The Mask from animal to human

When we use the word mask here we talk about two things – the mask tools itself and the characters and roles of Commedia dell’Arte. The later goes also for the characters that don’t wear a mask since they move and behave after the same rules as the other masks, so that they can exist in the same world.

The mask was first developed by hunters in order to come closer to their prey. They started to dress in animal skins and to imitate the animals they were hunting. These imitations demanded more and more skills as they got ritualized as it became part of the hunting culture. It started as preparations for the hunt and turned in to formalized dances and rites. They impersonated the animals they were going to kill and also acted out the actual killing by the hunter.

Eventually the masks and the animal imitations took place in other rites, such as harvest, passage and fertility rites. These rites developed also masks of spirits, demons, gods, devils, even heroes and other humans. But the masks were never used to personify the role or character it impersonated as an individual. In the same way as it, from the beginning, only represented the animal that was hunted is the mask always a representative for something larger then itself. The mask has always the function of being the image of the actual variety it is impersonating, like a profession, an age group and so on, or even a specific individual, but then it is a god, a king or a hero who in turn though his variety position is a representing something more than himself.

As the animal imitations become more human when they took place in other rites the content also developed to have more of a plot with an explicit action line. For that reason the character of the masks developed to get more personal characteristics.
Now something interesting starts to happen. This doesn’t make the mask loose its universal qualities, but remains a representative of a variety. Instead the relationship becomes mutual. Characters are created from the masks, like Santa Claus (at least the Swedish version), the Yule Goat, Batman or the Clown for instance.

All masks in all cultures have their origins in the animal world. We can still see, even today in different carnival traditions, everything from pure animal masks to demons, witches, Commedia dell’Arte masks or modern examples like mock Trump masks and Guy Fawkes masks.

See also:
Western bias of the mask
Stage strategies (Part 1)
Workshop in physical theatre

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The church censoring Commedia dell’Arte ( 1 of 2)

It was not easy for Commedia dell’Arte groups to make fun of religion and the church during the latter part of the sixteenth century, after the Council of Trent 1545 – 1563. It was a lot easier during the middle ages and the early renaissance when a more popular culture prevailed. The parody of the church we can find in early Commedia Erudita plays and in medieval popular jesting are not found at all after the middle of the fifteen hundreds. In any case there are no traces after it in Commedia dell’Arte.
The power of the church grew strong and those who wanted to keep their heads in place better stick to the church’s rules. But we must also have in mind that most people at the time were awfully religious and they would not accept their church or religion to be made fun of. As a parallel today we can just think of the popular demand among many Muslims when Salman Ruchdie wrote The Satanoic Verses or when Jyllands-Posten published the Muhammad cartoons.
After the Council of Trent, when the Catholic Church attacked the liberal attitude that was accepted before, theatre and especially Commedia dell’Arte became criticized. This happened even though the church itself contributed to the rebirth of theatre with its passion and mystery plays and even the diavolas. Commedia dell’Arte group, but without women, were even invited to the Vatican.
The theatre was dangerous for the church, not just because it mocked and therefore questioned power structures, but also since it invited to a fairy world filled with dreams and fantasies that could tempt to immoral life instead of a possible place in paradise in the afterlife. Just as some moralists today they were afraid that half naked women, infidelity, girls with to strong will, luxury and exotic clothes, an lighter way of living, rebellious and self-interested servants, men in women’s clothes and women in men’s clothes would have to strong impact on weak and errant persons.
Naturally it was tantalizing to flee reality and forget ones mortality for a while with the aid of these fantasies. But for the church to enforce its power it was essential that people would seek a better life in heaven and not on earth.
They understood that the theatre was a more powerful tool to reach out to people than other forms of art. But the critical warning of the sinful and dangerous expressions in theatre that came from cardinal Carlo Borromeo – archbishop of Milan – the man who led the witch hunt on Commedia dell’Arte groups and actors, was probably not meant to be such a compliment as this (freely translated by Dario Fo):

How much deeper doesn’t that who reach the eye touch the soul then what we read in a book! How much worse doesn’t the word that are said from a voice and supported by gestures hurt the young, then dead words published in a book! The Devil spreads his vermin through the works of the actors

The church and the moralists could not totally condemn all Commedia dell’Arte since it was many groups had reached a social acceptance at the courts and were under the protection of princes and dukes. They could also rely on older Commedia Erudita and the ancient tradition, as most moralists rather see a dead tradition than a living exertion. The Church supported the growing hierarchies among the Commedia dell’Arte groups. They discarded the popular influences from the squares,  the markets and the Carnival. The parts that Michail Bachtin called the Grotesque Realism became looked on as “low”. It is the same contempt as we still can see among the theatre elite who dismiss performances as simple or below-the- belt in order to differ it from “real” comedy. With “real” comedy they almost always mean literary comedy.

