After watching West Sound Academy's production of See How They Run and having a short discussion with the class, we were able to identify many stock Comedia characters in the 1940s farce.
First, the maid in See How They Run, Ida, mirrors the traits of Columbina. She is independent-thinning and a little rebellious like Columbina, and is a servant to a higher master. We discussed the possibility of her being Harlequino or Brigella, but decided that she was not goofy and Comedia enough to be Harlequino and was more independent than Brigella.
Next, we looked at the role of Miss Skillon. She is an irritable spinster who attempts to expose the vicker's wife as being adulterous. We felt that her character resembled Pantalone because of the scheming that she does throughout the play. She also is rather cantankerous and grouch which is similar to Pantalone as well.
The Russian spy was similar to Zani because he was a stranger to the house that he was in and his movements were big and somewhat curious. Although this was the closest parallel to a Comedia character that we could find for the spy, his character does not fit that of Zani perfectly. While Zani is usually somewhat innocent and naive, the spy had a distinct scheme for hat he wanted to accomplish and was portrayed as more villainous than Zani would be.
We decided that the Bishop's character closely resembled that of Il Doctroe. While they are both very knowledgeable about their subjects, they are somewhat bumbling and too kind for their own good, often resulting in them being easily duped. In addition, Il DOctore is shown to have a big belly, which was a part of the Bishop's costume.
Finally, we felt that Penelope and the Corporal were somewhat like to young lover. They spend the majority of the play running around together and it is their apparent relationship that incites the conflict in the play. In addition, they are both young and hopeful, believing that the world is their oyster.
This week in theatre, we continued to research our chose theatre theorist in preparation to present slideshows about their theory and influences. To do this, I first visited several websites that contained biographical information about Meyerhold in order to get a better understanding of how his personal life may have affected his work. Second, I looked at what was going on in the world when he was crating his pieces to understand the social influences that may have had an influence in what he was producing In addition, I explored the relationships that he had with other people in the theatre industry.
One important factor that influenced Meyerhold's work was the Constuctivism art movement that was happening in Russia where Meyerhold, also in Russia, was directing plays. The wild lines and shapes that can be found in Constructivist art pieces were adapted by Meyerhold to be used on the stage in sets. These could include things such as ladders, ramps, stairways, and trapezes that the acrobatic actors in Meyerholds plays would move around on. The style of the set, derived from Constructivism, had a huge influence on the way that the people on stage were able to interact with the set.
Another influence on Meyerhold's work was Constantin Stanislavski. Meyerhold worked under Stanislavski for a time, but after the two had a falling out, Meyerhold moved away to begin his own theatre troupe. Their styles almost oppose each other, Meyerhold's being about developing one's character from the outside, using movement, and Stanislavski's focused on developing character from the inside,using personal experiences.
This week in theatre, we began to work on mini theatre theorist research presentations in preparation for several projects that we will have to do in the coming months. First, this project will provide us with practice in the area of conducting research on a theatre theorist, which will be a useful skill to have for next year’s solo project. Next, we will have to present to the class, which will provide us with the presentation skills that we will need for when we present our theatre tradition projects at the end of the year. I feel that this mini project is a great introduction to these essential skills, and is a slightly lower-stakes practice run that will prepare us well for the materials that we will be submitting to IB.
I began my research by finding a list and choosing a theorist that looked interesting. Luckily, the theorist that I chose, Vsevolod Meyerhold, had a lot of easily accessible biographical information as well as information regarding his theatre theories. Next, I watched a short video of a play put on by a college that presented an example of Meyerhold’s biomechanical theatre style. I felt that it was important to watch a performance in addition to reading about biomechanics because this style of theatre deals largely with precise body movements and physical actions that are easier to understand from a video than from simply reading about them. I was intrigued by how Meyerhold’s precise movements seen in his theatre style could be applied to the events happening during his lifetime. It is thought that his movements were reflections of the exact and calculated movements used by Russian workers during Meyerhold’s time. I also discovered that his work was considered very controversial in Russia and that he was killed because of this. I plan to investigate why the government did not approve of his work, and what prompted him to continue to spread his messages.
