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What is
Commedia dell'Arte?

Europe's First Professional Theatre

Commedia dell'Arte roughly translates to "Theatre of the Artisan" referring to a professional organization. This name did not appear until the 18th century, near the end of the golden age of what had previously been called commedia alla zannesca, commedia all'improvviso, commedia alla maschera. This more modern term defines what it was, professional. It was not amateur nor religious, it was created by full time performers who expected audiences to pay money to see them perform.

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Women, onstage

The Birth of the Actress

In 1565, after decades of simple plots of servants and old men, one commedia troupe, Zan Ganassa, revolutionized the art form with one swift stroke: they put a woman onstage. Vincenza Armani became the first professional actress in western Europe and would later be prima donna in one of the most popular troupes of all time, I Gelosi.

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Elements of Commedia

Spectacularizing the Mundane

Our dear friend and mentor, Antonio Fava, a renowned Commedia dell'Arte scholar and performer writes that all Commedia dell'Arte uses at least 4 common elements, with an optional 5th.

  • Fixed Types

  • Masks

  • Improvisation as creation

  • Multilingualism

  • (optional) Anachronism

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Masks and Fixed Types

More than just a face

One of the most distinguishable elements of the classical Commedia dell'Arte is the use of masks.

However, in Commedia the "mask" refers to more than just the physical object of the mask, it refers to the entire character archetype.

Fixed Types is the term Fava uses for the 3 broad character types: servants, old men, and lovers
Read about our masks here