When the Curtain Rises

“The Glorious Ones” opens this evening and I couldn’t be happier. Not only do we have a fantastic cast, but this process has been an incredibly rewarding one. This show is one that I have wanted to share with others ever since I first fell in love with it in New York four years ago. Here’s to a great run all. You continue to surprise me with each rehearsal. Let’s show them what we’ve got tonight.

 

““All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

– T.E. Lawrence

Mr. Bean’s Take on Commedia

Commedia dell’arte comic traditions have trickled down into our modern day comedy, but it was only recently that I realized that Mr. Bean is a prime example. His use of noises vs. words, his small improvised moments, his specialized walk and facial expressions…all hints of Dottore, Pantelone, Zanni. Take a look at one of his classic scenes below to get a glimpse for yourself:

Commedia in The Muppets

Watching the first season of the Muppet Show brought me to the conclusion that its characters are closer to its commedia ancestors than I previously imagined.

The old misers Waldorf and Statler

as

                  Pantelone and Dottore


The somewhat-violent, strong and attractive Miss Piggy

as

Colombina

The attention-hungry “artist” and daredevil Gonzo

as

Arlechinno

Even Kermit, the Master of Ceremonies that acts as a liason between the audience and the performers is quite easily a trope on Comico. Kermit even performs of the the traditional lazzi (short improvisational scene) where he tells audience that the troupe will perform some impossible acrobatic feat (which they don’t do).

Funny how little hints of the past make their way into today’s comic vocabulary. Oh, and if you haven’t seen the Muppet Movie yet…get to it!

Well, You Can Tell By the Way I Use My Walk

Last night, the cast got acquainted with the Little Zanni walk, a commedia style stride characterized by high knees and bird-like head movements. All that striding around led me to this brilliantly filmed, and well-acted example of the Zanni stock character.

In the commedia tradition, Zanni was a typical comic servant. The longer the mask’s nose, the ‘stupider’ the character. Take a look at this gal’s interpretation.

The ending is surprisingly effective as well.

Making It Up vs. Sticking to the Script

What’s more fun to watch? A group of rag-tag actors improvising in hopes of making you laugh, or a fully-realized performance with every aspect perfected to a T?

There’s something absolutely impressive about a group that can improvise. And do it well. The natural ability to pull quick-witted phrases from the air? Enviable. The way they make it seem like it requires no effort at all? Never fails to impress.

Mute Button Skit from Improv Everywhere

In reality, I don’t think the two are comparable. Both can be brilliant in their own right.

“The Glorious Ones” seems to argue that improvisation requires more skill. The troupe transitions from their rowdy, improvised street performances to a more static, scripted version of their shows. This shift demonstrates that although the scripted play may be technically beautiful, it lacks the heart that was once found in their work.

You can see a perfect example of this stilted-style of performance in this little gem from Moulin Rouge. The lovers sing-shout at each other, barely touch – and yet it’s supposed to convey some version of reality.

The last line of this scene always kills me…but the only clip I could find wasn’t in English

…I kinda love it even more.

Image Source

How to Live like French Royalty

“Come to Blois…
C’est ca?
Au revoir!”
– French Cardinal, The Glorious Ones

These castle digs were where the very best of French royalty kept house back in the day. The commedia troupe in The Glorious Ones receives an invitation to perform for the King of France in Blois – most likely King Henri Twah.

Ever wonder how you could pull off living like a King?

Welcome Home

Step 1: Make everything about your home, including the stairway in, the most opulent creation anyone has ever seen.

Step 2: Sentence people to death for things like “looking at you the wrong way,” accidently sneezing, or singing off-key. That’ll teach ’em.

Step 3: Never lift a finger. Have an army of servants in charge of keeping the place looking snazzy.

Step 4: Eat large cuts of meat while regarding the stunningly impressive view from your château.

Step 5: Speak a little French now and again. Try angry phrases such as “Qu’on leur coupe la tête!” (off with their head) and “Jamais de la vie…” (never in my life) to keep everyone in line.