The Church and the moralists accused also, with the same snobbism, the poorer Commedia dell’Arte group, that played in the streets and in stanzi, for being commercial. And that they degenerated to perversion and libidinousness to satisfy the taste of the people. Needless to say, the taste of the people were naturally reprehensible.
We should not hide the fact that Commedia dell’Arte are built on sex and violence, as most of the world drama in more or less disguised, but the erotic fantasies and mutilation of the power is never destructive. It is the merry popular carnival traditions, with its allowing character, it’s turning conventions and traditions up-side-down, it’s resurrection of the new year that are mirrored in the pranks and mockery in Commedia dell’Arte.
The Church did not only criticize the theatre as phenomena. They also criticized the actor’s private life. Let us read from an example from one of the most hostile opponents to Commedia dell’Arte, Petrus Hurtado de Medoza from 1631:

The woman are always, or nearly always shameless. Players enjoy a free life together, and the women are not segregated in separate rooms. Thus the men can often see them when they dress, undress or comb themselves, and at times when they are in bed, or when they are half naked. And they are forever exchanging indecencies.
The Husbands are cowards and the women do not respect them, nor do lovers fear them.
Often the women are prostitutes, and rapacious. Often players find themselves performing together, and in order for a woman to effect a quick change and take on a new role a man helps her to undress and then dress again. What more can one say? A young actor, for example, will help an actress put on her shoes, and will tie the lace on her leg, and will not just do this on the stage, but also near a bed, those who are familiar with troupes and players are witness to this, and by them I have been told it.
On stage, players portray the love exchanges of characters in plays and such exchanges between men and woman act like burning darts. Players likewise embrace squeeze hands, kiss, fondle each other, and make secret assignations on stage. Why should they not perform, for real in the bedroom what they feign on the stage?
Thus I conclude that these many and frequent opportunities bring some grave danger of adultery and other crimes, and it is thus impossible for such people to avoid immorality […]”

Go to:
Part 2

See also:
Vulgar Comedy and the Church
Mirakeldoktorn (The Miracle Doctor)
Stanislavsky’s system v/s Vulgar Comedy

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The theatre spaces in the heydays of Commedia dell’Arte

People went to the theatre of quite other reasons, socially and culturally, all the way up to the nineteenth century. First of all: the lights were not turned down in the auditorium. It was first in the middle of the nineteenth century that Richard Wagner started to shut the light in the auditorium in order for the audience to focus on the play on stage. The audience was not necessarily there to just sit and watch. It was more a place for social interaction as a place to witch a play. Wine was served; the boxes were furnished with drapery so one could avoid being disturbed by the play when courting their mistresses. An adequate comparison may be when we go to a club to see a rock or jazz concert today. We may choose the club for the sake of the band, but the social intercourse is just as important. We talk and comment the band on stage as they play.
Or to recite a French visitor in Venice by the end of the seventeenth century:

The Young Nobility do not go much to the Comedy to laugh at the Buffoonery of the Actors, as to play their own ridiculous Parts: commonly bring Courtesans with them to their Boxes, where there is such a confusion and sometimes such surprising Accidents, so contrary to the Rules of Decency, which are at least due to all Public Places, that one must indeed in these Transactions before he can believe them. One of their most ordinary Diversions is not only to spit in the Pit, but likewise to pelt them with Snuffs and ends of Candles, and if they perceive any one decently clad, or with a Feather in his Hat, they are sure to ply him with the best of their endeavors, which they may do as being free from all notice or punishment; for the Nobles that are the Protectors of the Theater, having their Bravo’s in disguise at the doors, who are well armed, and ready to obey Orders: Besides the Comedy and Opera are look’d upon as Privilege-places where the least Violence would be reckon’d a Crime of State.

The liberty which they in the Pit take, according to the Example of the Nobility, do’s finally raise the Confusion to the outmost height. The Gondoliers chiefly do give their impertinent Applauses at some Action of the Buffoons, that would be tolerated in no other Place; neither is it seldom that the whole House makes such terrible Exclamations against the Actors, who are not so happy as to please, that they are forced to retire to be succeeded by others; for the continual cry is, fuora buffoni.”

