Sunday, September 1, 2013

Carlo's Revenge - a project honoring my teacher Carlo Mazzone-Clementi

I am in Italy, the country of Carlo's birth. This project "Commedia Toto" owes much to Carlo and is a transference of his energy. Carlo was complex and I understood early that he was like a fire and if you got too close you might get burned. There are others who could tell drastically more about Carlo than me but that is up to them to write or not to.

Carlo was the person who first told me about Toto the great Italian clown. In Australia around Christmas SBS would show a Toto movie annually. A few years ago for the new generation SBS began to show Roberto Begnini's Pinocchio instead. Carlo was also my initial teacher in Commedia dell'arte.

"Commedia Toto" reflects my own interest in a holistic integration of clown and commedia dell'arte. This is counter to the teaching in theatre about 'styles' in which there are claims that 'clown' is a 'style' and that clown is separate or distinct from 'commedia'. Such distinctions are only one way of understanding theatre.

I have found that teaching categorical separation of 'styles' in theatre is Cartesian (Rene Decartes) in that it separates rather than integrates.

In many ways I use Shakespeare as the ultimate theatre fulcrum. Shakespeare integrated clown, commedia, tragedy and comedy. I disagree with the clear distinctions of Shakespeare's works as tradition maintains it as: tragedy, comedy, history plays. For example Henry V is considered a 'history' play yet it is filled with clowning (comedy). Antony & Cleopatra is sometimes referred to by scholars and directors as a tragedy or a history. Which is it? Or can't it be both? Yet if it is either a tragedy or a history why is it filled with comedy? Then is it a comedy? Again that reflects a Cartesian approach and I feel there are better ways to consider such works.

Commedia dell'arte itself is filled with clowning. Antony & Cleopatra in fact or in my view is also a great commedia dell'arte play. There is a real possibility and maybe even a probability that Shakespeare spent three formative years in Italy. A large percentage of his plays take place in Italy (Venice, Padua, Verona). Some of Shakespeare's plays are partially in or related to Italy - Antony & Cleopatra, The Tempest, and Cymbeline.   

I consider Toto one of the most direct links to commedia dell'arte. He is like a pure cultural lineage. He even explains that his first experience in theatre was with a commedia dell'arte show. Of course the purest romantic form of commedia ended in the 1600s. It had remnants into the 1700s and one of those extended farther as the Price family of pantomime players from England joined forces (and families through marriage) with an Italian commedia family when the two met in Copenhagen around 1810. This tradition continues with the 10th generation Price still involved in Copenhagen's style of commedia in its Tivoli Pantomime. There a Price is the composer and musical director.

Toto, just as Harlequin could, took on a variety of guises. Two of those I am fascinated by. Those two are Toto as Pinocchio and as Otello (both as marionettes). In at least one movie Toto also plays a clown.

Long ago I worked on two plays of Pirandello and was very interested in his use of meta-theatre - the acknowledgement of both the actors and the audience that what we are experiencing is theatre and life and that the life we experience in the theatre is also the only reality. Carlo once said in class while he was giving an inspirational talk "You think I am talking about theatre, but, I am not! I am talking about life!". In this respect Carlo was Pirandellian. So Brecht, Commedia, Clown and above all Shakespeare used meta-theatre at least in each of his prologues, epilogues, asides and perhaps too in his soliloquies as performed by such people as Mark Rylance. Rylance is the embodiment of clown, commedia, capo comico, and tragedian. So too is Toto.

A few years ago I was nearly able to start my "Commedia Toto" project with two actors. That didn't eventuate. But now I am here in Italy and with a wonderful group of actors and colleagues we are creating the play "Commedia Toto" that will be performed at the end of this week. I have asked for two assistants on this project each of whom will also act in the play. My friend and colleague Caspar Schjelbred (Denmark/Sweden) has assisted with the organization and communication and Elena Michielin (of Veneto) has done the textual research I've assigned into Toto texts and Pirandello texts. In our play Elena will play a character named "The Actress" and Caspar's is "Soren Kierkagaard". Kevin Gorczynski is "Toto as Pinocchio". ... to be continued...