Voila! Royalty Status. That wasn’t so hard was it?

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Little Mime for Your Monday

In the original production of “The Glorious Ones,” John Kassir (Dottore) got to show off his unique talent: mastery of mime. His performance has led me back to one of the great originals – the unparalleled Marcel Marceau.

Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?

– Marcel Marceau

This a man who devoted more than 60 years of his life to performing. And it paid off.  He was acknowledged as the world’s greatest practitioner of mime.

In the video below, he describes how to create reality in a scene. In this case, going up and down a set of stairs.  Watch his eyes as they create a destination above him.


Translation from French:

“Going up and downstairs. It’s an exercice that Jean-Louis Barrault, a disciple of Etienne Decroux, created dramatically. I have changed it a little, it’s another way to do it. What is important is to not only to locate the ramp’s substance, its artisanale side. You also must create the place’s heaviness, distance. I’m going downstairs”

Image Source

Ode to Our Attention Deficit Generation

Remember the last time a joke over 5 minutes long put you in stitches? No? Welcome to comedy 2.0. Nowadays, we have a window of 10 seconds to make us chuckle before we’re off on the search for the next laugh.

Take a look at the original Charlie Chaplin or the Three Stooges sketches. The jokes were silly, the subjects sometimes crass, but the result was always heartwarming.  As our attention spans’ shortened and tastes changed, even SNL feels as though its day has come and gone. The long-form sketch has given way to the 1-minute-YouTube-video star and internet memes. Don’t get me wrong – love a good philosoraptor. Just pointing out that even the classic “Who’s On First” sketch from Abbott and Castello feels a little long nowadays. And that clip lasts only six minutes.

Hop on board the virtual time machine below to have a look back on some of the most iconic moments in comedy from the past few decades. Do they still stand the test of time?

1940s

1950s

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000s

Today?

Jurassic Park Critter Imitation

What makes you laugh? What memes steal your heart? What sketches of yesteryear still crack you up today?

Day in the Life: Venice

Venice appears to be breathtaking no matter how you slice it. The vibrant facades, the quaint laundry lines displaying clothes like multicolored flags, the lack of traditional highways…

But surely the Venice of today is different than that of 500 years ago. While the city is unmistakably steeped in history, it cannot help but to feel the effects of modernization.

On a search to find out how Venice might have looked in the 16th century, stumbled upon this little gem: a trailer for a 2004 movie version of the Bard’s “Merchant of Venice.” Anyone seen this? The cast is top-notch that’s for sure…Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, and…what? Al Pacino? Since when does he do Shakespeare? In any case, I feel like this film flew under a lot of people’s radar.

You can catch a glimpse of commedia at 1:34

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

Strap those girls in! A Short History of the Corset


How did something renowned for making it impossible to breathe ever become associated with femininity and sexytimes? Restricted air flow brings that nice pale look to your your otherwise rosy complexion. Sexy!

Time to jump back in history and find out more:

  • Before cloth corsets, there were IRON CORSETS. Yes, made out of metal. An iron-hinged, armor-like corset was worn to flatten the body giving a smooth outline beneath gowns.
  • By the mid-to-late 16th century, linen corsets started being worn by more women. At least they were a bit lighter.
  • All a misconception: In the 16th century, the corset was not meant to draw in the waist and create an hourglass figure; rather, it was designed to mold the torso into a cylindrical shape, and to flatten and raise the bustline. There is one 16th century reference to a small waist being fashionable, but on the whole it was a fashionably flat-torsoed shape, rather than a tiny waist, that the corset was designed to achieve.
  • These corsets helped create a contrast between the rigid flatness of the bodice front and the curving tops of the breasts peeking over the top of the corset. Peek-a-boo!

Columbina

Image Sources: 1, 2

Shadowplay

“Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.”

