“It is hard to think of an historical style that has affected twentieth-century performance more than the Italian Commedia dell’Arte”

Mel Gordon, Lazzi: The Comic Routines of the Commedia dell’Arte, PAJ Publications 1983

Our Educational Objectives

  • To provide an enriching and memorable learning experience, that engages an entire group supporting all levels of ability
  • To support and enhance curriculum delivery of Drama, Theatre Studies and English through relevant, engaging and challenging participatory workshops
  • To enable learners to experience Text in Performance through practical exploration
  • To use the mask as a tool to enable participants to step out of their comfort zone and develop greater performance confidence
  • To enable rapid acquisition of core mask and performance skills and to develop performance discipline
  • To provide groups of learners with the skills needed for ensemble devising and performance.

How will Mask work and Commedia dell’Arte meet your teaching needs?

Learners will develop:
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  • Understanding of Text in Performance with a practical exploration of specific elements of your selected set text
  • Contextual knowledge and understanding of the influence of the key theatrical style: Commedia dell Arte
  • Skills in improvisation and ensemble complicité as building blocks for devising
  • A high level of transferable performance skills
  • Techniques and skills for performing with masks
  • Characterisation techniques
  • Physical awareness and confidence to fully embody
  • Playfulness, complicité and stage awareness
  • Performance discipline, vocal and physical control
  • Inspiration for their own performance work

How does Commedia dell’Arte match your curriculum:

Introducing Commedia dell’Arte in KS3 can be a great way to get students to take part in physical theatre. Commedia dell’Arte workshops offer a practical way to teach theatre history and a way to enthuse even reluctant learners by introducing slapstick comedy and physical gags (lazzi).

At GCSE level, a workshop in Commedia dell’Arte can help students gain confidence to be more physically and vocally expressive as well as providing ideas for devising. It will also support the study of texts such The Servant of Two MastersTwelfth Night and One Man Two Guvnors.

There are many units within BTEC Performing Arts at L2 and L3 that can be achieved either fully or partially with a Commedia dell’Arte project: Acting Skills, Historical Context of Performance, Devising, Variety Performance, Performing With Masks, Developing Styles In Clowning, Applying Physical Theatre.

If you teach A Level, Commedia dell’Arte can be used to support teaching in several syllabi:

• Edexcel (old spec) AS Unit 1, A2 Unit 3
Edexcel (new spec) Component 2: Text in Performance (an extract from Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters for group performance)
• AQA  (old spec) DRAM 1 – Taming of the Shrew; DRAM3 – Servant of Two Masters, Tartuffe; DRAM 4 – Devising
AQA (new spec) Component 1 – Servant of Two Masters/Accidental Death, Component 2 – Devising (Fo/Rame)
• WJEC/CBAC (old spec) DA1 – Twelfth Night, The Hypochondriac & DA3 – Devising
WJEC/CBAC (new spec) Unit 2: Text in Theatre – Comedy of Errors
• OCR (old spec) Units G381, G382, G385, G386132

If you teach the IB Theatre, the study of Commedia dell’Arte bridges learning about theatre in the making, theatre in the world and theatre in performance. This influential theatre style also provides students with a rich and extensive source for researching and writing about theatre history in the Extended Essay.

At Degree level, Commedia dell’Arte can be taught as an experiential academic study of theatre history, European literature or as professional performance training. Workshops can provide a deep understanding of this influential form that was singularly responsible for the Renaissance of theatre for the masses at the end of the Dark Ages. Intensive character study provides a rigorous training regime for the aspiring performer teaching key techniques in mask work and comedy, with a strong focus on stage presence, ensemble and audience complicité.

Education Workshops 

We tailor workshops to meet the needs of teachers, students and the curricula, from one hour to half day, full day, residential or a weekly series. Workshops can be adapted to suit most age groups and designed to focus on Commedia dell’Arte, archetypes, slapstick comedy, physical theatre, improvisation techniques, devising, storytelling or characterisation. At the moment, one of our most popular workshops is The Servant of Two Masters. Below are some of our standard workshop packages:

Half Day Workshops

These are ideally 3 hours in length though can be adapted to 2 hours, covering the characters in less detail.

Option 1: Characterisation into PerformanceIMG_7166bw

Suitable for: KS3 to Degree level

This is an intensive practical workshop that enables participants to explore the movement, mannerisms, behaviours and relationships of three of the stock characters from the Commedia dell’Arte (usually Arlecchino, Pantalone and Capitano, though others can be selected) and taking them into performance with simple comic scenarios. Short comic scenes will be improvised around a given scenario in a group of three or four, enabling participants to perform in the masks, test their comic gags and gain a broad understanding of the relationships and plot lines common to the Commedia. The performances will be to the rest of the group as a comic mask needs an audience to play off and much is learnt from watching and analysing others in the mask.

