• Masks, Commedia and the Venetian Carnevale – Current students talk about their experiences working in Venice during the Carnevale

    by  • March 3, 2014 • Dance Program, Student Life, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Physical Theatre • 0 Comments


    As I get older, the line between teacher and student has been fading out gradually. Here at the ADA we take classes with working theatre professionals, true artists making a living from their art, and luckily for us students from the classes they teach. The teachers here at the ADA are so much more than college professors, they are mentors, collaborators, and now friends. This became apparent to me walking through the streets of Venice with Claudia Schnürer after the rigorous movement class she led. We all walked down the street talking and laughing, and enjoying ourselves in a city unlike any other, not as students and chaperone, but as friends. We passed a mask shop and Claudia stopped. She admitted that in all of her trips to Venice, she had never been in a mask shop before. Neither had I, so the group entered the shop and proceeded to try on masks to the delight of each other and ourselves. Amidst laughter and gasps of amazement, we all delighted in the city, the culture, and each other. It became clear, then that ADA is so much more than a school. Our teachers are friends, our classes are explorations, and our experiences in Italy are an essential part of our learning. How lucky I am to be growing up!

    –Grace Woodford, Theatre-Design

    Being in Venice for Carnevale gave all of us ADAers the impetus to find ourselves a mask in order to share in the celebrations. Having just began work with masks the week before our trip, it was a great opportunity for us to examine the still vibrant and living art of mask making in the city at the heart of Commedia’s rich history. I personally saw some of the most beautiful pieces of artisan craftsmanship through all of the mask shops I scoured trying to find the one for me. It was fascinating to see how many masks were derivative of Commedia characters as well as masks that take their inspiration from the full history of the city and of the theatre. The biggest takeaway from our communal mask hunting is something that is much more personal, however. I know my own experience, and talked to many other students with similar experiences of the moments when they finally found their mask. The prevailing comparison for the search is one to the world of Harry Potter wherein “the wand chooses the wizard.” I saw so many masks that I considered, that I thought looked beautiful or interesting, or that seemed to fit me pretty well, but when I first saw the mask that I ended up buying, I knew instantly that it was meant for me. Everything about it called out to me and I put down all of the others I was considering. I put it on my face, and it fit perfectly, as though my own face was the plaster cast for building it. Then I looked in a mirror and saw that it was still my own face looking back at me. Wearing that mask for the rest of the weekend was such a freeing experience, it released me so much to have the kind of amazing fun with my whole self that is always going on in my head. Carrying forward with our commedia training, the most useful thing that Venice gave to us was a first hand experience of the idea that “the mask unmasks you.”

    –Spencer Tew, Theatre


    There’s so much to do in Venice, but my advice to any hopeful traveller would be this: Don’t plan. Don’t try to smush it all into a schedule and don’t bring a map. The city is amazing; it opens itself to curious explorers. Somehow you always seem to find what you’re looking for – whether it’s the perfect mask for Carnevale, the most beautiful piece of Murano glass or the most delicious pastry in the world (that’s usually what I was after). Besides, not bringing a map gives you an excuse to go into that cute corner store with the window advertising “Free city maps inside” and try out your fledgling Italian skills. (I’m still not quite sure what we said to the lady behind the counter, but we got our map, so I’d call it a raging success).And then, don’t even look at the map! That way, when you’re swept up in the cobble-stoned, long and windy beauty of the Venetian evening, following the motion of the Carnevale crowd, you can stumble unwittingly (as I did), into Piazza San Marco at twilight. I’ve seen many beautiful European cities in my day, but Piazza San Marco literally knocked all of the breath from my lungs. The wide open spaces of the piazza, the towering beauty of the Doge’s Palace and the watchful eyes of statuary and winged lions alike, lend a magic and a power to this sacred space, ideally situated on the Venetian shoreline. And what a shoreline! At night, the lights on the water are staggeringly enchanting and during the day (when we were fortunate enough to get sunlight), the water became an impossible shade of blue-green and the view across the way was unbelievably picturesque. My family always makes fun of me because I’m a horrendous photographer. I’ve had photos developed for free on multiple occasions because I’m that bad, but my photos from Venice are all gorgeous. It’s impossible to ruin the beauty of this city. It’s a magical place to explore and an incredible place to explore your art. Our workshops in commedia and movement took place in a gorgeous, open space: a part of an artistic research building. We continued our research into discovering our bodies, how we can move them together to create images of beauty, grotesque pictures, pictures of the Carnevale spirit and the performative world of commedia. We were extremely blessed to work as a full group for the first time since coming to Italy – all of the theatre-makers and the dancers participated in both classes.

