My Month at the ADA
by Jessica Edwards
Junior Theatrical Design and Production Major at Elon University
Ever since I was a little girl, I had always wanted to go to Italy. My Italian heritage had always played a huge role in my life, and it was at the top of my “List of Places to Go Before I Die.” So, when my acting professor Kevin Otos told us about the month-long study abroad trip at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy, I jumped at the chance to be a part of that amazing journey.
I had always enjoyed the Greek beginnings of theatre, but my knowledge of anything between that and Shakespeare was very limited. The class offered me a look in to the very roots of theatre with commedia, a fantastically fun art form that still ties in to the core of entertainment today. As a theatrical design and production major, I was mostly focused on the mask-making aspect of the journey, but I was quickly shown how wrong I was to isolate the mask.
Learning the commedia techniques from Fabio Mangolini, and the ancient craft of mask-making from Torbjörn Alström, I was shown the true nature of the mask. The artist has to draw from the mask, and learn to read it as one learns to read a book. The arched brows, long nose, and color all give clues into the true nature of the character that you are trying to embody. If ignored, it is abundantly clear that the actor and the mask are disconnected, and the audience will not accept what is being presented to them.
After a month-long intensive crash course in commedia, my interest in masks has grown. I was fortunate enough to be offered the position of costume designer for our Winter Term play “Much Ado About Nothing.” As soon as I was offered the job, I immediately thought of the masks used in the masked ball. While our time period is different from the classic commedia, I still plan on incorporating the facial structures of the stock characters into my designs. Time (and money) permitting, I would love to create the masks for the lead characters by hand.
I know that this has also been influential on my other classmates. Sydney Moffat, a Costume Technician at Dickinson College, worked with me this past summer at the prestigious Santa Fe Opera (she was one of the Costume Apprentices and I was the Assistant Safety Coordinator). Her knowledge from the Accademia dell’Arte helped her become one of the lead mask-makers for the original production of “Oscar,” an opera about the life of Oscar Wilde, which we premiered this summer. As the entire show is moving from Santa Fe to Philadelphia, audiences across America will get the chance to see what she has created, thanks to the foundation that the Accademia has supplied.
While the Accademia can seem intimidating from a technician’s point of view, I promise that it is one of the best decisions you can make. I’ve made lifelong friends on this trip, gone back to relearn the roots of the craft that I love, and I’ve developed skills that will be an asset to me wherever I choose to go. If you’re worried about looking like a fool because you’re aren’t an actor– good. Looking like a fool is the very first step in learning what commedia is all about. Open yourself up to something outside of your comfort zone. I can promise that you won’t regret taking this class.