Facing this has been one of the first times since I got here that I yearned for the crutch of music, because I like to think about my next move. Music can cover silences, and *even better* it contains rhythm that propels me forward in a way that's difficult for me to generate on my own. Basic, but I'm way less practiced at using my voice improvisatorially to fill a scene, while being mindful about my movements, than I am with the moving to music, both in the early and contemporary music contexts.
Yeah, I know - don't think too much, Shaw, but the truth is, I don't like to interpret stylistically specific things before I understand what everything means, and I still don't understand a lot. Of course, as I practice, behaviors burrow into my brain and body and construct what, at its fastest speed, becomes a component of intuition. There are some very, very intuitive actors at this course, but the best of them are still wrangling the tension between intuitive impulse and shapes that fit 'the style'. We have to learn the characters' traditional behaviors and create a harmonious overall picture on stage. That's part of why we're here - learning the complete definition of commedia piece by piece, then learning by trial and error how to work together to build a picture.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, lots of people asked me what commedia was, and I had a more-or-less academic, historic definition, but I always ended up saying that I didn't quite know what this was going to be. I privately imagined commedia as a 'Three's Company' of the Renaissance. A set of goofy characters pitted against some loser antagonist, who in the end is bamboozled by the band of protagonists. Of course, there are lots of ways in which this definition fails, but some connections exist.
One example is the critical importance of the 'physical mask' of the characters, the way the body is composed to represent a character, which retains an integrity no matter what they're doing. The 'perfect' lovers can't be dragged too far down into low behaviors, because then they stop being who they are in the universe of commedia. Chrissy from 'Three's Company' always stands sway-backed and with big doe eyes, right? If she's being serious or hurt or upbeat, her fundamental look bleeds through the expression. Those behaviors are her mask, and if she were to drop them, it would disturb the energy of the comedy.
This relates to another of my favorite principles of commedia so far, which is that there is no neutral, because neutral is a state without tension, and without tension, there is no theatre. Even when a zanni is, for example, simply looking for someone, his physical mask is clearly in order to articulate the natural tensions of his circumstances. Setting aside the tension of the plot, a zanni is surrounded by cultured, higher-class characters and that class tension part of our comic opportunity. Rather than walking in a pedestrian manner, a zanni's basic walk is a stylized with bowed back that signifies his servitude. If he suddenly were to walk upright after establishing this mask, the zanni disappears and you see the actor. That, we can agree, is no good. Yes, it's still a human walk, but a walk that admits no opportunity of relief from those conditions that define the character in the commedia world. Consistency and continuity go along way toward suspending the audience's disbelief and making the fantasy more potent.
In other news, today we started learning about Pedrolino (otherwise known as Pierrot). Whoa, did I hear some exciting and interesting new things about this character. Hopefully more on that soon.