Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Commedia & the Actor" by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi

[post 175]

Carlo Mazzone-Clementi (1920-2000) single-handedly brought commedia to the United States starting in 1958, teaching widely and founding the Dell'Arte School of Mime & Comedy in 1974, which is still thriving today as the Dell'Arte School of Physical Theatre. A month or two ago, Jim Moore asked me to write a few words about Carlo for a piece he was preparing for his VaudeVisuals blog. This is what I came up with:

I once heard Avner "the Eccentric" Eisenberg dedicate his show "to Jacques Lecoq, who taught me everything I know, and to Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, who taught me everything else."

This was a compliment, not a putdown, for Carlo's specialty was not so much commedia technique as it was the zen of just being there, "being available." When he did perform, he apparently planned nothing, content to just play with masks and props.  This annoyed some, inspired others.  His favorite exercise the summer I was at Dell'Arte was The Maze:  blindfolded, you'd walk a winding path bordered by piles of junk while reciting a nursery rhyme or singing a song.  Touch anything before reaching the goal and you had to go back and start over. The point, of course, was not so much getting good enough to ever make it to the other side (few did), but rather savoring the innate comedy and body language of our inevitable failure.

It may be a cliché to talk about exploring "the child within us all," but that was certainly part of Carlo's persona. I remember a 4th of July party at our clown loft on Chambers Street in NYC, 1981 or thereabouts, with Carlo in attendance. Like a naughty kid, Carlo had gotten hold of a sizable stash of illegal fireworks and was up and down the street setting them off, on and around parked cars, coming close to blowing up the neighborhood and raining police down on us. We literally had to send out a posse to corral him.  He was over 60 at the time.

My earliest encounter with Carlo, years before I studied with him, had been over the phone and through the mail as I first solicited him for the article you see below, and then worked with him on it as its editor. It was 1973 and my NYU grad school work-study job was as an assistant editor at The Drama Review (TDR). With Brooks McNamara I was putting together an ambitious issue devoted to popular entertainments, a subject that editor Michael Kirby had open disdain for. While Marvin Carlson's historical article on the Boulevard de Crime (see post 162) was deemed acceptable, Carlo's more fanciful effort —"who has more to say to us than the zannies?" — was to Kirby just a bunch of hippie crap. Eventually we got the piece into solid shape and I think it holds up well today as an introduction to and rationale for a physical approach to acting.

Commedia and the Actor

• A tribute from North Coast Journal
• Giants of Commedia: Carlo Mazzone-Clementi by Adam Gertsacov

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