Bloomington, IN, USA


  • Black YouTube Icon
  • facebook
  • linkedin

Commedia dell'Arte

Mask Use, Meaning & Improvisation

This course introduces students to the style and concepts of Commedia dell’Arte. A form of theatre originated in Italy in the 16th century and characterized by  masked “types” and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. Students will physically explore classical stock characters  (such as the foolish old man, the devious servant, the lovers, etc), learn improvisation and mask skills, and develop an appreciation for the historical context of Commedia dell’Arte. This workshop series will help students cultivate imagination and creativity, and develop abilities to communicate in non-verbal ways. Students will explore how gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal strategies can form the basis of interactions between characters in a scene. Students will collaborate as an ensemble, explore theatre games, and create improvised scenes. At the end of the course, they will devise and present an original sketch based around their masks and the concepts of Commedia. 
Workshops vary in length, depending on need. Up to 15 students. 
curriculum available upon request

Valeria DeCastro, who holds an MA in Italian literature from the French and Italian Department at IU, is a performing artist, musician and theater director. Valeria was first introduced to the Commedia dell’arte in 1988 when she moved to Milan. In 1999 she started her studies in Italian language and culture at the "Centro Teatro Attivo" in Milan. In Bloomington since 1993, Valeria has performed in various local venues and in the past three years was the artistic director for the Portuguese production of “Teatro Vida”, an annual theater production by the Spanish and Portuguese department at IU. Other than Italy and the US, Valeria has also performed in Brazil, Spain and Costa Rica. She is fluent in English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

The Instructor

The course is divided in 6 major topics:

1. Introduction to the World of Commedia dell’Arte – Students are introduced to the stock characters in Commedia, their status, their physical shapes, the mask and their meaning.
2. Character Shape - Each Commedia character has a specific physical shape and way of moving. Students will be able to identify the main stock characters in the Commedia and explore how they walk, talk, stand, dress etc.
3. Language - In the Commedia dell’Arte, actors express meaning through nonsense language and mime. They use a type of speak that, although nonsensical in nature, conveys the truthful emotional intention of a character. Students will learn to use this improvisational tool to free the brain and develop short improvised scenes.
4. Emotion - Students will learn the difference between acting and physicalizing their emotions. And look at ways to embody the primary emotions: joy, grief, fear, anger, surprise, love, and laughter and to use them in a performance context.
5. Creating a mask - Working in pairs, participants will create of their own mask in the style of the Commedia.
6. Lazzi - “gags” or stock jokes are physical sequences, preplanned or improvised within the performance and often used to cover a dropped line or cue, or to enliven the audience when a scene is dragging. Using their Mask, students will develop jokes to be incorporated to their performance and contribute to their comic routine. Students will also get the opportunity to analyze classic Lazzi to identify what makes them comical.