Participants will learn:

  • the key principles of mask work and the imperative for the actor-audience relationship
  • specific exaggerated movement, voice and mannerisms for the selected characters, using the breath, grummelot (gibberish language), masks and props, underpinned with historical context
  • comic techniques, slapstick, traditional lazzi (comic gags)
  • stage awareness and mechanics of devising a comic scene

Option 2: The Stock Characters and Comic RelationshipsIMG_7068

Suitable for: KS3 to Degree level

Our starting point for this fast-paced, practical workshop is the physicality of the characters. We will cover the movement, mannerisms and behaviour of the stock characters of the Commedia dell’Arte: Zanni (including Arlecchino, Columbina and Brighella), Pantalone, Dottore, Capitano, Signora and The Lovers. Relationships between several characters are briefly explored with classic pairings e.g. Master and servant, doctor and patient, dumb and dumber fools, in order to deepen the understanding of the masks. Staging and the relationship with the audience are considered throughout along with comic devices to allow the mask to work effectively.

Participants will learn:

  • the historical context of Commedia dell’Arte, the origins and theatrical relevance of each character
  • specific exaggerated movement, voice and mannerisms for the characters, using the breath, grummelot (gibberish language), masks and props
  • the key principles of mask work and the imperative for the actor-audience relationship
  • the relationships between the characters, exploring classic lazzi (comic gags) or meccanismi (rehearsed comic sequences between two or more characters)

Option 3: The Servant of Two Masters

Suitable for: KS4 to Degree level

This high energy, participatory workshop is designed to support the study of The Servant of Two Masters and enhance core teaching, engaging participants physically with this set text. The workshop can be tailored for delivery at any stage of study: as an introduction to the play or to embed your students’ understanding of the main characters, stylistic features and comic scenes.

The physicality of the characters is our starting point to understand the comic contrasts and typical behaviours. These will be related to the Commedia dell’ Arte stock character types: Zanni (Truffaldino, Smeraldina, Brighella, porter and waiters); Vecchi (Pantalone, Dr Lombardi); Innamorati (Clarice, Silvio, Beatrice, Florindo). Masks will be used, at times, as a tool to encourage the creation of the physical ‘mask’ for each character using exaggerated movement, voice and mannerisms.

In three hours, several of the main characters can be explored through improvised scenes. It is not essential to have learnt any of the text; improvisations will be initiated based on key scenes so that the comic potential and characterisation is our focus. Initially, we will look at Truffaldino and how he plays out being a servant of two masters, examining the comedy through physicality, language and lazzi (physical comic gags). Scenes with Pantalone and Doctor Lombardi will be improvised to highlight the comedy of contrasts between the characterisations of these old men (Vecchi). The comedy in the relationship of the young Lovers (Innamorati), Silvio and Clarice, will also be accentuated through the exploration of heightened gesture, movement, voice and emotions. (N.B. different characters can be selected for the focus – this workshop can also be adapted to fit One Man Two Guvnors).

Participants will learn:

  • the historical context of the play and the characters
  • who the key characters are and their relationships
  • how a performer can interpret the characters for performance
  • how comedy can be created in key scenes through character relationships, physicality, language and comic lazzi (physical gags)
  • performance skills specific to comedy and the need to interact with the audience

“Excellent workshops, actively exciting our students… (who) are able to refer to stock characters with ease showing meaningful understanding of their character traits.”

(D. Warren, Burford School)

Option 4: Accidental Death of An Anarchist 

Suitable for: KS4 to Degree level

In this satirical farce, Dario Fo creates rich, hilarious characters that draw to some extent on the stock characters of the Commedia dell’Arte. It is well-documented that Fo was heavily influenced by this theatrical style, frequently modelling himself in role as Harlequin in his productions. It is our intention that this workshop will provide students with the language and imagination to describe key scenes, characters and techniques for farce to enhance their writing. Through physical explorations, in role and as directors, the language and imagery will embed with the participants.

