Male/Female Characters - what is the deal Commedia?
Thoughts on male/female commedia characters and Colombina from Dory of Tut'Zanni ensemble:During our last meeting we discussed our view of male and female when it comes to commedia and we don't think it is so clear in today's society. Instead, for us, it is best to look at the masks as masculine or feminine energies. So a woman in a mask with masculine energy will play as a woman with what would be considered typical or traditional "male attributes". For example, Pantalona with money and power, Dottore pregnant with knowledge or Magnifica horny and rich. Even before I knew I was pregnant, I had this idea of the pregnant Dottore. It seems so fitting, since pregnant women and mothers know EVERYTHING and are so willing to talk and talk and give many an advice whether this helps your or not. In the same vein, you look at Colombina, the voice of reason, as a feminine energy. We decided to give this task to Patrick for our current show. He does not play a woman but more of an effeminate male and I think he has harnessed the true energy of Colombina much more than any of the women in our ensemble ever have. ALi always takes on the task of the male servant characters Zanni, in which she only uses Grammalot, and Pulcinella, a completely silent straight character against Liam's over the top Capitano. Her energy is very playful and not traditionally feminine so these characters work in her body.
Arlecchino, on the other hand, is a challenge to play as a woman. Arlecchino is traditionally a very clown like character, living in his own plane of understanding the world, the way a child understands it except with the sexuality of an adolescent who is always hungry for it... coming directly from the idea of the Italian "mammone" or "momma's boy" he is fun and fancy free. This is hard to portray as a woman because girls tend to mature faster than boys, we have a lot more to prove to the world, so a young girl would be the Colombina not the Arlecchino. This is what I find difficult about it... not impossible but difficult.
But the opposite is true with Strega. She is extremely difficult for a man to pull off. There is a Mago character but usually he is extremely clumsy and dim witted. But Strega is THE strong woman character in traditional commedia. Unlike Colombina who can sometimes cleverly pull a rues or use her womanly form to gain power, Strega IS powerful and strikes fear in the hearts of the other characters. Whether or not her powers are real don't really matter because through her own persuasive, all-powerful nature, she has convinced these characters in this world that her magic is very real and they believe as well as follow through. This makes her the true feminist character. No one would be scared of a man in this way... He would have to prove his power over and over again.
We chose to mask our Colombina because everyone on stage was in mask. When you looked at it in a group as in our final scene, without the mask she was lost and aesthetically it looked strange. It is also important to distinguish Colombina from the innamorati, distinguishing her status because she is the voice of reason but she is still a servant. Whereas a little more flamboyant character like her slightly sluttier counterpart Smeraldina is a little closer to the innamorati in character. Less deep I should say. Though I think it is very possible to play Colombina without mask when innamorati are involved, while being careful not to get her character swept up in the dramatic movement of the other characters.
For the audience this worked well. The most important rule in commedia is not the sexes but the drives. Whether it is a Magnifico or a Magnifica they are driven by money, sex and power or Dottore who is driven by knowledge, food and drink - for Dottore sex is like food so they are one in the same. If you keep the inherent needs of each character and don't betray the mask (this applies to the age of the mask for instance - you cannot play Magnifico or Magnifica as a young man/woman or ugly man/woman because he/she is obviously old) you will keep the integrity of the true nature of commedia.