Alberto Ferarro – commedia dell’ arte workshop

On 2 November 2014 Alberto introduced us to the basics of commedia dell’ arte during a six-hour workshop. For me, it was a true pleasure to refresh my knowledge in the art. Alberto stands somewhere between the hard, traditional stance represented by Carlo Boso and that of „rediscovery” as expounded by Francoise Simon. Following his studies at the National Theatre Academy in Venice, Alberto spent five years with the troupe of Carlo Boso, the central workshop of commedia dell’arte in the Eighties and Nineties, partly as professional actor, and is an accomplished leather mask-maker.

After a short introduction, the workshop kicked off with warming-up excercises. After establishing a neutral body posture and the centre of our movement, Alberto complicated the excercise with modified postures, after which it was a relief to resort to our normal, everyday body postures. We understood what kind of physical work forms the basis of this genre. We walked, ran around, tried various forms of eye contact, approached each other, turned away from each other, laid on the ground, collapsed upon someone’s touch and released our energies into madness („little and big bordello”).

The next phase was based on this madness. When Alberto said „stop”, we had to hold our momentary position, and observe what that posture evoked in us emotionally; how it influenced our thoughts and our whole being. Movements were started from these positions, but still keeping its main motifs. Alberto, at times, touched a point in our bodies, which we had to alter and had to observe what these minor alterations evoked; how they gave birth to more and more characters.

Then came contact excercises. We moved in space while maintaining contact, balanced each other’s weights. The last excercise was called „ping pong game”. We had to hit the ball to each other, commedia dell’arte style. Our partner caught the ball after serve in his/her stomach, reacted to the energies received (by reacting, these energies were transformed), and passed the ball back according to his/her own game.

Lunch was followed by a lecture on the structure of commedia dell’arte, the reasons for its birth, its place in theater and about the various characters: their roles in society, their incilnations and qualities. Alberto improvised short pieces with the masks. He offered advice on how to form the body starting out from the mask itself. What directions can be followed, what defines/inspires the movements of a character. He laid down the basic rules of wearing a mask. (One may never put on a mask in front of the audience. The mask may not be touched on stage. Transformation happens when the maks touches the face. The neutral body posture serves as the starting point for all action.)

Following this, everyone got to choose a mask and try them on, whilts observing the basic rules. Four actors had a go, the others watched; then we switched. it was a strange feeling: under the protectin of the mask we took to play more easily, so that many negative and unusual qualities could be unearthed and enjoyed. Under the context of the mask, the whole thing became a joke. At first, all of us could only stay in a confined area of the room, then, when Alberto gave the signal, the space was freed up and we were free to roam. We ended by searching for the voice of the character.

Individual improvisations followed. When I opened my mouth to speak, I felt that the maks stifles my voice, so I hurried through the improvisation and did not leave time to be present; I felt the whole to be an effort. I did not feel the liberatory aspect of game. Will and concept killed the moment. Not all had the same experience. some revelled in the freedom and the whole room laughed at their improvisations.

We then discussed the improvs, and talked about the mechanism of self control. We then paired up for improvs, and this freed me up. We played. It is a curious phenomenon: a mask, even if worn by an untrained actor or a layman, can come to life in an instant. A movement or a moment suffices to bring merriment into our midst.

At the end of the day I came away with the feeling that commedia dell’arte can be an explicitly useful tool in prison work. Under the protetction of the mask, both actor and spectator can feel more clearly where the stage begins and ends. We will start by using neutral masks, Alberto will bring with him 4 professional commedia dell’ arte masks on his upcoming visit in January. The characters Capitano, Doktore and Harlequino can all have very specific roles to play in Woyzeck.

The following day we made two neutral leather masks with Alberto.

Our interest was deeply aroused in the course of a professional workshop inroducing us to an art form barely known in Hungary, but one with a deep tradition that is still alive today. We are grateful. To be continued….

Üres Tér


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