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Commedia dell'Arte

Context for this Lesson


Topic: Commedia dell'Arte
Focus Questions: What is Commedia dell'Arte? How can we express emotion through movement / physicallity?


"Hello everyone! Today we are going to learn about portraying emotion through our bodies."
Poster Dialogue
Place four posters throughout the room, and provide the students with markers. The following statements are written on the posters:
I think Commedia dell'Arte is...
I like characters that are...
I like stories about...
If I could be any emotion, I would be...
Give students a specific time frame to fill out the prompts. Encourage students to read each others' answers as they go, and place a check mark next to statements they agree with. At the end of the time, gather the students and posters together. Ask the students to read what was written on the posters, focusing first on the posters about character, story, and emotion. Can they find similarities or common themes in the answers? Move on to the Commedia dell'Arte poster and read out the answers, building upon the students' thoughts.
"These are all great thoughts, everybody! Commedia dell’Arte is an Italian performance tradition dating from the Renaissance in the 16th century. In Commedia dell’Arte, actors and actresses performed by creating over-exaggerated stock characters who wore distinctive costumes and masks. They performed anywhere, both indoors and out, and often improvised their plays." 
Transition: "Now, we're going to take the information we just learned about our interests and use it to build some characters in the style of Commedia dell'Arte."


Circle Sculpt
Invite students to stand in two circles, an inner and outer circle, facing in towards a partner. Explain the procedures of circle sculpt: one partner is designated the sculptor, the other is the clay. The sculptor, using either a hands-on / mirroring / or puppet-string method, sculpts the clay to the prompt of the instructor. Remind the students that the sculptor should be respectful of the clay, and ask for permission to both sculpt and touch the clay before beginning. 
Drawing on the poster dialogue, prompt the students to create a sculpture from one of the listed emotions within two minutes. At the end of each time period, have the students observe each other’s sculptures. Encourage the students to create bigger and more exaggerated sculptures with each turn. After three to five sculptures, have the students switch roles and repeat the procedure. 
Transition: “Great work! Now that we’ve put some of these emotions into our bodies, let’s try to build Commedia-style characters.”
Guided Imagery
To start, have the students find a space in the room and stand facing the instructor.
“For this exercise, I’m going to guide you through some images. We are not going to talk through this exercise. Instead, we will explore using our bodies. 
"Imagine yourself as a blank slate. Think of one of the emotions you were sculpted into in the previous exercise. Please start embodying that emotion. Embody the emotion at a level 1, the lowest register of that emotion. Move up to a three, a five, a ten, exaggerate it even more. 
"Now, imagine you have just woken up and are getting out of bed.  How do you get out of bed?  How do you walk?  Walk to the mirror and look at yourself.  What do you see?  Brush your hair.  Fix yourself up so that you look just right.  Adjust your clothes.  Put on your favorite shirt.  How do you look?    Brush your teeth.” 
Take as much time as needed to explore the character. Encourage the students to find different ways of moving, to think of a name for their character, to begin interacting with each other.  
Transition: “Now I am going to invite you to come join me in a circle as your character.”
This is Not A…
In the circle, present the students with an object [a roll of tape, a yardstick, a rubber chicken, etc]. Explain to the students that “This is not a roll of tape, it’s a fancy diamond bracelet,” and model the bracelet for the students. Pass the object around the circle, letting each student create a new function for the object as his or her Commedia character. All of the students should treat the object as if it really were the object named: for example, a new camera could prompt spectacular poses or hiding from the lens. After two rounds around the circle, have the students go back to their own place in the room and return from their character. Once they are ready, have the students sit in a circle on the floor. 


Describe: What did we just do together? How did we use our bodies and emotions to create a character?
Analyze: What did it feel like for you to create this character throughout our activities?
Relate: Have you encountered similar characters to the ones we just created today?