Students explore Italian comedy


Brad Stout/The Chart

Students go through physical warm-ups in preparation of the Southern Theatre Department’s upcoming Commedia dell’Arte performances.

Brad Stout. staff writer

The Missouri Southern theatre department will be presenting Commedia dell’Arte on Sept. 27 and Sept. 28 as part of its ongoing efforts to contribute to this semester’s international Italian theme.

The event, which will consist of three separate performances, will begin on the Oval at 11 a.m. on Sept. 27 and later move to the Bud Walton Theater for a 7:30 p.m. performance on Sept. 27 and a 6:30 p.m. performance on Sept. 28.

“The theatre [department] always likes to contribute to the international semester however we can,” said James Lile, associate professor of theatre. “Our big offering this semester is Pagliacci, but we thought we would just get together and do a little commedia as well and just see how that works.”

Historically, Commedia dell’Arte is an improvisational form of comedy that became popular during the Italian Renaissance.

According to Lile, who is in charge of the event, theatre companies of the time would travel from town to town and perform Commedia dell’Arte performances on portable stages, often for very little money.

“This is a form that, in the renaissance, was really geared to the everyday, popular audience. That’s who their market was, and they were playing basically for donations,” said Lile. “There wasn’t really a box office, there wasn’t a ticket price; they had to take whatever they could get.”

The actors involved with the event consist of students from the theatre department’s upper level independent study course also entitled Commedia dell’Arte.

Due to the improvisational nature of this type of performance, they will be given nothing more than a few basic stock characters and a general outline for the story, then be left to their own devices to figure out how their characters will get through the story.

“[The actors] will have a scenario, which is an outline of action, but everything the characters actually do is improvised,” said Lile. “You know where you’re starting and you know where you have to go, but how you get there can change from performance to performance.”

In addition to the improv, the actors have to figure out other means to convey their characters’ emotions since the entire cast will have to wear character masks.

“One of the things we’re going to be working on is the physicality of what the characters are feeling because the actors are wearing masks, and that will take away the actors’ number one expressive instrument,” said Lile. “They’ve got to physicalize everything to basically be communicating through that mask.”

Commedia dell’Arte will be free and open to the public. For more information about the event, contact James Lile at 417-625-9656.