The fourteen members of Cohort IV are coming to the end of Module II and the end of their first year in Arezzo. The semester ends with their Commedia dell’Arte final performance, after which the students will have one-week break before heading to Torino, Italy for Module III. The cohort will be in residence for six weeks with FLIC Scuola di Circo, one of Europe’s most respected circus schools, training in circus arts.
In this edition of the MFA Newsletter we check in with MFA professors and students about their recent work in Leather Mask-making, Polyphonic Singing from the Ukraine, Commedia dell’Arte, and local performances in Arezzo.
MFA Cohort IV has just finished their intensives in Leather Mask-making with Andrea Cavarra and Polyphonic Singing from the Ukraine with Marjana Sadovska. We took a few minutes with Andrea and Marjana to discuss their work:
Leather Mask-Making with Andrea Cavarra:
In Commedia dell’Arte (and masked theatre in general), the actor is wearing a symbol that, if well planned, enables them to enter into the convention with the public very fast and you will find that audience will listen to their story. The message presented by the mask – posture, voice, character, story plot – will be accepted by the audience as if everything is a confederation of states, interconnected but independent. This is why the study of building your own mask, including why you choose where the lines shape the mask, the color, the expression of the eyes, allows the actor the freedom to make character choices that will be tested in front of the public. Just as the actor must learn to move, lead, speak their character, it is also an important working tool that represents yourself, coming directly from your creativity.
Developing a sense of polyphonic singing means, while leading your own line, the story is still in relation ship, in connection with one or more partners. To learn how the song can lead and direct you. And while working on specific songs within a technique, to find parallels to other vocal techniques, similarities and differences. It is also a discovery of your own voice and all “hidden” possibilities of your voice.
I believe that in artistic work, it is crucial to be open to new experiences, never stop learning and to discover new possibilities. I hope the students are not expecting to learn some ready-made patterns, to receive answers to all questions and problems, but rather, while creating new experiences during the training, to find your own, very individual and unique way of continuation of development and creativity.
I am happy when the students may experience an easiness and joy when using their own voices; the incredible potential of sounding/singing together with partners, while you yourself remain very present. This is the value of mutuality and partnership. I also hope the students discover how the music and singing may help you to find a dramatization and direction for a single scene, a role or the whole performance.
MFA Cohort IV has spent a substantial amount of time and energy this semester studying and training in Commedia dell’Arte, under the instruction, direction and mentorship of Fabio Mangolini (MFA Program Director). The ethos of the actor-creator, which comes from Commedia dell’Arte, is the foundation of the MFA program. We asked MFA students Brittany Roa, Riccardo Martinez, and Sean Henderson some questions about their work so far:
Commedia dell’Arte is a distinctive style of performance that has a unique, non-text-based approach to creating new work. How does this compare to the actor training you experienced before beginning the Accademia’s MFA in Physical Theatre?
Brittany: I’ve loved studying Commedia dell’Arte at the Accademia. In my undergraduate I never performed or learned much about Commedia, and it wasn’t until coming to ADA that I learned the history and movements in-depth. I’ve been challenged with improvisation, which I had always been afraid of, and with creating a cohesive character while working with a mask. Remember the 90’s movie “The Mask” with Jim Carrey? That’s how I would describe this work for me. When I put on a mask I am able to transform and become someone else. I had never done mask work like this before, so I thought it would be really difficult, but Fabio has taught it in a progression that I found to be very accessible. I feel like I really “came to life” in this module; I’ve changed as a performer and really gained a lot of confidence.
Riccardo: My actor training has been similar to the training provided by the Accademia’s MFA in Physical Theatre. I trained in Acting (text-based), Voice (Lessac Institute), Mime (different styles), Modern Dance, Ballet and Flamenco. Performing always as a dancer, an actor or a mime but never as an artist who used all of them to create a performance. This caused me to arrive to the MFA with a lot of different training but not knowing how to merge all this knowledge into one performance, which is my principal goal for doing this MFA. It is this meeting with Commedia dell’Arte that I found the opportunity of merging all of them in one, because in the end, each one of them is a part of it. It’s teaching me to perform as an actor with all of these possibilities in my tool box.
Sean: Before arriving at the ADA most actor training I had stressed the importance of table work, and of analyzing the subtext in a character’s text to justify character choices. With commedia the most important thing is to follow the mask, to read the lines and angles on a mask and use that to truthfully bring the mask and character to life.
What’s been the most challenging part of your Commedia training?
Sean: Being honest to the specific mask and not simply performing the convention of the character. Commedia has such a rich history and lots of us have seen so many examples of commedia characters being played that it is sometimes difficult not to play the stereotypical idea of the character. Each mask is different and unique and when played truthfully will bring the character to life in a way that is completely obvious to an audience member, however if we rely on simply playing the conventions of the character then the performance will be lifeless and flat.
How did Mask-Making compliment your work with Fabio?
Riccardo: When Fabio’s lessons started, my first obstacle was to destroy the stereotype of each character’s movements that somehow are hidden in your mind. Working with Andrea Cavarra, who has a very similar approach to the mask work, helped me to understand each line in the mask to conform a “final expression” that will give my body the information required to start moving as the mask. ask You have to adapt to how the mask moves you and not how you want to move with the mask, making me a servant of the mask and not the master of the mask.
Do you have a favorite character / mask? What interests you the most about it?
Brittany: My favorite Commedia mask is Capitano because it’s a very potent and passionate character and I love being able to channel that energy and lose myself on stage. I tend to be drawn to weaker characters, finding their struggle more compelling because I felt that there was more depth and that we can all relate to them more easily than a stronger character. During other exercises that seemed unrelated Fabio actually told me that I wasn’t allowed to be weak, I had to be strong on stage. So this has been a great challenge and lots of fun to find the beauty and the compassion in Capitano and all the other masks I’ve experimented with.
Sean: I do not have a favorite character. What interests me most about the masks is how long their history is, and how the facial features of a mask suggest certain characteristics that are applicable across language and cultural borders.
Are there any aspects of Commedia that you’ll continue to explore or utilize in your work after this semester (and beyond the MFA)?
Riccardo: Definitely! I will carry with me all the aspects from Commedia. From the necessity to connect with the audience to the characters and what they represent to the canovaccio to the physical requirements to the awesome capacity to be reinvented and adaptable with the purpose of being universal.
What words of wisdom has Fabio imparted that will stick with you past Commedia?
Brittany: Fabio has been amazing through this process. His feedback is always astute and leaves me wondering, How was he able to discern that from just a small exercise? His insight about the masks has allowed me to look at the work from a different perspective. If I had to choose, I would say that the most important thing Fabio taught me would have to be to own the stage. He told me that I should command attention and be powerful. Fabio helped me rediscover my strength as a performer that I thought I had lost, so I will always be grateful for that.
MFA Performances in Arezzo
The MFA in Physical Theatre program has been lucky enough to collaborate with many local artists in and around Arezzo. The MFA students take advantage of these performance opportunities as much as their intensive schedule allows.
Marie was a photo gallery conceived by local photographer Lorenzo Magistrato that incorporated a performance element. Cohort members Justine Hince, Brittany Roa, Elyse Brown and Nike Redding devised a short movement piece in collaboration with two local artists that they performed at the Galleria Imago in Arezzo during the opening. Justine and Elyse spoke to us about the project:
Justine: “Marie” is an intimate look into the life of a young French woman, Marie, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Lorenzo Magistrato, a local photographer, captured moments of Marie’s daily life in photos – black and white, depicting moments and actions that we take for granted, beautiful in their simplicity. Lorenzo also interviewed Marie about her diagnosis, how her life has since changed, and her view on life. As part of Lorenzo’s exhibit, he wanted to include a dance/movement number so he visited our MFA class and told us about his project and asked for participants. I was immediately touched by the project and knew I wanted to be a part of it.
Elyse: “Marie” is a series of photos about a young woman in France who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) several years ago. Arezzo photographer Lorenzo Magistrato created this gallery along with a documentary about the process of getting to know Marie and her experience with MS. I became involved in this project when Lorenzo reached out to the MFA cohort and explained his ongoing project and the plan to show his work at the Teatro Virginian, a local theatre in Arezzo, in early April. Besides the photography and video, he also wanted a dance/movement piece that would depict Marie in her ongoing battle with the disease.
What aspects, skills or experiences did you incorporate from your MFA training?
Elyse: My fellow students and I had the unique opportunity to perform as one unit. Lorenzo already had chosen a ballet dancer who would depict Marie and express the joy her healthy body. The five of us who volunteered to do this piece represented MS. Our work on rhythm and physical tension with acting teacher Ginevra Scaglia helped me feel more aware of my surroundings and fellow actors in the movement work for “Marie.” And in general many of our classes are focused on moving together as an ensemble, and I felt the work was present in the connection I created with the other cohort members while onstage.
Justine: I think the focus on ensemble work really played a huge part in our approach to this piece. Lorenzo invited his friend Rosaria, a ballet dancer, to choreograph a dance wherein she depicted a woman like Marie and we represented the disease. The five of us from the MFA program worked as a unit. We had to use our bodies to listen to each other which reminded me of work with Saso and Ginevra. We played with rhythms and primo piano from Ginevra’s movement class and moving together like we’ve learned in dance with Sabine. In one of our early Commedia classes with Fabio he told us that an objective of a good actor is to support the others on stage to be the best they can possibly be. I think we definitely employed that philosophy as we gave our attention to Rosaria and each other.
Why is collaborating with the artistic community in Arezzo important?
Justine: Our cohort has been really fortunate in that we’ve had several opportunities to collaborate with other artists and groups in Arezzo. Since we live here for such an extended period, it’s important to establish ourselves as part of the community and not just as visiting students. Arezzo has a wonderfully artistic culture already and being able to participate in it allows us to expand on what we’ve learned in classes and also connections in the community. Additionally, working in and for the community helps to inform our own art making process. We’re getting first hand experience with the artist-entrepreneur philosophy which is so unique and integral to the program. Continuing to build on these relationships allows for more creative opportunities not only for us but for future ADA students.
Elyse: I believe collaboration with the Arezzo community is important because while the studio is my lab, the community is a place where I can apply my new skills and where they can be most useful to me depending on what kind of art I am making. The MFA program has many challenges, but it also is a safe haven where we have the luxury to focus on process rather than product. Creating art with local artists in Arezzo helps me stay grounded.
On May 1, MFA Cohort IV members Elyse, Francesco, Justine, Riccardo, Caroline, Nike, Brittany and Erika will be joined by current ADA undergraduate students Heidee Alsdorf and Carrigan O’Brian for the performance, Spettatori Eranti. Several contemporary performing arts companies from the Province of Arezzo will also be featured. The audience will travel through the streets of Castiglion Fiorentino and to different areas inside the Teatro Mario Spino to view different theatre, dance and music performances!
Check out the next ADA Newsletter for photos from this performance!