Common mistake for teaching commedia is that the art department and the drama department get really excited they say let’s work together.We will make the masks in art and will use them in the drama, meaning that you will make your own commedia masks, even though this is a good idea joining departments together, it is not the best idea for the performance element because if the student is actually making the mask with clay, papier-mâché, it takes quite lot of time and keeping up the enthusiasm is very difficult also.
When they put it on they are wearing their creation which has the opposite effect of mask work, we know when you wear mask you are actually free of inhibitions, one would hope that you do things from behind mask you wouldn’t normally do. This is the common understanding of working with masks. So if student is wearing their creation they are actually opening up their soul, They are saying “I am wearing my creation and this is a reflection of me”, is has the opposite effect, if you had some art students who made the masks and then gave them to the drama department students, maybe this might be different, because the wearer has taken away the responsibility for what mask looks like or what the artist actually decided to do. So I recommend not to bring those two departments together.
The researching of commedia is not the best thing to send your student to do. I have seen drama teachers say, Okay everybody, commedia our first week, go to the computers and research commedia, what they learn about is the characters and they learn about the period and all the things costumes etc. Whereas in actual fact what you’re doing is filling their heads with information of what they think they ‘should’ be doing, In other words they would be looking for tips and tricks of what they are going to do when they perform.
I say that this fills a mind with things they don’t need to know at this stage. My recommendation is you work with the masks first look at the mask face-to-face just look, take the mask as it’s face value, don’t worry about history, put the mask on, look in the mirror, find out what that mask come to life by improvisation and experimentation, once the students have discovered the mask themselves then they can go back to the history and research, it comes after the fact, of course history is important but I much prefer the students say “So, that’s what I did, that’s what my mask did when I was wearing that mask, because in history it says that this mask is that type of character, I found it myself by working and rehearsing with the mask”.
The assessment tasks most teachers will set improvisation as their assessment task because the common knowledge is the commedia is an improvised art form. I think this is a very very difficult task to give your students.
Even myself now with experience actors, working six or more years, they would find it very difficult if I was to give them an assessment task of saying okay pull a theme out of a hat and to go away rehearse five minutes come back and perform. This takes a lifetime experience to be able to pull this off successfully, so I try and discourage teachers from setting this kind of assessment task. I prefer they say work on theme and let them rehearse it but then when they get to perform it , allow them to integrate heckerling from the audience and then, once responding to the interjection, jump back to the script, the improvisation only takes place during their performance in relationship with their audience, a live audience this is where commedia excels.
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