In addition to research, we also were able to watch the solo projects presented by the seniors in our class. I was very grateful for this opportunity because before I watched the performances, I had only a vague idea of what would be expected of me when I presented next year. Now, I feel much more prepared and am more aware of how to use the ideas and methods of a theatre theorist and apply them to a work of theatre.
Last week in theatre we presented our comedia piece after rehearsing it (for the first time) with everyone in our group. We felt a bit rushed on the day that we had to present because I had to leave early and we were not sure if only running it through a couple of times would be enough. However, once we started performing, most of what we had struggled with fell into place.
During our final rehearsal time, we re-evaluated the style of grammelot that we would be using. We decided that because a few of us continued to resort back to “z” and “I” sounds, we would use these as our go-to words, with occasional substitutions of different consonants. I feel that this worked well in our presentation and although we were not perfect, for the most part, we sounded like we were speaking a similar language.
Another thing that we were worried about was everyone being in the right place at the right time because we had never practiced with so many bodies on the stage at once. Despite our worries, everyone remembered their blocking and no one was tripping over each other. I credit this to our many class periods spent rehearsing on the stage before we performed. Although not everyone was there during rehearsal, we were able to sub in for each other to get an idea of what person went where at what time, and I think that our practicing was evident in our performance.
The one thing that I would have changed about our performance was the way that we blocked the prop orange coming out of the bag of oranges and leading to Harlequino’s choking scene. We set the scene before the performance by putting an orange in a bag full of stuffing so that when Harlequino pulls the orange out of the bag, it looks as though it is really filled with oranges. He is then supposed to take a bite of the orange and choke on it. However, when Brigella chases him and hits him with the bag, the orange would sometimes get lost and would be hard to find in the stuffing. During every rehearsal, I had been able to locate the orange, but in the performance, it as nowhere to be found. Although I just ended up pretending that I had an orange, I experienced a moment of panic when I was looking for it and all the attention from the audience was on me trying to locate the orange. I feel that with better planning, this small mishap could have been avoided. Despite this, I was very proud of the way that our comedia piece turned out, and I had a lot of fun learning about this style of theatre.
This week in theatre we continued to work on our comedia piece, catching people up and refining our work. The main part of our piece that we worked on smoothing out was the Grammelot.
The first thing we did was read over our outline again to be sure that we were all on the same page regarding what part of our piece went where. Because we had not run the piece for a few days and had never run it with everyone, we felt that this was a good course of action, and I feel that it really helped us to cement our ideas. Next, we ran through the piece, paying close attention to the things that we felt needed to be improved upon. We also worked on better incorporating a character who we felt was not fitting into the story as well as we would have liked. To do this, we altered the blocking a little in order to make the story flow more smoothly.
A major part of our story relies on our character’s abilities to use grammelot in order to communicate their ideas. Because we are all relatively inexperienced in speaking grammelot, this presented us with a real challenge. While we could all speak it relatively well, we had trouble all sounding like we were speaking the same type of grammelot. To remedy this, we sat in a circle and decided on a couple of consonants and vowels to use, then practiced having a conversation using those. When picking what sounds to use, we considered what we were comfortable with. We had noticed that some of us kept reverting back to specific sounds, and we tried to incorporate this into our uniform grammelot in order to make it flow smoothly for everyone. We also tried to relate our grammelot to a particular language influence, so that we would all have a basic idea of what we wanted it to sound like. We experimented with several different dialects, including Swedish, German, Spanish, and Italian. Although we made progress, we wanted to make sure that we were able to confer with everyone in the group before making a final decision, which was difficult because not everyone was there.
In addition to grammelot, we also worked on exaggerating the physicality of our characters. We had been so focused on the plot and the grammelot, that I feel we somewhat neglected the traits of the stock characters. Luckily, when we were designing the scenes, we had been thinking about the personalities of the stock characters and incorporating them into the motivations behind why they do what they do in the piece. Because of this, it was relatively simple to add more character; we had the basics and just needed to work on making our performance bigger. We did this by encouraging Pantalone to hunch over more, the doctor to be jollier and to hold his belly, Brigella to be sterner and commanding of Harlequino, and Harlequino to be more monkey-like.
