Commedia dell’Arte was born in Italy in the XVI Century.
It’s a complete form of theatre based on the use of masks (although not all the characters wear them) and stock characters taken from the Italian culture.
Commedia dell’Arte resonates with all audiences because it’s based on the basic human necessities of our everyday lives. Everybody knows how it feels to be hungry, sleepy, greedy, tired, in love and all the other emotions that make us human.
It has been the first form of theatre to allow women to play the female roles in a play.
Commedia dell’Arte means: Art of Comedy. But in Italian Art meant “craft”(and eventually… “job”… “artisan”).It has been the first form of professional theatre. They started to get paid to perform. Commedia actors invented the concept of ticket.
Traditional Commedia dell’Arte is very physical and each character moves in a particular and distinctive way. The use of stock characters and high skilled physicality was necessary because in that Historic period Italy was divided in lots of different independent states and in each state a different language was spoken. So the actors (moving from one place to the other) relied on their physicality (not every actor could talk every dialect) to have the audience understanding what was happening on stage.
Just keep in mind that the use of the voice is extremely important in Commedia. This is not mime.
Commedia dell’Arte is based on basic human necessities. In Commedia everything is urgent. The level of energy needs to be kept pretty high, all the time. All the movements are very big, exaggerated, following the key concept of “Maximum volume in minimum space”. The concept of mask is applied to the whole body, not just to the face.