Magnifico

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Commedia dell'arte is a form of improvised theatre with stock characters, who are identified by their masks and behave in predictable ways. For example, Magnifico is stately and ruled by his brain. He moves his body very little when he walks. Then there are the lower order characters, who are ruled by their stomachs and stagger around.

During the course we explored different ways of moving, by pretending we had threads attached to certain parts of our body to pull them forward. Next day I ached all over.

We were taught by one of the world's leading performers, and she was mesmerising. You could see each individual muscle at work. Children love Commedia. It's a form of clowning, which always appeals. Wearing masks seems to liberate them and increase creativity. As a teacher, it's useful because you can apply the stock characters to almost any situation. I've just done a panto with primary pupils, and our villain was based on the Magnifico character. It was perfect.

The only problem is that Commedia masks are made of leather and expensive. We use papier-mache, and you soon get hot. I went to Venice recently to see some Commedia and bought a genuine mask - but it's for my use only.

Jill Catmull teaches drama at Fakenham High School and College in Norfolk. She was talking to Steven Hastings.

The details

Commedia dell'arte: Character and Mask is a two-day course. The next one is on March 13 and 14 at the National Theatre, London, and costs pound;155.

www.nationaltheatre.org.ukeducation.

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