19 May 2015

commedia dell’arte

This week on drama* on the waterfront, Colleen McColl, publicist for A Servant to Two Masters, delves into the commedia dell’arte style of theatre

commedia dell’arte = ‘comedy of the profession’, ‘theatre of the professional’, ‘comedy of art’

One of the most interesting things about working as a publicist is delving into other various aspects of the production and finding out about things not previously known. A Servant to Two Masters offered me a wonderful  chance to look more closely at commedia dell’arte.

Google is a wonderful friend!

It appears commedia dell'arte originated in streets and market places of Italy during the Italian Renaissance.

Commedia was a hugely popular form of theatre with street performers. They offered improvised stories usually representing fixed social types, stock characters, such as  foolish old men, mischievous servants and young lovers. Actors joined the company very often at a young age and in each production played one character – it became their specialty. They spent their whole careers with that same company. As they aged they would moved into other roles eventually ending up as the old master.

It was known as a colourful and extremely theatrical art form which allowed improvised scenarios that facilitated a comic plot to arrive at a humorous climax, with a happy ending.

The performers, who used masks with exaggerated comic features to draw additional attention to themselves and complement their physical and acrobatic skills, eventually teamed up in troupes of actors, often with a travelling stage, to firmly establish commedia as a genre in it's own right by the mid-1500s.  They performed outside and relied on various props in place of extensive scenery.

These "commedia troupes" performed for and were accessible to all social classes. Language was no barrier, with their skilful mime, stereotyped stock characters, traditional lazzi's (signature stunts, gags and pranks), masks, broad physical gestures, improvised dialogue and clowning they became widely accepted wherever they travelled. In later years, the tradition spread all over Europe, eventually adopting a major French influence where many of the scenarios were scripted into commedia-style plays. It is from the commedia world where such characters as Arlecchino (Harlequin), Columbine, Punchinello (Punch), The Doctor, The Captain and Pantalone emerged.

It was fascinating to learn that during this period, commedia dell’arte was the only form of theatre where women were allowed on stage.

A Servant to Two Masters was originally written in 1745 by Carlo Goldoni as part of the commedia dell’arte style of theatre which was still very popular at the time. He was commissioned to devise a play for a famous Harlequin. The story goes that Goldoni wrote it with a lot of room for improvisation (the scenario was pinned to the side of the stage), as was the tradition at that time, and then went away and left them to it. The production was a huge success but when he returned he was appalled by the indulgence of the actors.  In a fit of pique he wrote down a text for the players to learn and thus dealt a fatal blow to the centuries-old tradition of commedia dell’arte. It was the birth of farce as we know it today.

Award winning dramatist Lee Hall (The Pitmen Painters, Billy Elliot) has adapted Goldoni’s A Servant to Two Masters for our current production at Circa. He offers us a fabulous new, rapid fire version with the language updated to now to create a pacey, action-packed physical comedy.   In light of my Google time travelling, I am astounded by Lee Hall’s ability to adapt and re-boot this timeless classic so that it is relevant, funny and highly entertaining to a contemporary audience.

BRAVO MR CARLO GOLDONI! BRAVO MR LEE HALL!

All Photographs by Stephen A'Court.

A Servant to Two Masters runs until 30 May.  Tickets available online:  www.circa.co.nz

11 May 2015

the audience loves Don Juan

This week on drama* on the waterfront, we're two weeks into the four-week season of Don Juan, and it has received heaps of praise from audience and reviewers alike!

So far audience members have said:
“I went to this show and haven't laughed so hard in a long, long time.”(Kathleen)
“Saw this show. It's SOOO much fun!!! A great night out!” (Taiaroa)
“This show is a magnificent riot renewing our joy and faith in theatre. The story was told passionately with wonderful audience involvement. Do not miss this show. I must go again. Bravo to cast, director and all involved. An inspired and serious romp thru [sic] what I know as Don Giovanni.” (Sarah)

And this from Simon: 
"I had the pleasure of being in the audience for the opening night of Don Juan at Circa last weekend. It was a hoot. The trust between the five performers and the lighting/sound operator was apparent as they worked together through performance, improvisation, physical comedy, singing, and gentle, inclusive audience interaction to tell the tales, spin the yarns, and peel layers off the onion off the mystery of the man who could be described as the Chuck Norris of love.
 

"It's a testament to the players that the show never felt rehearsed. The impression I had throughout was that the performers were riffing off each other and playing with whatever came to mind from beat to beat but that belies the huge amount of rehearsal and planning which must've take place in the run up to the show to make those moments feel spontaneous.

"Who is Don Juan? When is Don Juan? How does Don Juan? This show won't answer those questions - in fact it'll leave you asking more - but it might just leave you with your face hurting from smiling and laughing with delight and wonder.”


Andrew Paterson stars as the very glamorous Julie in Don Juan
Reviewers have been equally kind, giving their seal of approval to this hilarious show.  

The Dominion Post’s Laurie Atkinson had this to say:
“Controlled anarchy is the essence of the production, which is taken at a furious clip, that is part scripted, part adlibbed, and involving some well-planned and unthreatening audience participation. The comedy is verbal, physical and at times surreal. Don Juan faces a firing squad with the audience as the executioners, while later they become, with aid of tattered umbrellas, trees in a forest.