    Venice for me was a city of exploring alone, of finding things and finding myself, a city of making friends and falling in love every second with a new thing. It was a city where I could go around masked and free myself, a continuous unmasking of the soul, if you will. It was a city of rain and sniffles and warm pastries in white paper bags and happy stomachs. Venice is a city of dreams and a city of endless light and life and I can’t wait until the day when I return there.

    –Elena Faverio, Theatre


    Traveling to Venice with all of the students attending ADA was truly an adventure. Both the city and the ADA students have a unique lively energy to them, making for a very interesting combination. Venice looks like the pictures: there is a lot of water, gondolas/boats, and stores with masks. But experiencing the city is always different than how you think it is going to be. There were many more tourists than I imagined, the food was more expensive than I had hoped it would be, it was colder and rainier than I wanted it to be, and the men rowing the gondolas were not singing (unfortunately). But even though some of my expectations were not lived up to, I gained something so much more. I gained a real experience of a real city as a real tourist. This may not sound so great, experiencing a city as a “real tourist”. Typically people try to blend into a city to experience a city as a local. And even though I ideally would have liked to feel like a local, I am not, and I think that is okay.

    I walked around the city by myself for a little bit, trying to find the more remote parts of Venice, and to gain the “local experience”. My head was cold and I wanted a hat, so I walked into about seven clothing stores looking for one. I was being discretionary about which ones I was entered, careful to not go into one that was too expensive. I went into one store, eating a gelato actually, to which the man told me in Italian that I could not eat gelato in the store. I said I was sorry, probably looking like a deer caught in headlights, and ran out of the store, feeling kind of embarrassed. I then finished my gelato, threw the cup away, and debated whether or not to go into the store. I decided I would go back; I saw some hats in there that looked like they were a decent price. So I went back in the store, the man looked surprised that I came back in because I had looked so dumbfounded just a moment earlier. I decided I would just grab the hat, buy it quickly, and leave. I started looking at a pretty plain-looking black hat that I then tried on. I could not find the price, so I asked the man in the store how much it was. He told me it was 150 euros. That was definitely not the price I expected. I awkwardly said, “Uh too expensive” and then ran out of the store looking confused, and a little embarrassed once again. I guess I did not know Italian stores as well as I thought I did.
    After about 45 minutes of looking in stores with no luck of finding an affordable hat, I finally found one. It was decently cute, and the price was 7 euros. Success. I then decided it would be best that I went back to the hostel. I had tried to remember specific landmarks, so I could go back. This did not work out exactly as planned, and I had to ask about five Venetians for directions because some of them did not even know how to explain how to get back. They just knew how to go by muscle memory I suppose. If I did not look like a tourist already, walking around looking aimless and confused, it was definitely obvious after I asked that many people directions with very limited Italian.

    Although I did not have the “local experience” I sought after, I had a very important self-realization. There is no reason to feel apologetic or embarrassed for not understanding cultural codes. I did not know that I was not allowed to eat gelato in a store, or the brand of that hat was very expensive, or how to navigate Venice. But that is just something every tourist has to go through. You do not know things, and you have to be okay with not knowing things. That is something so unique about being in an unfamiliar place. You are like a child in the culture. You have to almost start from the beginning with understanding certain things. And I think that can be great. You are experiencing different things and you are constantly learning. I do think it is important to try to understand the cultural codes, but there is no test after you come back from visiting a new place. You do not have to know everything, and you do not have to be apologetic for not knowing everything. Be a tourist and embrace it.

    –Zoe Papaeracleous, Dance


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