Anna Cottis, 26 January 2014

People who attended: Holly, Matty, John, Elaine, Jens, Antonio, Mary, Alex, Aliki,

James, Frances, Anna

I called this session because I work in mask and commedia dell'arte in France and I

wanted to see what was going on here in Britain and how people use commedia in

their other work.

We talked about loads of things around mask, the body, commedia, archetypes in

theatre, Dario Fo, One Man Two Guvnors, the panto this year at the Hackney Empire

and knowing how to do lazzi (comic “routines” within a show), to name a few subjects

and I solemnly call upon all people who were there to add any comments or points that

were important to them that I've left out.

It seems that mask work in general is nearly dead in this country; someone said

“Trestle take all the money and they don't do mask anymore!”. Many people had

studied commedia and/or mask as part of their training but didn't see it being used

anywhere. Exceptions mentioned were companies working in rural and small-town

areas; Vamoose theatre, a company called possibly Bread and Goose (anyway, with

“goose ” in - clarification anyone?) and Old Spot in Gloucestershire.

This “more-work-out-of-London” is perhaps because commedia uses archetypes that

are instantly accessible to audiences that are not theatre-savvy. This accessibility may

be because the archetypes are hard-wired - one person had done a study on facial

recognition with masks - what people see when they see a mask or masked character.

(more clarification needed here too please). Anyway, using masks and commedia is

getting back to an archaic kind of theatre that works in a very un-intellectual way.

Frances spoke about Dario Fo and how his writing is rooted in commedia, and his

performance style rooted in commedia-type animality. Also his awareness of the

audience - an fundamental part of commedia, which some actors are not comfortable

with. And that's ok. But some actors love the animality of the acting and the felt (and

sometimes heard) presence of the audience.

His political activism and his commedia roots go together - commedia dell'arte is a

broken tradition and was reinvented just after the second world war in Italy as part of a

search for a universal popular theatre. People who study it as only a historical thing

will kill it as a living theatre form.

Some people thought that we should reinvent commedia as puppetry has been

reinvented (big puppets - War Horse). There are a lot of companies in the triangle of

Seattle/San Francisco/Portland that are mixing commedia, puppetry, clown and

Pachenko clown and creating shows that are lovely, popular and freshly creative.

In France there are quite a few commedia companies, mostly because of the work of

Carlo Boso, and also a lot of “Moliere with Masks” with actors with commedia training.

Using mask actors and a commedia approach with classical plays makes them very

accessible and tourable (I forgot to say that in the session but I'm putting it in now).

We talked about how commedia creates a clearly-defined world and the actor plays

their archetype in that world. Understanding what you're playing in the world of the

play is useful for other kinds of theatre too - clarity of knowing what the characters

represent for the audience. You can break the rules too, if you know them - if you

know what you're doing you can do what you like.

Conclusion - Action - Workshop:

We talked about many other things, and I had a great time. Many people expressed

interest in learning more about the animal body, the masks, the dramaturgy and the

improvisation techniques so I offered to teach a small free commedia workshop to

those present (and you too if you want). Antonio has a space in Clapham that he can

possibly lend free and I am happy to give five or six hours of workshop teaching if

people are passionate and engaged and we have the most fun possible. This is way

not enough time to learn about commedia, but it's a discovery day. I'm coming over for

the weekend of the 12th of April so I suggest Sunday the 13th of April.

If you're interested, leave me a comment on this report. If the date doesn't work out for

Antonio's space, we'll fix another one not too much later.

Thanks to everyone who participated!


mask, workshop, commedia, omnibus

Comments: 3

James Bailey, 26 January 2014

Great discussion Anna. Please keep me in the loop for April - or whenever it happens. Looking forward to learning and



Antonio Ferrara, 27 January 2014

Hi - a couple of links and clarifications -

the ‘bread and goose’ company turns out to be just called Geese:

'Vamoose' is actually Vamos:

and since I'm writing this I might as well add a link to Old Spot:

and Omnibus (potential host for workshops) is:

Anna Cottis, 1 April 2014

The Commedia Discovery Day is happening on Sunday April 13th in Clapham! It's £10 for the general public - and only £3

for D&Ders, so make sure you mention this when booking. Here's the text from the Clapham Omnibus:

Commedia Dell' Arte: Discovery Day

One-day Workshop

Venue: Omnibus, 1 Northside, Clapham Common, LONDON SW4 0QW

Time: 10am - 6pm

Tickets: £10 - £3 for D&D-ers

Age: 16+

A rare chance for actors and other theatre artists to discover the techniques of commedia dell'arte, including the masks,

the characters, the basic axes of the commedia universe, and some basic rules of commedia improv.

The hugely experienced teacher and practitioner Anna Cotti is travelling from the Academie Internationale Des Arts de

Spectacle in Paris to lead the workshop, and has extremely kindly donated her time for free, enabling us to offer this

workshop at a nominal cost of just £10 (£3 for D&D people - mention this when booking!).

Anna Cottis teaches, writes and directs commedia dell'arte, and uses commedia techniques in producing other forms of


Carlo Boso first taught her commedia, and she has since worked with many mask specialists, including Mario Gonzalez

and Antonio Fava.

She directs and writes for the commedia troupe “Les Festinanti”, and teaches commedia dell’arte, improvisation and

grommelots at Carlo Boso’s Academie Internationale Des Arts de Spectacle.

Anna has given workshops on commedia dell'arte in France, Great Britain and the US, for both actors and non-actors,

and schools and universities. She also works as a mask and comic consultant, and continues to investigate the links

between commedia and other forms of popular theatre around the world.

What you'll need:

- comfortable dark or black clothes that can be rolled around in

- shoes you can jump and cavort in

- enthusiasm, energy and creative craziness

Feel free to bring:

- any current affairs or social themes that are bugging you that you may want to put in a scenario.

- any masks you have and want to share for the day

If you have any questions, please email Antonio at [email protected]

You can get more info here

Antonio Ferrara

0792 999 3909