In the renaissance Commedia dell’Arte was often played in rented spaces that were made for theatre, so called stanze. It was usually simple rooms, but gradually there where probably no greater difference between a theatre and a stanze. In Genoa theatre was played in Osteria dell Falcone since 1566 that became Teatro dell Falcone in 1644.
It was still a certain status to play in a simple stanze. One had control over the greater part of the performance. Even though most part of the audience went there to mingle with others, the performance was the main event in the room, in comparison with playing in the streets and markets. All groups were not rich enough to rent spaces. But in spite of the rent it was still the commercial best places to play. One could charge the audience and even set the price. Also the greatest and most famous groups were forced to play in public spaces to survive. They even started to take pre-bookings.

Planning became important; spaces should be rented; contracts should be written; ads and publicity became crucial for a group to make it. Impresarios, like Alvise Michiel and Ettore Tron in Venice, showed up. They built public theatre buildings and contracted Commedia dell’Arte groups.  These impresarios became more and more important, first in Venice and then further over Italy. Stanzi and theatres sprung out, like San Cassiano, San Luca and San Moisé in Venice. By the end of the seventeenth century there were sixteen theatres in Venice.  
Here is a letter about the theatres and stanzi that grew up in Venice:

23 may 1607, Ascension Day Eve. A group of actors have begun playing public performances in the town for six or eight soldi per person (it was 30 years ago that the Jesuits banned these comedies). They played first in S. Alvise in Ca’Lipamano, then in Rio Marin in S. Basegio in rooms rented by actors. Since the taste for this entertainment started to grow in the town, the theatre in S. Cassano became built by the Tron family, the theatre in S. Moise by the Zustiniano family and the theatre in S. Salvador by the Vendramin family. Things developed so that three groups played simultaneous and all attracted big crowds, and was used to play from S. Martin to Lent and from “sense” to the middle July.”

From the beginning the Commedia dell’Arte stages were always simple, a scene that was in the street or a square, without scene changes. But by the end of the seventeenth century it became more complex technique.

Commedia dell’Arte’s audience came from all classes; it was both men and women since they played indoors. There were voices however who were raised saying that it was unmorally for better women to attend public performances. It was less sensitive if a performance was shown, by a famous group, in a private context.

But it was, from the start, above all a male appearance, for the rich. We can read that from the moralists who thought that married men brought the “fantasies of the theatre” to their private life and the fact that the shows was free for torch bearer and prostitutes.

See also:
The Roots to all Western Popular Comedy
A Commedia dell’Arte Chronology
Micke’s directing

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The Street as Venue (Part 2)

When it comes to Commedia dell’Arte and other masked theatre that are using entrées and sorties we need a backdrop. We don’t want the actors to vanish away in a distance.
Since it is easy for the wind to make the backdrop to giant sail it is important that the material in the backdrop is not to dense so the air can go through. In other cases one can do “mouths” in the backdrop. (Just make sure to make them happy mouths.)
The backdrop should be at least 2,5 meter tall, so that it really make a background for the actors. We must have in mind the angle when the spectators are standing on the ground while the actors are up on the stage.

The placing of the stage is also important when playing in the streets. Every town and every street corner looks different. Therefore it is not possible to put up any general rules for where to put up the stage, but here is some pieces of advice that will help to be seen and heard:

  • When playing in the evening make sure it is the actors, not the audience that has the sun in their eyes. This is even more important to think about when it is a haze or when the sun momentarily is going into clouds. After all it is more important that the audience sees the actors clearly than the other way around.
  • The actors should have the wind in their backs in order to have the wind to carry the actor’s voices the right way. It is hard to hear from the stage how much of the sound reaches the audience. We will have to lean on the audience’s response.
  • If there is a possibility to find a place where we can find a wall behind the audience where the sound can bounce back much of the difficulties in playing outdoors can be solved.
  • If there also is possible to find a corner of the square or an alley, rather than playing in the middle of the square, it would help. It is admittedly more people that see the show, but it is necessarily not those who stay for any length of time. If we don’t attract a very large crowd who can work as a wall around the stage themselves, there will be lots of distractions for the audience. Most of the people passing are also people who are already going somewhere and don’t have time to stay.
  • It is also worth figuring out how we want the audience to be placed around or in front of the stage, depending of what kind or show we want to play.

Go to Part 1

See also:
Carnival and the popular feast 
The mask, costume and stage
Allting på…! (Everything on…!)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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