Overall, I feel that once we have had a chance to run through our piece with everyone, we will be ready to perform, although I am sure that given more time we would be able to find a multitude of small details to improve upon.
This week, we continued to refine and practice our Commedia piece. However, one challenge that we faced was that we did not have all of the members of our group to practice with, which meant that some decisions were made without everyone there. It also meant that we had to fill in for the missing actors at times when we were practicing, which made it difficult to play our own characters at the same time.
Despite this, we made good progress with the development of our piece. We were able to run through our piece with most of the actors and work out issues with the props and costumes. For example, we found out that if we spilled fruit on the stage, it could not be round (like apples or oranges) because it would roll in every direction and pose a tripping hazard to the other actors. We also adjusted some elements of our set, finding that the tables we had planned on using for the fruit stand and Walmart were too big, and that small chairs worked much better. We also decided to add a bench in the middle of the stage to give the characters a place in between the two shops to interact. In addition, we are also planning to use the bench to contribute to one of our lazzi moments.
For the rest of our lazzi, we worked to make it more exaggerated and humerus in order to be sure that it was recognizable as lazzi. We watched each other perform our moments of lazzi and gave both complements and advice. I feel that I personally was able to adjust the way that I approached my lazzi in order to improve it.
We also adjusted elements of our script to make sure that our story flowed smoothly, made sense, and included all of the characters. We discovered that Il Doctore did not have much to do, so we added him into an existing scene and discovered that it made our story much more coherent. Before the first run-through of our piece, we had been set on not using Grammelot, fearing that we did not have enough experience with it and that it would be confusing for our audience. However, after running through the piece and talking with our mentors, we decided that our story was clear enough to be understood without using English and that without the added stress of formulating correct English sentences, it was easier for us to add in more physical exaggeration that is characteristic of Commedia.
Last week in theatre, we worked on creating scenes of lazzi and finding props, sets and costumes for our Comedia piece. We were able to continue to refine our storyline and develop our characters through some of the lazzi exercises, and this helped in in deciding how to design the set and costumes.
For our moments of lazzi, we had a list of some proposed lazzi ideas to work off of, and we used these as inspiration to develop our comedic moments. For one moment of lazzi, we decided to have Harlequino choking on a piece of fruit. This is significant because our story is about fruit, but the scene with Harlequino choking is not directly related to our plot, merely providing comedic relief. We also have a scene where Pantalone falls over and is attempting to get up off of the ground, but he is having trouble due to his old age. We decided that it would be funny and fit with the idea of lazzi to have him refuse help due to his stubborn nature. Another scene of lazzi that we developed was to have Brigella hitting Harlequino with a bag of oranges. This shows the relationship between Brigella and Harlequino because although they are both servants, Brigella feels that she is in charge of Harlequino. We had a lot of fun developing these scenes, and although we were originally skeptical of an entire scene that dis nothing to contribute to the plot, we ultimately recognized that this was an aspect of Comedia that sets it apart from other forms of theatre.
We also worked on finding costumes, sets and props for our show. I felt that we did a good job of combining the characterization of the stock characters with the modern setting of our play, and this is reflected in the costumes. We decided to give Il Doctore a large belly because we felt that it would fit with his character, and also help the actor get into the mindset of the character (his belly is almost overflowing with knowledge). In addition, it is entirely possible that Il Doctore’s character (the owner of a fruit stand) would have a large belly from eating all of the food that he is selling. For Harlequino, we dressed him in clashing colors to show the “jester” side of his character, but we put a Walmart name tag in his sweater to show that he worked in the modern setting of our play. We wanted to keep the sets relatively simple, but an essential part of our story revolves around fruit, so we have a well-stocked fruit stand with plenty of fruit. The fruit plays into the story in many ways and is used for much more than decoration and setting the scene. Characters bond over it and use it for lazzi.
We hope that the thought we put into the scenic and design elements will help contribute to the story. In addition, it is our hope that the work we have done with characterization, humor, and lazzi will make our piece appealing to the audience, and true to the art of comedia.
Over the past week, I have been working in a group of three other students to work on creating a piece of comedia to present. This task has been a very interesting process and has been filled with many challenges and breakthroughs so far.
