Inside “Servant” Callbacks

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

As previously mentioned, director Stephanie Breinholt has a big, bold vision for her production of The Servant of Two Masters.  So, naturally, in order to accomplish it, she needs a cast that is up to the task.  Which means we had one hilarious audition process.

As is typical, Stephanie held a two-part audition.  For the first part, interested actors came in and either did a prepared monologue or a cold-read (where they read a scene from the script of Servant). This is pretty normal in the audition world.

Then things really got interesting.  For the second part – the Callbacks – Stephanie had the group of actors she was thinking about casting come in for a 4 hour improvisation and reading extravaganza.

The first hour was focused on the lazzi (physical comedy) part of the show. The actors were divided into groups and given a certain prompt (i.e.: you are about to get on a roller coaster ride and one member of your group is too frightened to sit down).  The groups then had 10 minutes to plan and prepare a scene, which they then performed in front of the whole group.  Stephanie was particularly looking for the actors who made strong and interesting character choices and who were willing to push the physical comedy.

I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard during a callback.  Ever.

And since we caught it all on video, it means we get to share the experience with you.  So here’s a sneak peek at two of the improvs:

For the second hour, Stephanie pulled out the kazoos.  Yes, I said the kazoos.  Since part of the Stephanie’s vision includes the cast creating all the music for the show through kazoos, she wanted to see how creative the actors could be through song and dance.  Again, the actors were divided into groups, given a musical genre (i.e. Country) and then given time to plan and prepare a “musical offering.”

Kazoos + Riverdance = lots of laughter.

Here’s a look at two of the groups.

We concluded the day with the actors reading scenes from the script, vying for the different roles.  At the end, we had so many great actors to choose from…and came up with one fantastically creative cast.

 

A Director’s Vision: Stephanie Breinholt Imagines Sevant of Two Masters

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see a Stephanie Breinholt show at BYU, then you know that she loves to take classical texts and bring them to life with big, bold choices.  Her upcoming production of The Servant of Two Masters is no different.

One of Stephanie’s favorite classical texts, Servant is full of crazy characters, zany antics and extreme situations.  Stephanie wants to emphasize the cartoon aspects of the script, creating a modern interpretation that is bright, colorful and hilarious.

In Stephanie’s original pitch for the show, she described the following:

“I would like the piece to feel like a 3-D version of a cartoon…The feel of the show that I’m currently looking for can best be described through the following clip from Strictly Ballroom:

The elements that strike me about the clip are broad strokes of character that are matched in design elements, extreme non-realistic lighting when appropriate, larger than life costume and makeup choices and movement, and the theatricality of the environment.”

As you can imagine, the design team is pretty excited about this.  Check back to see how they are using Stephanie’s vision to create our crazy comical Servant world.

Meeting the Characters: The Fathers & The Lovers

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Now that you have met the servants, here’s a peek at the other two categories of characters that make up any classic commedia dell’arte play.

The Fathers:

The two most common father characters are Pantalone and Dottore (The Doctor).

Pantalone

Pantalone, the Venetian merchant, is a old and miserly.  Usually the father of the female lover, he has one goal in life: to make as much money as possible.  In order to reach his goal, he often tries to marry his daughter off to the richest suitor available, even if she does not care for him.  He also believes himself to be quite the ladies man.

Dottore

Dottore is Pantalone’s best friend and sidekick.  Hailing from the city of Bologna, the city in Italy known for its university, Dottore believes himself to be quite the scholar.  However, even though he is often found spouting off (often incorrect) Latin phrases, Dottore is the most likely to be tricked by the other characters.

 

The Lovers:

The plot of most commedia plays revolves around the plight of the Lovers.  Always separated by some seemingly insurmountable obstacles – such as a father promising one or both to another – the Lovers often engage the help of their servants in their quest to be together.  Young and naive ,the Lovers are nevertheless witty, handsome and well-educated.  Always dressed in the top fashion of the day, the Lovers are the only characters to remain un-masked.

The Lovers

 

Meeting the Characters: The Servants

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

In writing The Servant of Two Masters, Carlo Goldoni used several classic commedia dell’arte characters to tell his hilarious story.  Many of these characters, often described as “stock characters,” are still used in theatre and film today.  Let’s see who you recognize.

First up there are the servants, or the Zanni.  With names like Truffaldino, Arlecchino, Smeraldina and Pulcinella, the servants are usually defined as astute tricksters.  The bottom of the pecking order, zanni come from the countryside (most often the city of Bergamo) and represented the poor farm and immigrant workers of Italy.

The zanni are often mischevious and are ruled by their survival instincts – especially by hunger.  Led by their stomachs instead of their brains, the zanni provide most of the comic relief in any commedia style play.  In fact, their main purpose in the storyline is to be the “principal contributor to any confusion.” Misunderstanding, tricks, pranks and continuous attempts to pull one over their masters led to extreme physical comedy known as lazzi.  The most common lazzi involves the use of a batacchio or slapstick, when the zanni receives punishment from his master for one of his tricks.

The zanni are loveable in their stupidity and often interact directly with the audience, ensuring their sympathy.  The greater the scrape -and the more impossible the situation – the more you root for them to succeed.

Next up, we’ll meet their masters…

Quick Facts: Servant of Two Masters

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Mistaken identity.

“I’d like to see how I’ll manage to serve two masters.”
Illustration from “The Complete Comedies of Carlo Goldoni” (1830)

Broken engagements.

Lovers reunited.

Mass chaos.

And in the middle of it all, one very hungry servant.

If you’ve never heard of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters (Il servitore di due padroni), then you are in for a treat.  So let’s give you a little insider’s scoop.

Servant is written in the style of commedia dell’arte, a hilarious Italian Renaissance theatrical genre.

Commedia is famous for several distinct features:

  • Improvisation: the actors had an outline of the scenes, and the overall story line, but would improvise the lines.
  • Stock Characters: every play used a variation of the same character type – the miserly father, the young lovers, the crazy servants, etc.
  • Masks: each character had a specific mask that made him/her instantaneously recognizable to the audience
  • Physical comedy or lazzi: this is the style of theatre that introduced “zany” and “slapstick comedy” to our vocabulary (the father character would carry around a slapstick – two pieces of wood fashioned together so that it would make a “slapping” sound –  and beat the servant characters)

A traditional slapstick

Since the traditional commedia characters feature so prominently in Servant of Two Masters, I’ll spend my next couple of posts introducing you to them.  I think you’ll be surprised at how many of them are familiar to you.