– Junichiro Tanizaki


Aren’t these incredible images? All are from the performing group Pilobolus – I just love the creativity and teamwork involved to form these shots. The Glorious Ones will employ some shadowplay throughout the show. And while we won’t need to make tables/flowers out of the actors, we will have them play around with different ways to bring life to the human shape.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

Why Cultivate Creativity?

I say we yearn to leave something that lasts
To be known for what little we’ve done
Men tell their children the tales of their past
And each man gives his name to his son
Something in song or in story
Something in blood, something of glory
Something that won’t fade away in a year
– “I Was Here” from The Glorious Ones

Why create? A question with a million answers. Is it merely to communicate in a method stronger than words – in a language that has no boundaries? Is it because there is an innate need, a hunger to get something out? An expression of a conversation with one’s soul?

The most valuable thing that we have as humans is the ability to feel. Every experience, however difficult or challenging, leaves its impression.  And creativity stems from a feeling: a twinge of anger, utter confusion, insatiable wonder.

Creativity can also help to stave off the feelings of insignificance when confronted with one’s own impermanence. When an individual comes to terms with the fact that life is short – a blip on the universe’s timeline – what better reaction than to try to leave something behind. A marker of one’s existence.

If you are only going to watch one video on creativity in your entire life, let it be this talk that Elizabeth Gilbert gave in 2009. Every single moment is worth it. Here’s to the “genius” inside each and every one of us.

And you thought Daddy Long Legs were scary…

Can’t stand spiders? I’m with you. They freak me out. Turns out that a few centuries ago, the natives of Southern Italy invented an entire dance devoted to keeping the spiders away:  the tarantella. Making arachnophobia fun since 1528.

Back in the 16th century, a bite from a wooly wolf spider (aka tarantula) was popularly believed to be highly poisonous and to lead to a hysterical condition known as tarantism. It was believed that victims had to engage in frenzied dancing to prevent death from tarantism using a very rhythmic and fast music. The particular type of dance and the music played became known as tarantella.

How could you look into those eyes and not fall in love, right?

Now we know that these lil guys are not poisonous (or at least do not inject enough venom to be dangerous to humans), but the dance tradition remains. And The Glorious Ones tips its cap to the early beginnings of this dance style in Armanda’s Tarentella. While this version offers no whirling dervish, it does take a raunchy look at good ol’ sexual innuendo. And I’ll take bawdy wordplay over spiders any day.

Image Sources: 1, 2

5 Things You Never Knew About “The Lovers”

Every show needs a good love story right? Commedia thought so too.

The archetype of the lovers was established early on in the commedia tradition.  The aristocracy of the Italian Renaissance courts amused themselves with a form they called commedia erudita.  As the professional improvised comedy looked to extend its range it seemed to have borrowed the Lovers from the amateur form.

1. In Italian, the Lovers are called innamorati. It just sounds lovely doesn’t it?

2. They teeter as they walk and lack firm contact with the ground. Remember the expression “love gives you wings”? You can see it in action as the lovers sway to and fro, high on the aphrodisiac that is each others’ love.

Francesco and Isabella, Lincoln Center Production of The Glorious Ones

3. In commedia, the lovers exist very much in their own world- and in their own world within that world.  Self-obsessed and very selfish, they are more interested in what they are saying themselves and how it sounds than in what the beloved is saying.  They are primarily in love with themselves, secondarily in love with love, and only consequentially in love with the beloved (Rudlin).

Luckily they make it out better than most of the other stock characters. There is no viciousness in them and they serve as a symbol of potential happiness.

4. Sometimes when situations become too much for them, they deflate totally. This emotional defeat would reflect in their physical stance – it would appear as though their heavy hearts were pulling them down.

5. The lovers were always extremely aware of being watched and played with the audience for sympathy in their plight. Also, they would occasionally flirt with spectators! Those vain ones…

The Glorious Ones’s “Lovers” are the characters of Isabella and Francesco.  They are young, beautiful, talented, ambitious…and moon over each other like nobody’s business. That’s amore, kids.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3