Improvisation in Commedia dell’Arte (Part 2)

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When I work with Commedia dell’Arte I don’t let improvisation be the most important, even though it still is important. I do this for three reasons; Commedia dell’Arte is played from a plot, even though it is of less importance when it comes to why we play; there are very few actors with that tremendous improvisation skills; the fixed elements – the acrobatics, the music, battute, concetti, all forms of disciplines, lazzi – is what I find most interesting in Commedia dell’Arte.
One more thing that makes Commedia dell’Arte is rhythm. We can look at Commedia dell’Arte as a musical representation. Every scene in a performance, every mask all the way down to every gesture or line is sat within a rhythm. It is important to let the audience breath with the performance. This rhythm is what builds up the show to a musical performance. There are rhythm, crescendos and pauses in breathing; therefore it is vital that the actor first listen to the rhythm of the performance before he starts to improvise.
I always start up by creating highly firm scenery, most of the time we are even working from a written script. This gives the actor the security he needs to be able to come back to the rhythm at any time in the play. The actor also learns when not to improvise. The more the actor has to fall back on the more free he can be in his improvisations, without risking to ruin the rhythm of the performance.Callot04
It is when we are getting closer to the opening of a play, having all the firmly fixed sceneries in the actor’s backbone, that we start to fly, in other words we let the improvisations free. This is where we start to use test audiences in order to be sure the play is constantly aimed to it, listening to it and improvising to it by reacting to it. We also start to put ”monkey spanners in the works” in order to force the actors to start improvising so the acting won’t get too static

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