Moments of Magic

I am the self-appointed Company Worrier. I think I’m also super fun and have lots of ambitious dreams for Tut’Zanni, don’t get me wrong. But I do often feel that of the six of us, I’m the one asking “Can we really make that happen?” when ALi says “Let’s go make a show in Italy!” and I’m the one trying to figure out a contingency plan if we can’t manage to crowdfund getting Dory and her family to the States for another show development period. Let’s be honest - we live crazy far apart from each other (Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Boston, Tuscany) and we each have jobs, lives and commitments of our own. Syncing up six busy schedules and actually getting together to make theatre as a company is extremely hard. So hard, in fact, that it doesn't make logical sense that Tut’Zanni is two years old and counting.

Once we've boarded our respective planes and seemingly miraculously found each other (be it in the Florence airport without cellphones or a completely unfamiliar Chicago neighborhood), a kind of magic happens. It’s as if we all know (even me!) that the hardest part is over. The obstacles of time zones and bad internet connections are temporarily gone and we can finally get to work. And by work I mean play.

The beautiful thing about Commedia dell’Arte as a form is the wonderful structure that has been handed down for centuries (getting lost and found again in the process) that we get to utilize. We all are quite familiar with our old friends that populate every Commedia show - Arlecchino, Magnifico, Dottore, Colombina and the rest, and each member of the company has certain characters we comfortably climb into and others we’re approaching as new acquaintances. We all have some sense of what Zanni might do in a kitchen full of delicious food or how an Innamorata might try to kill herself if her all-consuming love goes unrequited for much longer.

On day one of rehearsal in Chicago, the bones of our new project were already there, and we just had to put some meat and skin on the beast. We could have easily gone on for weeks playing around in mask, trying out new character combinations, ridiculous acrobatic moves and new songs with naughty homemade lyrics. But bound by the cruel realities of limited time, we had mere days to go from vague ideas to something suitable to show to our friends and families. A little nervous about time (of course), I proposed a schedule, and we methodically ticked off scene after scene as the days went by from our to-do list. There wasn’t time to polish any one scene or set anything in stone - and that’s another way in which Commedia fits right into our frantic schedules. Commedia is rough and dirty, with an idea of how the show might go but very much improvised top to bottom. We expected the unexpected - the unexpected is when theatre happens.

As the audience for our work-in-progress show began filing in, we were still discussing new ways to spin scenes. And it wasn't stressing me out! Sure, I had some pre-show nerves and worried I might enter or exit scenes from the wrong side of the stage. But I knew whatever was about to happen would be lots of fun for us and hopefully the audience as well. The constraints of distance and time suddenly felt like an asset, not an issue. In the brief flash that we’re actually in the same city, on the same stage, sharing the spotlight together, we give each other every ounce of attention, support and love we can muster. Commedia falls flat on its face without an active and engaged audience, and we as a company similarly rely completely on each other to find those rare moments of magic together.