Audience members will play a different role in the theatre department's upcoming production — they won't just be spectators; they'll be part of the show.
"A Servant of Two Masters" — which comes to Virginia Tech today in the Squires Student Center Studio Theater at 7:30 p.m. — implements Commedia dell'Arte.
Commedia dell'Arte was developed in 16th century Italy and is considered to be the earliest improvisational theatrical form. It has elements of improvisation, physical comedy, archetypal characters depicted with masks, as well as audience interaction.
The theater form has been revised and reused throughout the years and is still part of Italian theater, which is a testament to its versatility and endurance.
One of the main features of Commedia dell'Arte is that it can be formed to an audience and a play's setting. This is done through a large amount of improv, allowing audience members and actors to form a unique show, depending on the night.
David Johnson, director of "A Servant of Two Masters," has been at Tech since 1988 and has been working with the Commedia dell'Arte theatrical form since 1997. Since he started working with the form, he has traveled to Italy to study the craft. Last fall, he was hired by the University of Wisconsin to put on a similar production of “A Servant of Two Masters.”
Johnson has made preparations to ensure the ancient theater form is executed authentically and clearly. For this production, Johnson will use masks he purchased in Italy that are similar to those of museum quality.
Commedia dell'Arte combines what Johnson calls “the cooked and the raw.” The “cooked” are the lines that are practiced in rehearsal and essentially the foundation of the play. The “raw” is everything else that is made up during the improv of a performance.
This element of breaking the fourth wall and having direct contact with the audience attempts to make each performance energetic and lively.
Johnson has a clear idea of what he wants from the improv and style of the show.
“You can only say what works and what doesn’t, and sometimes it goes too far, and I have to pull it back. Improvisation comes out of the subconscious and can be controversial material,” Johnson said. “Commedia has a sexual component, but it can’t be overt. I wanted to keep the show child friendly, so when they’re ‘improvving,’ they can’t swear or be gross.”