For ‘Commedia,’ actors, crew coordinate dance both on-stage, behind the scenes


Justin Von Stein, as Capitano, during the final dress rehearsal for Commedia Wednesday July 21, 2021 in the Performance Pavilion. KRISTEN TRIPLETT/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

What can one expect from Chautauqua Theater Company’s second show this summer, Commedia?

Absolutely anything and everything.

It can be set in the 16th century or in the present day or at Christmastime. Every show is a little different from the next.

Commedia is based on the Italian comedy stylings of commedia dell’arte, known for its stock characters, improv and the masks that the actors wear over their faces. It continues its run at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 29 at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt.

CTC Conservatory Actor Jada Owens, who plays Isabella and Dottore in the production, is constantly amused and inspired by the unpredictable nature of the show.

“I think the absurdity is that the audience is (also confused), and that is the best moment ever,” Owens said. “It becomes funny to me as an actor playing it, because I (also realize) this really doesn’t make any sense. But I think that’s just the fun of it. I think it just releases me to not try and have everything to be actually correct. Everything is just absolutely absurd. It’s absolutely different. People won’t know what to think and neither will I, and I think that’s the surprise for those characters.” 

Costume Designer Erin Barnett wanted to toe the line between period costumes and having a modern-day twist. She went thrift shopping, looked through both CTC’s stock as well as Chautauqua Opera Company’s, and even rented costumes from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“There’s not a lot of subtlety in these costumes,” Barnett said. “It’s basically emphasizing the specific characteristics (of the characters), and go from there. I looked at what the traditional commedia dell’arte costumes were for each of them, and then extrapolated that to what we were doing.”

In designing the costumes, Barnett ensured that they would be suitable for quick changes, as some of the actors play multiple characters and need to change in between scenes.

Wardrobe Supervisor Jaylene Ogle is part of the team behind the scenes helping the actors change into their costumes.

“It’s choreographed, like it’s a dance,” Ogle said. “You have to figure it out with the actor, and there’s a certain order we do everything in, so we try and keep it consistent so that the actor doesn’t have to think about it.”

The show is heavily reliant on the entire ensemble rather than any specific character — something that Artistic Director Andrew Borba worked on with the actors from day one of rehearsal.

“Whoever’s in front of you, that’s all you need,” Owens said. “You don’t need anything else. You don’t need to come up with anything. The person has all the answers. They’re right in front of you, which I think is the art of acting. … We take care of each other. So you’re not alone. … There’s something so fun about sitting in silence for two seconds and looking at the audience, because then they know.”

Audiences can expect jokes that are not suitable for children and for heavy audience participation.

“As an audience member, they get to decide whether the character goes left or whether the character goes right,” Owens said. “I feel like we give a lot of freedom for the audience to interact with us, and that’s so important when it comes to improv as a whole. If they don’t speak, we are going to call on you. This is a (participatory) crowd, and if you’re not about trying to be as involved just as much as we are, you don’t have a choice.”

Tags : Chautauqua Theater Companycommediacommedia dell'arteJustin Von Steinon-stage
David Kwiatkowski

The author David Kwiatkowski