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Workshopping with masks and archetypes


Bianca Bonino, one-half of the Sydney-based theatre company Fools in Progress, ran a workshop of Commedia dell’Arte at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra on August 19.

Bianca Bonino running the seminar at ANU; masks by Antonio Fava. (Photos supplied)

Bonino, who co-founded Fools in Progress with stage-partner Ben Newham in 2010, was invited by Italian teacher Bruna Carboni to run a seminar and workshop about Commedia dell’Arte as part of Carboni’s Italian class.

In the following text, Italian teacher Carboni recounts her experience of the seminar:

I met Bianca Bonino a few months ago and I was immediately impressed by the enthusiasm and energy that she transmits to her interlocutors when she talks about her job.

Bianca is a stage actress, a Commedia dell’Arte trainer and co-owner of the Company Fools in Progress.

She performs in schools and also directs stage productions in Italian and English including all Fools in Progress Commedia shows.

I invited Bianca recently for a seminar and workshop about Commedia dell’Arte at ANU.  

Bianca spoke about the historical background in which Commedia dell’Arte developed in Italy in the 16th century.

She explained about the use of masks, the introduction of actresses on stage and about how Commedia dell’Arte spread all over Europe, across France, Spain and England where it was an inspiration for William Shakespeare.

She also provided examples which show that some features of the Commedia dell’Arte are still present in movies and cartoons, and fixed types of Commedia are still alive and winking at us from Hollywood’s movie screens.

The seminar and workshop were entirely in Italian and the students reacted in a very positive way, showing great interest and participating actively in the workshop.  

It was really amazing to see how Bianca transformed herself into her favourite characters: Pantalone, Pulcinella and Dottore Balanzone, under the cover of the marvellous leather masks handmade in Italy by Antonio Fava, Bianca’s Commedia maestro.

The students were invited to create a circle and imitate her movements in order to capture the essence and personality of each character.

The students really enjoyed it and contributed to create a relaxed and joyful atmosphere.

But why a seminar and a workshop about the Commedia dell’Arte?

First of all, because some of my students didn’t know much about Commedia dell’Arte so I thought it would be interesting for them to learn more about the main features of it.

Secondly, this topic is tightly connected with the topic chosen by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Italy for the 19th edition of the Week of Italian Language in the World, that will take place in October with the theme L’italiano sul palcoscenico (Italian language on the stage).

Another reason is linked to educational aspects and strategies for teaching a foreign language.

In order to obtain real interaction in class, teachers ask students to imagine a situation and role-play it.

These situations could include an argument between flatmates about the rules to be respected or a discussion about the advantages of a healthy diet between an active person and a couch potato, or a conversation about where to go on holiday, and so on.

I could provide thousands of examples!

What did our students do?

They simply put on a mask, and acted.

They imagined that they were someone else and tried to improvise, and that’s exactly what Commedia  dell’Arte actors  used to do in the 16th century when the stage director gave them the so-called canovaccio, with only a few instructions about the play which had to be almost entirely improvised.

I am really satisfied about what Bianca did at the ANU and I am really convinced that my students have learnt a lot, not only from a linguistic point of view but also from a cultural and human perspective.

This was confirmed by the students’ comments.

“At the beginning of the workshop, I was a bit hesitant to participate, only because the movements and gestures of the actors in Commedia are really exaggerated,” one student, Jessica, said.

“You have to be sure of yourself!

“But once I relaxed a bit, I engaged in the activities with enthusiasm and I had a lot of fun.”

By La Fiamma Editorial Team
Published 21 hours, 40 minutes ago

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