Games, based on scenes from the play, such as ‘Bomb in the Room!’ are our way into this work initially, developing the ensemble complicite and the participants’ confidence to exaggerate, and most importantly, initiating a sense of playfulness and fun that will help participants access the characters and the text. We move onto physicality, using animals, tension states and Commedia dell’Arte masks to encourage students into their bodies. It is not possible to find an exact parallel for the characters of the play with the stock character types from Commedia dell Arte but one can loosely fit them:

  • Maniac = Arlecchino (Harlequin), with intelligence, wit and cunning
  • Constable = Zanni
  • Bertozzo = Magnifico; a younger, stronger, more virile version of Pantalone
  • Pissani = Capitano
  • Superintendent = Brighella

Key sequences from scenes will be discussed and examined in a practical way to make the characters leap from the page so that the comedy is seen, heard and experienced, leading to a deeper appreciation of how to create farcical comedy:

  • Grotesque characterisation, such as Maniac morphing from one disguise to the next;
  • Creating farce with the ‘straight-man’ against the clown: Bertozzo and Maniac;
  • The farcical transformation of the Superintendant from bully boy to entranced sycophant;
  • Slapstick comic routines creating laughter through absurdity, incongruity, relief theory, repetition, sudden changes in rhythm and surprise.

This workshop can be tailored to your students’ needs and delivered as an introduction to the text, to deepen initial studies or as a pre-exam revision session.

“Cheryl’s Accidental Death of An Anarchist workshop was finely tuned to ensure no time was wasted within the intensive three hours. I highly recommend Cheryl for your students – it was invaluable and I look forward to inviting her back next year”

(S. Boon, Head of Drama, Loughborough High School)

Option 5: Comic ArchetypesIMG_7259

Suitable for: KS4 to Degree level

Discover new ways to engage learners with the texts of Shakespeare and Molière. In a Comic Archetypes workshop, learners explore characters from the outside in. Through a process of physical embodiment, that includes the use of archetypal masks, the learner transforms their body, voice and movement and experiences the behavioural traits, gestures, facial expressions and rhythms of the archetypal character. By literally stepping into their shoes, the learner discovers the inner feelings, thoughts and motivations that drive the characters. Relationships suddenly start to make sense as the archetypes banter and the dialogue begins to flow.

Working with comic archetypes, enables the learner to overcome barriers often presented by words on a page, freeing them up to play with the timeless and universal characters. Once learners start to ‘live’ in the world of the play they discover that they can relate to the situations and modern parallels become apparent. The text then becomes less daunting and more accessible. Texts for which this process works particularly well include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, Tartuffe, The Hypochondriac.

Option 6: From Renaissance to Immortality

Suitable for: KS5 to Degree level

What is Commedia dell’Arte and why has it been so influential? In this half day workshop-cum-lecture participants will discover the answer to these questions in a practical, exploratory session. Meeting the characters, examining the performance spaces, narratives and audiences, this historic theatrical form will be brought to life to help us understand why the greats of art, opera and theatre owe so much to the Commedia dell’Arte. Packed with information, both historic and modern day, this workshop will chart the key theatrical moments with practical demo and participation. This is an ideal launch pad for units in historical context, the history of masks, extended research projects or dissertation studies.

Full Day Workshops

These are 5-6 hours in length, intensive, skills focused and crammed with learning. Most of the above workshops can be extended in depth and detail to a full day. In addition, we can offer:

Option 1: The Stock Characters into Performance

Suitable for: KS3 to Degree level

This full day workshop is entirely practical and participatory. Movement, mannerisms, behaviours and relationships of the main stock characters of the Commedia dell’Arte will be explored: Zanni (including Arlecchino, Columbina and Brighella), Pantalone, Dottore, Capitano, Signora and the Lovers. The first half of the day will focus on character development, lazzi (physical comic gags) and double act relationships. The second part will focus on improvising scenes based on classic scenarios (scene outlines) in small groups. There will be greater emphasis on developing scenes that effectively create comedy for an audience and participants will be encouraged to consider the staging, presentation, pace, timing, complicite and audience interaction. Performing to the rest of the group, the effectiveness of the scenes will be tested and evaluated and both performers and audience will be encouraged to verbalise what they have learnt from watching and performing.

Participants will learn:

  • the key principles of mask work and the imperative for the actor-audience relationship
  • specific exaggerated movement, voice and mannerisms for the main stock characters, using the breath, grummelot (gibberish language), masks and props, underpinned with historical context
  • comic techniques, slapstick, traditional lazzi (comic gags), meccanismi (rehearsed comic sequences between two or more characters), as well as pace and timing
  • how to present to and engage an audience throughout a comic scene
  • how to control the stage space and the techniques needed to devise an effective comedy scene

Option 2: A Play in DayCommedia-at-Chesterton0027bw

Suitable for: KS4 to Degree level

A full day practical workshop that is an ideal launch pad for devising at GCSE, BTEC, A Level or Degree level. Participants are introduced to comic characterisation and the skills needed for effective improvisation, devising and physical storytelling. Starting with essential mask performance techniques, participants will develop archetypal comic characters and explore the stage craft required to create effective scenes. Material will be developed using classic lazzi (physical gags) and grommelot (nonsense language) before moving onto devising from canovaccio (plot outlines) to devise a scenario. The day culminates in a performance to demonstrate skills learnt and characters developed.