Don Juan, who is played by more than one actor during the show, fights off two hundred bandits in a hilarious, skilfully timed skirmish with knives, guns, fists, swords, and a machine gun. He nearly drowns at sea and he goes to Hell after dining with a statue. Moliere's plot is, surprisingly, almost intact, despite a comic digression of a running gag of unrequited love between an actor and a member of the audience.”


While Theatreview’s John Smythe says:
“That so much seems incidental and even spontaneous is belied by Don Juan's dialogue being spoken on mic, with enhanced tonality, by one actor while another – wearing DJ's white baseball cap and coloured scarf, and holding an amplifier / speaker – lip-syncs.  All achieve this feat with a panache that belies their precision, proving this is a meticulously plotted and highly rehearsed show.

Matt Eller's sound contributions, mostly worked live from his desk in an onstage alcove, are simply superb – the impeccably timed swishing swords and clashing blades, especially. Full credit for the multi-weapon carnage sequence too, which is in such gross bad taste and so ludicrously extended that all we can do in the end is laugh.”


Adam Goodall of the Pantograph Punch says:  
"The troupe keeps us in that celebration with outrageous accents, drinks breaks and their own attempts at breaking the rules. They even get us to participate in some of the most compassionate, boundary-respecting audience interaction I’ve been part of.”

Don Juan feels like a moment. It’s giddy and exuberant.”

Regional News’ Madelaine Empson says:
Don Juan is hilarious, vibrant and polished. It speaks to its audience of being bold and fearless, and achieves this above all other things itself.”

So make sure you catch Don Juan over the next two weeks before it is gone forever. Tues – Sat at 7.30pm until May 23rd. Special 10pm performances on Friday 15th & Saturday 16th May.

http://www.circa.co.nz/site/Shows/Don-Juan

08 May 2015

Young And Hungry Servants

The Young and Hungry Arts Trust Ambassadors are a group of keen bean Year 12 & 13 students, who attend shows at Circa and others theatres throughout the year and write reviews.  They joined us at A Servant to Two Masters on Tuesday night.  Here are some of the reviews for you to enjoy!

"Live, Love, Laugh."


Reviewd by Tabatha Billington, St Catherine’s College

Circa’s production of A Servant to Two Masters, was both hilariously entertaining, while also thought provoking. From reading just the brief outline of the plot from the back of the programme, I knew I was in for an amusing evening full of laughs and inappropriately funny jokes. Two and a half hours later, I was not disappointed, I had a big smile on my face, and my stomach hurt from laughing so much. The cast, the costumes, the lighting and plot all were completely perfect, and flavoured the evening into one I shall always remember.

From the first entrance, with the characters dancing on stage, I was hooked, the set was well designed and inventive and used to the best of it’s ability, however, I found that the backdrops both looked quite similar, and so them being rearranged to show a change in location didn’t quite work as well as it could have, despite this one flaw in the evening, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the play. With slick, well practised staging and cues, stunts, fights, and sword duels, the show was comical without looking tacky. The plot was understandable and kept the audience absorbed in the world of Truffaldino and his tricks. A personal preference of mine, is when the actors involve the audience, which is exactly what they did last night, asking us for prompts, and using us to help their improv. The play was so well done, so comical, so captivating, that if I hadn’t been told in the Q&A afterwards that a lot of it was improvised, I never would have known. To me, this is the best kind of acting.

From the title, I was expecting a more serious play, yet with the disguises and large amounts of humour, girls dressing as boys, and the eccentric costumes, turned the play into something almost pantomime or shakespearian. There was almost a sense of it being a comedic take on Romeo and Juliet, with Florindo and Beatrice thinking that they were enemies but then once the disguises were removed, they remembered their lost love. With romance, sword fights, plot twists, humour and provocative themes, I feel that A Servant to Two Masters would be suitable for an audience of any age. The play had something for everyone, and I would definitely go see it again.
Keagan Carr Fransch plays the wise Smeraldina.  Photo by Stephen A'Court

Despite the humour and comical cover, when delving deeper into the themes in the play, one will find some quite inspirational themes, of what it truly means to be in the working class, shown through Truffaldino and how he just wants to make some decent money and have a good meal, yet doesn’t exactly use the best methods to get this. Also the theme of equal rights, shown through the maid Smeraldina who has a lot of sass and cheek, yet is still wise, and just wants to find love and help her mistress find that too. The main message I took from the play was ‘to be true to yourself’. With all the disguises and tricks and confusion and problems caused within the play, everything would have worked out easier if everyone had just been honest and true to who they were. But then of course, there would have been no play. I believe that this show was made to make people think about how we treat those who have less than us, and that if we have less than someone, does that make us worth less than them?

Overall, my night was full of laughs and fun, the show was great, and enjoyable and everyone left the theatre more positive and happy than when they arrived, the cast were great fun to talk to afterwards, and it was a nice time to catch up with some old acquaintances. I would highly recommend this play to anyone, and although I didn’t have to pay for my ticket, I believe that it would definitely be worth the $46. I wish the cast good luck for the rest of their season, and I hope each performance is as enjoyable to be in, as it was for us to watch.

