Commedia Bootcamp

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

Before we headed off for the Thanksgiving holiday, Director Stephanie Breinholt and myself put our Servant of Two Masters’ cast through a “commedia bootcamp” – a day dedicated to learning the history, characters, physicality and movement styles of commedia dell’arte.  This bootcamp will serve as the foundation for the style and physical world of our eventual production.

It was a hilarious day.

Here are some of our favorite moments:


Meet the Playwright: Carlo Goldoni

by Janine Sobeck, dramaturg

At the end of commedia dell’arte’s 200 year reign in Italy, there came a man name Carlo Goldoni.  Born in 1707, Goldoni had a love of theatre from his childhood. However, though Goldoni had made his theatrical start writing typical commedia scenarios, with little or no alteration from the accepted traditions, he was concerned that commedia did not fully represent the Italian way of life and manners.  So he decided to make a change.

Building off of the works of the Greeks as well as more contemporary playwrights such as Moliere, Goldoni set out to reform the Italian theatre.  Believeing that reform happened through providing strong examples instead of simply ideas, Goldoni started to create his own plays.  Goldoni became famous for his hybrid style which combined the beloved nature of commedia dell’arte with the style and wit of Moliere. Some of his big changes included replacing the improvisational nature with written scripts, removing the masks so that the actors faces could be seen and reinventing the nature of the lazzi.  Legend has it that every time he finished a play he said, “Good.  But not yet Moliere.”

The Servant of Two Masters is Goldoni’s most beloved script.  It has been translated into many languages and has been adapted for theatres, film and televisions around the world.


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.