Physical Theatre workshops include:

Berkoff’s Expressionist Theatre 

Adaptable to half or full day

Suitable for: KS3 to KS5

“To express drama in the most vital way imaginable; to perform at the height of one’s powers with all available means.” (Steven Berkoff)

This practical workshop will:

  • Help students to stretch their range and confidence to be able to perform at their height of their powers.
  • Guide students to reach the level of exaggeration and the intensity of performance required to successfully realise Berkoff’s expressionist style.
  • Provide students with a set of techniques they can understand, practice and apply in their own performance and portfolio work.
  • Ground techniques in theory, linking to key practitioners throughout who have influenced Berkoff in the development of his theatrical style.

The workshop will cover:

  • The Expressionist Mask – exaggerated characterisation using body, face and voice to create a stylised total character mask without the need of the physical item of the mask (Grotowski); we explore the infinite versatility of our faces. The creation of these ‘masks’ can be rapidly changed so that actors learn to perform instant transformations.
  • The Chorus of Heightened Expression: The Berkoff Wall. Creating psychological and physical environments with a group of performers; using tension states and ‘masks’ to create choral tableau that mirror, amplify, comment on the emotions of the protagonist (Lecoq)
  • The Grotesque Human-Animal. Individually, and as a chorus we will work with animal states and exaggeration to link to Metamorphosis and the creation of the human beetle, individually and as a chorus (Lecoq/Artaud)
  • Corporeal Mime (Decroux) starting from isolations and plastiques (Grotowski) leading into rhythm and synchronisation (Meyerhold). Working with the metronome beat to control and syncopate movement, finding precision, choral movement, expressive ‘mie’ (Kabuki). This is about working from the body to the mind, bridging the gap between impulse and image, allowing the body to create the image for the mind; wearing the emotion on the outside.
  • Physicalisation of Language – vocal patterning, vocal effects, range, emphasis, exaggeration, soundscaping, choral voice, taking the imagery into the voice
  • The Actor-Spectator Dynamic (Brecht) direct address; illeism (3rd person voice); asides and comic timing

 “Outstanding use of limited time to generate very good responses in all students.”

(Tony Benet, Balcarras School)

How to Book

We aim to offer  a high quality experience at an affordable rate. Use the contact page or drop us an email specifying your needs and we will provide a quote based on group size, level of ability, duration and location. We can tailor workshops to fit the needs and abilities of any class and curriculum and or to support the specific requirements of a production.

Just drop us an email or give Cheryl a call for further details about any workshop: 07932 067585

Guide CostIMG_7103

Half day from £165.00 (up to 15 participants) plus travel

Full day from £275.00 (up to 15 participants) plus travel

Preferential rates could be negotiated for a consortium arrangement if centres are close by.

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Active Storytelling for Teachers

Suitable for: EYFS, Primary teachers and playworkers

As teachers we tell stories all the time but we don’t all find acting comes naturally. We can teach you how to make effective use of your voice, face, gestures and physicality to bring stories to life. Actions for storytelling and drama games will equip you with the tools you need to actively involve children in the storytelling process, allowing the imaginary world to take shape and embedding the story in the child’s mind. This is an opportunity for you to gain confidence in your delivery and re-discover the fun that can be had in sharing a good story.

Creating Characters

Suitable for: EYFS, Primary teachers and playworkers

How do you engage your audience with a story? How do you make characters leap from the page? Using favourite children’s story characters as starting points, in particular those of Roald Dahl and Julia Donaldson, we will teach you how to translate text into performance and transform yourself into wonderfully comic and grotesque characters that kids will love. Learn how to use your body, face and voice as expressive tools to fully engage young children.

Techniques used:

  • Theatre games
  • Interaction
  • Movement
  • Gentle exploration of masks
  • Improvisation
  • Basic comic techniques and a bit of slapstick!

Bespoke workshops can be designed to meet your specific staff development needs.

Cheryl runs regular professional development workshops in the Gloucestershire region and in London (check out the Actor & Professional Development Workshops page).  We can also arrange workshops in-house nationwide, at competitive rates. Contact us for details.