"A Brilliant Performance"

Reviewed by Rebekah Ward, Taita College
  
A Servant to Two Masters was truly a brilliant performance. I read a short description of what I was getting myself into, and I wasn’t excited. The description does not do the amazing  performance justice. I was thoroughly pleased that I had been mistaken, thrilled to be deceived by the short description. I loved the energy , I felt for each and every character, and I laughed all night. The comedy was brilliantly timed and I believe the actors complimented each other well. I had my doubts about the set, however after the interval I feel that the retractable slats added atmosphere and well thought out scene changes. The lighting was minimal as was the sound, which really caused the brief lead’s and music used to have a larger impact and meaning. The costumes I feel symbolised each characters personality and behavior during the play. I feel that it would be a true sin to miss this masterpiece. It was beautiful in every way with each choice both careful and complimenting.

"A Servant to Two Masters"

Simon Leary stars as Truffaldino, photo by Stephen A'Court
Reviewed by Thomas Simpson, St Patrick’s College

A Servant to Two Masters is a played presented by Circa Theatre, which is an adaptation of an Italian Comedia piece written in the 1700s. It tells the story of a servant, Truffaldino, who in search of more than one meal a day, decides to work for two masters instead of one. He encounters some difficulty along the way, as one would expect working two jobs, but still uses his charm and trickery to make it work, even fitting in time for a love interest.

On first impression on my entrance to the show, I thought that it was a rather intriguing set up. I had no idea what to expect, the only clues that I had was of the style of housing on the backdrop which allowed me to picture myself in an olden day Italian town, but that was all that was given away.

Therefore I was given no indication of how good the performances were going to be. I found that most of the actors were able to really put across to the audience the true nature of their character, and it made for an all round fantastic performance. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Simon Leary as Truffaldino. I found his charm to pair perfectly with the character of Truffaldino, his athleticism and humour make him enjoyable and relatable, and his involvement of the audience really helped me to understand the story, which was hard to follow in the beginning. I also found that the personal monologues of all the characters that were directed at the audience a huge help in understanding what was going on in the play. Having not researched the play beforehand I did get lost in some places, particularly at the beginning, but the characters showing their train of thought helped me to understand the motives and the plot.

In conclusion, I came away from the play with an overall happy and content feeling. The laughs and overall vibrant vibe of the play made sure I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. I came to it not knowing what to expect, but I came away with a smile on my face. If you’re looking for a play to make you smile and laugh a little, I thoroughly recommend this play, it is a must see and you must go along to Circa to see it as soon as you can. It runs from the 2nd to the 30th of May.


04 May 2015

Proud to Celebrate 25 Years of Making You Laugh

This week on *drama on the waterfront, The Improvisors are proud to celebrate 25 Years of making you laugh!

By Tim Gordon
Tim Gordon, actor and facilitator, celebrates 25 years of The Improvisors
Harris Street. Circa Theatre. The Improvisors first show Suspect – an improvised murder mystery, is Main Bill for the International Festival of the Arts 1990. A cast of six, directed by Grant Tilly.

We were friends and colleagues who formed a company. We had no idea that the new phenomena of improvisation that had reached our shores, in the form of Theatresports, would be the basis of a business making people laugh for 25 years.


Theatresports created a unique artistic community of actors who loved the thrill and challenge of Improv. Its competitive side allowed the large National Theatresports Competitions to thrive through the 90s with teams battling wits, using the audiences’ suggestions to create the funniest scene, most satisfying story or most rounded characters – all made up on the spot.

The Improvisors in Otherwise Fine, 1989
It is scary. It is actually all made up. The audience don’t know what’s going to happen and nor do we. And for twenty five years they have loved to share the fear, applaud success and forgive  failure. Our job is to stay in the moment and to say "Yes" to every offer and that requires a great deal of trusting your fellow players.

Each comic has their own role – the opening player, like the fearless Canadian, Lori Dungey alongon stage, miming the environment, creating a real world for scene to take place. My role along with players like Ian Harcourt was often the number two player – the one who comes in to drive the story forward, then there were the big comic characters, Mark Wright, Geoff Dolan and Anna Kennedy – who just made people laugh; the charmers who the audiences adored, Tim Jones, Liz Mullane, and then, finally, there were the wrecking balls, Robert Pollock, Steve Wrigley, who tip the safe world upside-down and watch everyone make sense of the complication.

The Improvisors in 2014
Some scenes depend on the adroitness of language, some on the remarkable rhyming, some on songsters, they all require not only a quickness of wit, but more importantly a generosity of spirit and a graciousness in both success and failure.

From the James Cabaret, to The Paramount Theatre, up to the University Memorial Theatre, late nights at Bats and Downstage and finally we came to rest in our home at Circa Theatre.

For 25 years The Improvisors have flourished, not only through Theatre Shows but also as a successful Corporate Entertainment Company. It has been a wonderful ride and I am so pleased that on Sunday June 14th we are gathering the old guard to shake it off for a well-earned and proud Gala bash at Circa Theatre.

BOOK NOW!  www.circa.co.nz