Commedia dell’Arte is known as “professional theatre” and began in Italy in the early 16th century. The genre spread quickly throughout Europe, most noticeably in France and was a fundamental influence in a number of theatre styles: slapstick comedy, improvisation, opera, musical theatre, physical theatre, vaudeville and later, TV sitcoms. Known for being fundamentally human by planting itself in the immediacy of life through universal themes and basic human necessities, Commedia dell’Arte is characterised by its stock characters, masks, improv and physical comedy. The timeless representation of humanity through four identifiable archetypes: zanni, vecchi, innamorati, capitani, bring to life the conflict and status differences existing in everyday life in all cultural contexts. Commedia dell’Arte can be found in the work of Moliere, Lecoq, Shakespeare, Fo and in a range of contemporary theatre, film and TV artists.
Commedia dell’Arte is a system for telling relevant stories developed through the devising process; an improvisation method. These stories expose all the conflicts that arise from differences between social groups, and allow us to laugh at them and be entertained. Studying Commedia dell’Arte helps answer philosophical questions about one’s self, to question concepts of theatre and to develop skills in a range of contemporary acting techniques including Laban, Viewpoints and Lecoq to name a few. It grounds us in our understanding and application of characterisation, improvisation, mask and the expressive nature of the body, as well as the intricate study of specific techniques related to voice, movement, gesture, slapstick and stage combat.