Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Commedia dell'arte and Teatro Humberto

A while back ago I became fascinated with Comedia dell'arte.  In essence, Comedia is a form of theatre that is characterized by performers wearing character masks.  This type of theatre was popular in 16th century Italy and has its roots dating back to the Roman Empire and even Greek theatre.  However, Comedia goes deeper than just the masks; as performers would be well known for playing a certain type of character throughout their acting career.

So, how does this apply to the marionette project?  Good question.

Marionette Masks

Our modest company has understood for quite some time that marionettes are not easy to create.  Our company is limited in our production of an army of marionettes because they require skills and resources that we do not have at this time.  Add this quandary to our desire to produce multiple plays with multiple characters, and we are left with a problem.

However, by creating different masks for the character roles that are to be played we can effectively produce entire performances using only four to six marionettes.  Masks can be easy to create; clay being the preferred medium along with paint for decoration.  Add the mask with quick costume changes and we can make the illusion of an entire cast of marionettes more believable.

But Lets Go Further...

Taking this idea one step further, we can possibly create actor personas for each marionette.  In essence, each marionette would have his or her own permanent look and style and wear masks when they play different characters in different performances.  For example, the marionette Arthur, with dark hair and a muscular build, could easily play a beast, a knight, or an old man much in the same way that an actor plays different roles during his acting career; and this can be done just by adding a mask and changing out his wardrobe.

Eventually, the goal would be to have the marionettes be thought of as actors.  Imagine for a moment that an expectant audience would be excited that the marionette Arthur will be playing their favorite roll, or the shock when they find out that in this performance he decided to play the villain.  We could even include a playbill to hand out before events to get people interested in watching the production.  This would help add to the illusion that the marionettes are actors, albeit small ones.

Benefits and Problems of Comedia Style Masks

In reality, there is always benefits and problems associated with any idea.  However, in this case, the problems aren't really problems but simply things that the members of The Batty Puppeteers would have to work around.

Benefits.  Quite simply, we would have more character possibilities with a limited number of marionettes.  Additionally, we would be able to develop a character familiarization with the audience; possibly adding to the demand for new performances.

Problems.  Besides the actual task of making the masks, the designers would need to solve the problem of how to attach the masks to the marionettes and design it in such a fashion that it is easy to put on and take off the marionette and is easy to reproduce during the construction of the masks.

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