrativetraditions, the dramatic exercises from the carnival, the diavolas etc. Therefore we cannot say if the scenari of Commedia dell’Arte was original (just as if Shakespeares plots ever were). Since there were no laws about copyrights, it was open to steal from other group and shows. In that way they develop each other’s ideas. The value of the shows was not in the plots or scenari, but in the actor’s performance.
That is also why the actors did not value a scenario as high as their own zimbaldoni, since it was more personal. Scenari could be used of others, changed or was printed for publishing, while an actor’s zimbaldone was his own repertoire book filled with personal lazzi, monologues concetti, burle and so on. It was also his livelihood with his unique collection of knowledge that was held secret for others.
It is also there where the actors found their ready rehearsed lazzi and so on, that they used in their shows. Most of those so mystified improvisation in Commedia dell’Arte performances are more to be seen as compositions of already prepared elements.

1601 is the year that Arlecchino is first mentioned in writing in France. It was written by Tristano Martinelli, who also played Arlecchino, in a pamphlet named: Compositions de Rhetorique.

When talking about Commedia dell’Arte during its first years, no one mentioned the use of mask, even though we have lots of images that clearly shows the use mask. I seems as it was more or less obvious or that one did not make very much difference between the roles that wore mask and those who didn’t.
We would not know the name of Pier Maria Cecchini if he hadn’t published books. In all other sources about him he is only called Frittelino. Neither do we know the name of a certain Flaminia, who shows up in a lot of documents.
We must remember that the first Commedia dell’Arte actors did not just take over already existing masks. They also created them to their needs, from old traditions and by observe their contemporary. The mask was also created for the specific actors that first wore them, after their knowledge and talents.

The first scenari that was published was not meant to be a tool for actors, but for just reading. Those who published their scenari wanted to make money or a place for themselves in the literary world.

See also:
Commedia dell’Arte
Commedia Erudita
Micke’s videos

Filed in 1 Commedia dell'Arte | Comment Now

To play mask

The mask demands in itself vast energy. If the actor doesn’t “fill” the mask it doesn’t come to life. Everyone who has seen an actor act in a mask without the energy it demands, with movements just like ordinary life, … Read the rest of this entry

Filed in Mask theatre | Comment Now