Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Tamara Meneghini

Second Advisor

Chip Persons

Third Advisor

Theodore Stark

Fourth Advisor

Chiara Torriani


Commedia dell’arte is a style of theatrical performance that is best characterized by its elegance. The form is embodied by the bold, colorful physicality of archetypal characters simultaneously unique to the form and universally recognizable, the use of masks, and performances as structured improvisation. Dating back to as early as the 16th century, Commedia has survived and thrived through the years, developing new characters, new plot lines, all while maintain an essential essence: the servants, their masters, the pining lovers, and old men ensnared by stories of thwarted love, misunderstandings, trickery, and the bumbling missteps of the servants, or zanni. Rather than lose their potency, these characters and stories, as distillations of the visceral fundamentals of comedic performance, seem to have endless creative potential. These are performances that can be understood in every corner of the world, with casts that by-pass perceived bounds of gender, race, and even language. The school of world-renowned Commedia practitioner Antonio Fava brings together international actors, all speaking different languages, to create Commedia works. These stories are understood through the actor’s physicality and the audience’s intuitive understanding of their character’s desires and needs - a shared language or cultural context is not needed. Simply put, Commedia dell’arte as a form has been built to emphasize effectiveness and simplicity above all else, through an emphasis on physical embodiment and simplicity of purpose. As a theatre artist beginning to enter the professional world, I am finding such clarity to be the root of all successful work.

I am developing my own Commedia dell’arte show to be performed in early May. The piece will be roughly an hour long, following the three act structure of traditional Commedia pieces. My focus in development has been exploring how our current understanding of acting can be used to create works of similar clarity, elegance, and simplicity; or, how theatre practitioners may learn from the fundamentals of Commedia dell’arte and apply them to a wide range of theatrical works. I am applying the contemporary movement pedagogy of Anne Bogart in staging and character development and exploring Jerzy Grotowski’s animal work for character exploration. This work is all grounded in my developing understanding of the characters of Commedia, as they are performed by contemporary Commedia companies and based on my own historical research. My research will culminate in a performance, developed through contemporary pedagogies and replicating the format of traditional Commedia works.