To begin, we all got together and had a group brainstorming session to bounce around ideas such as what characters we were interested in playing, what type of scene we wanted to create, and how the characters that we chose would fit within the scene. We had some trouble coming up with a concrete idea at first, and kept changing our minds about what we wanted our scene to look like. We were also torn between whether or not to use grammelot and if it was a good idea to try and incorporate homemade masks into our scene.
An idea that appealed to all of us from the beginning of the process was to have the story revolve around the idea of two forbidden lovers. This would allow us to explore the concept of the young lover characters, as well as the feud between Panalone and Il Doctore. We also decided to incorporate the parts of Harlequino and Brigella, as those characters were interesting to us and we wanted to use them to create some humorous moments of lazzi.
Regarding lazzi, we were able to find moments for almost all of the characters to have moments of physical comedy, and were able to refine our lazzi-related ideas with the help of a couple of mentors. They also gave us pointers on effective ways to move the story along without having it become convoluted (while staying true to our vision), and were helpful when we had questions about how stock characters might react in certain situations.
This week in theatre, we began to study commedia dell'arte. We did this through a combination of theatre exercises, videos, and viewing a performance.
We began by watching videos about the art of commedia from the National Theatre, they described the different ways in which the characters move and speak and think. We looked at a chart that showed the hierarchy of the characters and began to understand the relationships that each of the characters have with each other and with themselves. For example, I thought it was interesting that although the stock character Columbina is a servant, she is able to talk with the upper-class characters and fits in with both groups. I also found it intriguing how it was mainly the servants who wore the masks while the characters who appeared higher on the chart, such as the first actor and actress and their children, had their faces exposed. Despite this, we learned that the characters are supposed to intersect with each other as if no one is wearing masks, and the idea of concealed faces and exaggerated features is simply the norm.
We also participated in some exercises to help us feel the roles of the characters for ourselves. First, we simply walked around in a circle acting like each character in order to better understand the physical stance that they take when they stand and move. Then, we began to work a little bit with the concept of grammelot. We learned that although grammelot is a nonsense language, it must appear to be understood by the actors. It also was good for audiences who did not speak the same language as the actors, as it would allow them to communicate their ideas in another way without eliminating the concept of speech. We practiced speaking grammelot with a partner, working to make sure that our ways of speaking sounded similar enough to make it believable that we were speaking the same language. We then combined the stock character traits with what we had learned about grammelot and practiced improvising scenes using what we had learned about commedia.
Finally, we watched a production of a theatre company that used commedia to influence their work. Although they did not speak in grammelot, it was interesting to identify the stock characters within the play and see how the stock character’s mannerisms had been incorporated into the story. Personally, I am very excited to continue studying commedia. It was so different from all of my past theatre experience that I was not sure what to make of it at first, but the more I learn about it, the more I am intrigued by the wonderful and wacky possibilities that it holds. I am also starting to recognize characteristics of the stock characters in plays that I see, and I am realizing that commedia may not be as foreign to me as I thought when I began to learn about it.
This week in class we were presented with a challenge, though we did not realize it at first. The task seemed simple enough: choose one aspect of Brecht's theory and find a theatre exercise that related to it. The challenging part of the assignment was that each person was supposed to choose a different theory. We began to research, but the more that we looked into Brecht, the more we realized that all of the aspects of his theory are interconnected and that in choosing one, everyone was forced to touch upon most of he others as well. Almost all of the exercises that we found were directly related to with er Gestus or Alienation in some manner, these being two of the most important parts of Brecht's theatre theory. This was very frustrating at first, but I feel that as a class we were able to work through it and came out with a better understanding of how Brecht's theory works. It was also a good lesson in perseverance and collaboration with other people as we worked to solve the problem.
I ended up finding an exercise called the street game that is centered around alienation and being to take your acting out of your character in order for your character to become someone else on stage. One person acts as a police officer, and the rest of the people pretend that they have just witnessed a terrible occurrence (I chose to make this the robbing of a bank). The characters must describe what they have seen to the police officer related to the event by re-enacting what happened to the police officer, but pretending to be someone that they saw during the robbery. I hope that this exercise will be helpful in understanding the way that other characters and actors think, and I believe that it will be a good way to further understand the concept of alienation.