All the little bits in between...
Okay. Patrick and I just had an awesome conversation on the train, and then Patrick looks at me and he says, we should be recording these conversations. I have my phone, so I turn on the recorder and mostly I’m just pretending to talk on the phone so that people don’t think I’m a total weirdo, but really I am talking to myself for 20 minutes... about this:
So we went and saw a Commedia show. I love seeing other shows because I always learn more, or at least I like to reflect on what Commedia could be. Any of these thoughts are definitely not meant to be a critique on the other performers, but a reflection on how I am thinking about my own work.
At the top of the show, they entered from the back of the audience and walked to the front through the audience and it was great. I know, it’s not like that’s never been done before. But with Commedia, it thrives on being right up next to people and walking through them and… well, commenting on them, commenting with them, waving to somebody across the room, they’re there, they’re with you, they’re in it with you.
There was something in their energy, something so tangible there that brought the Commedia to life and I was really excited about it. Thinking back, I also noticed that part of what worked so well was that it's like a big, giant lazzo.
Let me explain - they are there to do one thing, I (as an audience member) knew what their end point was. I knew where they were going, I knew what they were doing. They weren’t just aimlessly wandering through a crowd and being funny, they had to walk from the back to the stage. And in the meantime, they got distracted and they said hello and they liked some guys' beards and they played with someone’s phone and they hit on somebody, you know, it’s all very funny because it’s all a deviance from what you know they’re doing and what they’re supposed to do. As an audience member, I’m not confused.
And that is because in Commedia, especially the way Tut'Zanni teaches, you have to look where you’re going. This is so that your audience knows where you’re going to go, so that they see the goal. So when you first enter a space, that is an opportunity to look broadly at what you’re there to do and where you’re going to go. I’m going to go across this room and sit in the chair. But, because it is Commedia, the characters only think 3 steps ahead. So it’s like, okay, I’ve let the audience know where my end goal is, now I’m just gonna get distracted over here first and you know I’m gonna go find something else right here and then I’m going to look over there and you know what I’m looking at and I’m being clear.
So all of that was happening in the beginning. It was fantastic. There were more moments like this. Trying to set up a drumset, but knocking things over, asking audience members to hand something to them, and then dropping everything… But again, they were there to do a thing, set up the stage, and all the funny mistakes were deviances from it, and eventually they made their way to where they were going.
This is the concept I’ve been thinking so much about: You have to be constantly looking where you’re going. You have to always let the audience know where you’re trying to go and then you have to let them know what you’re doing right then so that nobody’s ever like, okay, this is cool, but how long are you going to do it for?
There was a bit at the end where one of the characters gets on the tightrope. Well, back up. The character is supposed to put up a sign that says “The End”, sling it over the tight rope, but it’s just out of his reach and he can’t quite get the sign up there. But then he casts the sign aside and he decides, hey, there’s a tightrope here, I could get on the tightrope and be on the tightrope and, like, tightrope walk because the show was supposed to end with a tightrope walk, but the character that was supposed to do it is otherwise disposed.
But the problem with that is, in Commedia when you make something for the sake of itself, as soon as you get there, it’s done. So then when you stay there and you play with it, it doesn’t feel like pure discovery, and the audience begins thinking, okay, you did it, so how long are you gonna keep doing it for?
There was an easy fix in this instance, because there was a missed opportunity. The character couldn’t get the sign up on the rope, so he could have tried to jump up on the rope to get the sign up there. And because the whole bit was him falling off the rope a little bit, and then spinning around it and doing tricks, it would still work. Now, it is satisfying because he’s not trying to tightrope walk, he’s just trying to put up this sign and along the way he’s accidentally doing all these awesome things on the tightrope. As an audience member, I know where he’s going in his larger arc. I know where that section is supposed to end, because it will culminate in him getting that sign up there. That’s what’s pushing him forward. And every time he messes up, he tries even harder. Not just because he’s trying to be there. And then he can revel in it a bit, like, ooh, look at me, I’m on a tightrope. Because the audience knows, haha, he's still supposed to put that sign up there, but he's just distracted. I know that eventually he's gonna get there. And that makes it even more satisfying if him almost gets it a few times, because when he finally does, it's conclusive and it feels good.
And then, we were talking about the larger arc of a whole Commedia show. And I was like, actually, it is the same story - you need to let the audience know what’s gonna happen. We are currently working on a Cinderella show, which is a huge opportunity because with traditional stories the audience knows what's supposed to happen. They know the story of Cinderella, they know how it ends, they know where you’re gonna go. So everything else you do is like candy. You know, it’s extra, extra sprinkles.
And it’s even in the structure of the canovaccio. A canovaccio is not just for the performers, when you enter you need to let the audience know what the plot points are. Like: I am… pantalone and I need to give this letter to Arlecchino and send him to go give it to Dottore. That’s the only thing I have to do. So then he can come in and I can try to give him a letter and then he can drop it and then he can see something shiny and run away and then somebody poops and somebody yells and somebody, you know, does a whole dance and breaks out into song and it’s hilarious and wonderful because EVERYONE knows where it's going.
And that’s what can make storytelling satisfying, that’s what can make theatre satisfying. AND that’s what can make it a reflection of life, like, I’m just trying to do a thing. I’m just trying to go from point A to point B, I’m just trying to go to school. I’m just trying to do my job. I’m just trying to finish this task. BUT it’s everything that happens in between that is theatre, that’s what fills up our lives, all the little bits in between. Everything that goes wrong and goes right and surprises us on our way to where we’re trying to go. That’s what makes it all so interesting.