Our physical theatre intensive kicked off with two weeks of Commedia dell’Arte taught by Florence native, Roberto Andrioli.
Roberto Andrioli is an actor, director, playwright, acting instructor and mask maker. He has worked in many productions and cultural projects in Italy and abroad: Piccolo Teatro (Milan), La Mama E.T.C. (New York), The Jean Francois Duroure Theatre-dance Company (France and Eastern Europe), The Baltinsky Dom (Saint Petersburg), Teatro Stabile della Toscana, La Corte Ospitale of Rubiera, Teatro Moderno of Rome and many others.
Roberto has been featured in commercials for Vodafone, Ikea, Fastweb and Fuji and he recently played one of the principals in “Mamma mia!”.
He wrote and produced ” Baker vs Baker ” an original performance dedicated to Chet Baker and the commedia “The History of Florence: abridged in 60 minutes”. He also wrote and directed an adaptation of Machiavelli’s “Mandrake” that he performed in Italy and Costa Rica. Recently, he performed his text “Apocalypse Now Comedy: the End of the World for Dummies”, a commedia show produced and directed by the Brasilian-American director Adrian Steinway, in Sao Paolo, Brasil.
Roberto is a 1996 graduate of the Drama Academy of Piccolo Teatro in Milan, directed by Giorgio Strehler. He holds a Masters Degree in Theatrical Pedagogy at the Brescia University (1997). Roberto was awarded an internship at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York in 1998.
Roberto has taught commedia workshops at Sao Paolo University, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, University of Texas at Austin, New York University (NYU), Syracuse University, CSM Conservatori Superior de Musica de Valencia, CSMC Conservatori Superior de Musica de Castillò, and the Conservatory of Strasbourg. He is currently an instructor of acting at Fondazione Torino Spettacoli.
Below Roberto talks about his work with our students and his own reflections about performance and theatre making.
What is something that has surprised you about working with the students, thus far?
I was happy that they have a good focus and energy, but I didn’t expect to find a disaster in the group of students, so I can’t say that I’m surprised. I knew it was going to be a good place with people ready to work. I really had a good group of students and of course there are different group dynamics and and even if there are difficulties they’ve succeeded so far to stay without conflicts and without anyone keeping the group stuck or behind. I hope it was a good experience for them.
Do you find that when you work on the archetype characters with new people that you learn something new about the characters?
I think the archetypes are always leading people to the mask in a specific directions. The way I work, I let them be quite free. My approach is not to tell them how the character is. I try to define some qualities of the character and let the students be quite free to take the qualities and put them in the body. At the end the mask and the characters go in a specific direction because the mask really leads people there. You put your body together with the mask and there is not a gap. The mask leads them in quite a fixed direction that’s typical of Commedia dell’Arte. Even with the plot, I let them be free to create the plot, and I don’t give them traditional restrictions. It’s funny combining elements they create and a plot they create, but inside those things I can recognize a classical plot. It happens that way as a function of the form. You create something without knowing something similar already exists. You create but also recognize that it’s still comes from the tradition.
For now we work on the characters and body language, working on plots in little groups, and traditional style. They work with masks and I send them in a direction of creativity that inspires a traditional story. These stories can happen in the past and now. I want to take the last days of the workshop to open a new space of creativity to work in the same characters without masks and think about a contemporary plot that would happen today. I’m curious about that modernization of commedia.
How would you define theatre for yourself?
I think nowadays theatre is more and more something that involves presence. Being in the here and now with the mind and the heart. Sharing. It’s in competition with other performing arts and with other ways people can spend the time. The circumstances of theatre are to be in front of somebody real in the flesh, not just images, and to exchange feelings. In the past maybe this was less important because it wasn’t competitive with other forms. In a way theatre is something that is always in crisis. It can’t be the theatre of yesterday or tomorrow. Facing an audience of today and investing energies is what it’s about. We try to do and keep something that is simple, but that is also essential.
When and how did you realize you were an artist?
I started to get close to theatre when I was 16. It was highschool and it was a strange feeling because nobody in my family had anything to do with it. I was attracted by the advertisement of a theatre school, and I went together with friends. After one year my friends quit and I kept on studying. The director of the company asked me to be a part of commedia dell’arte. I found myself immediately involved professionally at 17, and when I finished highschool I finished theatre school. I went to a difficult academy in Milano, with important teachers and masters. After that school I tried to make that work and it’s a big challenge every day. Almost immediately I worked in TV and movies and things that I didn’t consider at the time. It’s good to be open and to catch energy in all kinds of theatre . It’s my way to survive. For some reason I found myself involved in international projects, so I put together my curiosity to travel. The Italian system doesn’t really create opportunity for artists, and there is no democratic way to choose people, it’s all about who you know. I found myself working a lot in foreign productions. In the last year I dedicated more of my time to teaching because it’s more comfortable for me and my family. I made this compromise and as I get older I like to do it. I’m in production with a small company and we travel. We went to South America and are going to Miami. There is always a big limitation especially in the production side of theatre, so I think we should develop the way we create new producers because producers make theatre happen and alive and it’s complicated from that side. This is an interesting point to explore in terms of formation of theatre. I think if you study that side of production you can develop your knowledge.
Is there a main point of focus or concept that you hope the students take away from the Commedia dell’Arte course?
I want them to know that they can really trust the potential of their body. It’s just a matter of continuing to study and train and experiment in different approaches. If you follow certain elements and techniques you can get results with your body and your energy. You already have the potential to have power on the stage. Of course it’s a matter of training to manage different rhythms and different energy. I think they can easily bring this work into any kind of performing arts, even ones that seem far from commedia because this work teaches acting technique. Mask work opens up a lot of spaces in your body work and acting. I hope they understand this because commedia is a quite specific kind of theatre, but if you understand this you can really transfer what you learn to any kind of experience in performing arts. You can use it in the creation of characters, it can become part of your background experience to then offer in other theatrical and artistic settings.
What is your favorite thing about working and living at the villa?
The atmosphere is very good. The fact that we are in this silence up on a hill, this really helps the focus, and the fact that there is space, even though it’s only two weeks together, you can always find a space for yourself. This is important to keep your energy. Sometimes it’s hard to create this kind of space because of logistics like maybe the space isn’t big enough or there are some circumstance that make it uncomfortable. I had this feeling when I came to visit, that this space really has all the elements to work well as a working artistic space. I feel quite positive. It’s also very close to the city, yesterday we went for an ice cream in just in 15 min and enjoyed another energy of the city. It’s also important that this is possible, so that you are not isolated. There is also room to exchange with other people doing other workshops. I got to know Wagner and Helena, who were teaching the dance workshop, and as I’m searching in my future to make a commedia show maybe solo or duo that can travel with all elements of theatre, I need to find the right choreographer and situation. I liked their way of thinking about performance, so maybe we will find a way to do something together.