commedia workshops

Commedia dell'arte masks help an actor to shed habitual gestures. They allow them to create larger-than-life worlds, escape the limits of “realistic theater” and enter a realm where anything is possible. With the commedia mask, actors learn to live in their bodies in new ways, discover the power of a single gesture, a turn of the head, the shape of a character’s spine, the expressive possibilities of the torso, the playful dance of the hands and feet. In creating our commedia masks, we focus on character not just design; the masks are made to the highest standards and are very durable, but most of all, they are expressive, distinct, and full of vitality. What is unique about our commedia mask collection is the focus on the clown or zanni, the commedia character as all energy and appetite, not locked into a stock type.


Commedia dell'arte Workshops with nakupelle

A good commedia dell'arte mask can take a student on a journey, helping them access a greater range of emotion, and physical play. A good commedia mask demands that a student use their body, increasing its potential to express thoughts, emotions, and tell a story physically and visually. Commedia never ceases to be a challenge because it allows an actor to utilize any number of skills - mime, dance, music, circus skills, improv - and encourages them to learn more. Commedia dell’arte or comedy of the artists, is truly an actors’ theatre. But it belongs to the audience as well: the commedia characters are constantly playing with the crowd, poking fun at them, their foibles, their culture and their society. It is popular theatre in the best sense: theatre for the people.

All images are copyrighted and cannot be used without permission. Photos by shootthatklown.

What makes our approach different from other commedia workshops is that we don’t put our emphasis on stock characters from the 16th Century, nor do we ask students to play within the confines of scenarios that reflect the structure of Italian society of long ago. Instead we access commedia dell’arte via the student’s work in classes such as Improvisation, Slapstick and Appetites, and from what they discover when they play with the masks. We don’t teach them a set of stock movements or gestures. We work with them to create their own physicality in relation to their chosen mask. The spirit of Commedia is present in all the work we do, but it is not stuck in a particular time, society or culture. That spirit – which includes satire, parody, energetic physical play, comedy, and broad characterizations – must be engaged in what’s happening in the present. For example, Pantalone as a Wall Street banker, Dottore as a political pundit, Brighella as the owner of a McDonald’s franchise, the Lovers as celebrities that advertise their love life in gossip magazines, Pulcinella getting tangled up and frustrated by too many gadgets, Arlecchino as one of the 99% using his wits to survive in the modern age.

Actors, physical comedians, clowns, improv artists, entertainers and mask performers will all benefit from the study of commedia dell'arte. Our commedia workshops focus on larger-than-life personalities, training in half-masked characters, audience play, vocal experimentation, exploring exaggerated and grotesque physicality, status play, ensemble work, broad physical comedy and the actor as a multi-talented creator of theater.

Company member Joe Dieffenbacher teaches Clown, Mask making and Performance, Physical Comedy, Slapstick and Commedia. He is available for long term residencies and short term workshops. Please email all inquiries to: