00019: IL CARRO DEI COMICI
One of the last plays I saw during the Carnevale was “Il carro dei comici.” This production was presented by Compagnia Pantakin da Venezia, which is the same company that presented VENEZIA MILLENARIA. This company is also responsible for the entire Commedia dell’arte Festival, under its director and curator, Michele Modesto Casarin, one of Italy’s most respected and sought out Commedia dell’arte masters.
“Il carro dei comici” is about a traveling acting troupe, named “I senza dimora,” (Without a Home) and their main purpose is to revive Commedia dell’arte. They do this through sharing the history and importance of each commedia dell’arte mask, explaining to which character it belongs and acting out classic commedia dell’arte scenarios. This play became a “play within a play” and it was not only a history lesson about commedia dell’arte as an acting style, the importance of the masks, and the origins of the characters, but also a play about life, love, and survival.
Because I had already seen one production by Pantakin, I had the opportunity to see some of the actors playing different roles, which made the play far more enjoyable. One thing I learned is that every members of Pantakin Theater Company makes a living as a professional actor, specializing in commedia, and they all have been mentored by Casarin himself.
“Il carro dei comici” was also presented by Teatrul Mastirol, as a collaboration with commedia dell’arte college students from Romania and commedia dell’arte college students from Italy under the mentorship of E. Godenau (Romania) and M. M. Casarin (Italy.) Their public presentation (two of them) was the culmination of a month long commedia dell’arte intensive. I saw their presentation last. Both productions were exactly the same. The difference, of course, was in the quality presented by professional actors vs. actors-in-training. And believe me, you could see the difference. Not that the students-in-training were bad, they weren’t. They, in fact, were incredibly good. The difference was in their stage presence and lack of onstage experience. You could tell they were doing their best and also tell, (at least I could) issues with timing, physicality, and confidence. But while I was able to see the difference in quality and professionalism, audiences participated, enjoyed, and laughed in both productions in equal amounts. In the end, both productions were enjoyable.
A note of interest: I had the opportunity to see the student actors in rehearsal under the supervision of Casarin. Their rehearsal before their official presentation was rigorous and intense. I witnessed a master of commedia directing students, demanding nothing but the best. If I ever thought or if my students ever thought I’m “a mean director,” comparing to Casarin, I’m the most docile person you’ve ever met.
While watching Casarin in action I thought of how we, in the United States, when working on a theatre production (in my case directing), we have to “be aware of actor’s feelings and trauma.” Here, in Italy, at least while watching Casarin, I noticed how he was merciless with his actors. He demanded perfection: “You enter. You stop. You say the line to her. You breathe. You turn to the audience. You scream. You take two steps down stage. You say the next line. Check your body. Check your stand. Why aren’t you breathing.” And the moment an actor will start executing what Casarin said and the actor didn’t do it right, Casarin will yell, “NO! Start over!” I almost felt embarrassed, but then I noticed the students themselves would “thank him” every time he stopped them, screamed at them, and told them to do it again. And when they had a break, I noticed how the students discussed every single thing Casarin told them. They truly understood and appreciated their director. And they also knew that being mentor by the great Casarin is a lifetime opportunity. In the end, they were going to be on stage, in front of an audience who would watch them, walk away if they were not engaged, or stay and praise them or criticize them. In other words, as theatre artists, we better give it all we got and aim for perfection because the audience doesn’t care about our feelings. I think I will make this mantra in my next directorial project.
Next are two excerpts from the production presented by Compagnia Pantaking da Venezia: