Porthouse summer theatre. I haven't been back in a while, so I don't know if they still do this, but in my time there a great mass of the more minor players would be expected to learn songs and devise routines to entertain the audience who came early to enjoy a picnic dinner on the green between the parking lot and the stage. This in many ways was my first introduction to variety performance, and at the time I had absolutely no idea that variety would play such a significant role in my creative development as an adult. Just about all of my busking, clowning, circus and self-generated work stems in some way from that first experience - a connection I only recognized just now, while writing. So naturally I was thrilled when Heather suggested that for this year's Portal Project initiative with the theatre students of Marywood University we divide the group of nearly 30 into some working on the commedia dell'arte scenario, and others devising a greenshow.
9/2/08 & 8/28/07) about my experiences teaching this week-long commedia dell'arte intensive. Last year, regrettably, it followed too hard and fast on our time in Italy and I had to give it a pass in favor of maintaining my day job (yes - irony is ironic). I was eager to return this year, and the whole thing felt fresh to me once again, particularly in regard to all the new faces I would be meeting. I confess I was a little apprehensive about the loss of many graduates who started out with us back in 2007, but that anxiety proved entirely unfounded - somewhere between my and Heather's greater experience and deeper understanding, and the students' willingness to focus and commit to the work we found the experience to be one of our most efficient and successful. Safe to say, too, that everyone had a lot of fun.
The key to this success, I think, was in getting to working directly on the scenario sooner. In the past we spent more days on general training on improvisation, stylistic elements and concept, not arriving at a scenario until the Friday or sometimes even the Saturday before a Monday performance. This time I found the team problem-solving involved in working from a scenario does a lot of the training for us, creating situations and challenges that end up being far more interesting (not to mention well-motivated) than anything we can prepare them for in hypothetical exercises. It was a near-perfect balance, spending a couple of days on character and improvisation, one on physical lazzi (could have used a bit more time there, I confess) and then three-or-so hours to memorize the scenario and ten more to develop and refine it. We came out strong, with the perfect amount of fear, I think.
lateness of the hours). It's exceptional when one gets the chance to work with a fellow ensemble member as a co-teacher, and have as students a group so focused on strengthening their sense of ensemble and overall improvement. Two incidents in particular however stood out for me toward the end of this week, neither of which had anything directly to do with these circumstances. They had to do with something larger.
The second was a more abstract result, and the result of another brilliant idea from Heather. That is, a way to warm both the scenario people and the greenshow folks up together. Eccolo: