The Art of Failing

Teaching an art form is a process (duh!): not only the teaching and learning, but also figuring out what to teach.

When it comes to Commedia, with its rich history (and mysterious, since since the form pretty much died), that story grows more interesting and complicated.

How do you introduce students to this wild world called Commedia?
Do you start with the history (probably too boring), with discipline (probably not that inspiring), with humor (fun but where is the weight of the form), with improv (also fun but not the whole picture), with the physicality (too much training), with imaginative play//lazzi (great fun but takes time to retrain the brain), with chaos (often confusing)…

How do you lay the ground work so that students are interested, excited and understanding the full scope of Commedia?
I mean, it is pretty complicated. I guess, you begin to look for the hook. What will get an artist all excited about learning a new form? One answer: if they feel successful. Remember this is only an introduction.

Success is a funny idea, not haha. When we (Tut'Z) were training in Commedia, failure was essential. We had to learn how to fall flat on our faces day after day (and find the joy in it). Failure is the key to success. When I stepped into a Commedia workshop this past weekend, I was expecting failure to be on the menu. The weird thing, it wasn’t there. The instructor was working triple hard to make sure that we all walked away feeling successful. He would give us lines, he would provide us with scenarios, he would give us the walks, he would give us the characters, he would direct us (like we were his puppets on strings), and never once was there a dull moment.

After the first day, I was really annoyed. I thought he was too prescriptive in his Commedia – truthfully, he would give us the option of freedom but when we faltered he would step in to hold us up which I took as him trying to tell us how it should be done. Really, he was making sure we had a good time. However, in making sure we were all enjoying ourselves, he took away our creativity, our chaos, our terror, our fear, our everything-one-needs to be in the moment. To me, he took away the Commedia.

I stepped up to do a 3 person scene, and took on Tartaglia. I’m not so good at T, but I wanted to try it. While we were up, he kept tossing things at me. I did not know whether to follow my impulses or to follow the direction. I just kept stammering (like T), because everything was mixed up. I was trying to be present, but did not know how to navigate what I wanted to do and what I was supposed to do. I started trying to do both – which meant that it was a huge FLOP. It kind of felt great. I love a flop. It feels terrible but the kind of terrible to get up and try again.

This got me thinking. What is important for
Commedia? What do you introduce first, second, third? How do you bring the person up to speed and the imagination into play and the character into the body? You have so many elements you need to do at once – what is the order you choose?

I learned, never allow the need to succeed take the place of failure. Failure is so important in this form. The way you improve is through a complicated exploration of failure. There is no right or wrong. There is no perfect character or Commedia. We don’t really know how it was done 300 years ago – we are making it up. Fail, in order to succeed.

written by: Patrick Berger