Katie's Blog Entries
This first week of research, my group and I have been attempting to break down Commedia dell'Arte, and narrow our scope down to the intriguing specifics that we find. Basically, this just means broadly researching Commedia until something catches our eye, then taking that and specifically and rigorously researching that. So this week I have been on the library website looking up scholarly articles on Commedia dell'Arte, as well as simply Google searching such things as "Commedia dell'Arte" and "origins of Commedia dell'Arte". We all have seemed to find different aspects of this theater form that are interesting to us, and so right now the project seems a bit daunting. I'm not quite sure how we're going to narrow our scope down from here. The research that I have done has mainly been on trying to find any sort of political/social events that surrounded the rise of Commedia dell'Arte in 16th century Italy, and my findings have been pretty weak so far. What I initially thought was going to be our focus--political events that influenced the formation of Commedia--seems to be yielding rather uninteresting or lacking results. I did find some interesting article called "Pulcinella, Or The Metaphysics Of The Nulla: In Between Politics And Theatre", which basically discussed one of the stock characters in Commedia, Pulcinella, and what he represented. A lot of this article reminded me of the "why is it funny" question we would often come back to in class, so this peaked my interest. However, although the article was interesting, I'm really not sure how relevant it's going to end up being. I also found a couple articles discussing the origins of Commedia--but still nothing that really explains why it became so popular and what aspects of Italian culture/society aided this rise in popularity.
In terms of the things I learned this week that I could apply outside of Theatre History, I'd say these include: realizing that it is difficult, at least with one week of research, to attribute the rise of a theatrical form to one specific event; I learned a lot about the physicality and improvisation qualities of Commedia, which is reminding me how much more there is to "theater" than just the typical Westernized theatrical model; and after having read a lot about the stock characters from Commedia, I began wondering about the possible existence of stock characters in modern theatre, and what form they take. The universality of these characters seem to transcend time, which makes me think that these archetypal characters are still present today, even in Western theatre. I'll have to keep my eye out for them--it could change my interpretation of a character if perhaps they represent or symbolize universalities (although it could also pose the possible problem of making the character two-dimensional).
Our second week of research was a success! After having a slightly rocky start at our attempt to narrow our scope, we seemed to have come to a mutual agreement that we will focus on women's role within Commedia dell'Arte in the 16th-early 17th century. Each of us has focused on one or two sources that deal with this issue, mainly scholarly journals, although I ended up taking on a book called "Music and Women of the Commedia dell'Arte", and after we completed our readings we came together and shared our ideas. This week for me personally basically included a lot of reading. I first went to the library to find books, and decided to attempt to read all of "Music and Women . . .", which has been very beneficial. While reading, I began making a quotes list on my computer with useful quotes from the book. At the beginning of the week, we weren't quite sure what our argument would be, or rather, where the conflict is within our topic. So my quotes begin with more general topics, and eventually begin narrowing to deal specifically with the conflict that women on stage presented to society. Both Kacie and Aaron seemed to have found a variety of other conflicts that arose from women being on stage, and I'm eager to hear the specifics of their findings.
Recently I've mainly been thinking about our final presentation, and what form it will take. I am pretty intent on the fact that it needs to have some sort of pizazz--not just for the sake of being lavish or colorful, but because Commedia itself is pretty pizazz-y. I feel as though to do it justice, our presentation should not just be one long lecture. I'm not really coming up with any ideas or answers to this, either, which is proving to be frustrating. I have faith in the fact that our group will find these extra aspects as we go along, but it's still a bit anxiety producing. Right now we've discussed using media, but that's about all. Maybe that's all we need. Not sure yet.
I've definitely learned a lot about women this week, almost as a continuation of our preliminary research on Aphra Behn. It's always weird for me reading about how women perceived themselves and how others perceived them in earlier cultures and societies, being one myself. Sometimes I get oddly defensive (actually, I often get defensive), and then I have to remind myself that I'm reading about a society that was four centuries ago. But that's not to say that our society's view of women today is a complete 180 from what Italy's view of women was in the 16th century. This topic is also interesting to me, because I'm currently learning about biological differences between men and women in my psychology class, and distinguishing the genetic from the environmental. As in--what differences do women have that are actually genetic, and what differences are simply placed on them by society? But I digress a bit . . .
This week was a short one, seeing as we didn't have class on Thursday and I ended up going home for Thanksgiving break, so all of our group discussion/work was done on Tuesday. Our project for this week was to "sculpt" our argument--to figure out exactly who is going to say what, and we touched a bit on the "how" as well. Coincidentally, what we had been individually researching seemed to line up fairly well with our argument, seeing as each of us had taken on a different aspect of our argument and each of our topics flowed nicely into the other. Thus, we decided that Kacie would be first and discuss the history of the Gelosi (who/what/how they were) and perhaps some surrounding politics of the times, I would then talk about the status of women in 16th century Italy, and then the status of women entering the theatre (as in, reactions to this), then Aaron would discuss how women were incorporated, and what this lead to in the short-term, and Brooke would take it home by discussing the long-term effects, the "so what?" of incorporating women, and it's lasting effects over the past couple centuries.
We felt pretty confident about this job assignment, and then split up to further sculpt our own little presentations. Initially we had decided to each take 5 minutes (4 of us, meaning 20 minutes total), but then we realized that we should perhaps include some sort of small introduction, just so the audience knows exactly what Commedia is before we go into details. I thought the best possible way to do this would be a media example, as it could be a big hard to completely grasp the craziness that is Commedia without actually seeing it. Then the idea of relating it to Arrested Development was introduced, a contemporary TV show (actually, my all time favorite TV show, next to Seinfeld), that has been said to have based its characters directly off of Commedia stock characters. This got me really excited, and I had the idea of making 15 second clips of some of the characters, just to give the audience more of an idea of what Commedia was like, in a contemporary sense. I did get a bit wary of this after a while, though, and worried that perhaps this could be too off-topic. I figured, though, that if we kept it very brief, it would be an aid for our introduction, and would engage the audience.
When I read about Commedia's influence on Arrested Development (as I already said), I got really excited. To realize that one of my favorite TV shows actually took its ideas from the art form that we're studying--how cool is that? It's just reminding me how influential everything we are researching actually is.
This past week marked our final week before our presentation! I was pretty nervous at first, to be honest, but at this point I'm very confident in what we have.
We started on Tuesday by creating a PowerPoint on Google Docs that we can work on together. I began putting my slides together, but felt a bit unsure of how exactly to even begin. At that point, I was really only working from my Music and Women . . . book, and started wondering if it was even that great of a source. I put up as much information as I could, but began to think that I may need to investigate another source.
On Thursday the first round of presentations happened, and I am so glad we got to watch those! It was so helpful and eye-opening as to know what to do/what not to do in a presentation. I made a list of these dos and donts (such things as "keep it within the time, always keep coming back to your argument--don't try to explain too much), and sent them around my group. Since then, we've been working on our presentation (mostly cutting it down, focusing even more on a specific argument), and it's been going really well.
The other day Kacie sent me this article "Women and Performance: The Development of Improvisation by the Sixteenth-Century Commedia dell'Arte", and I found that to be immensely helpful. It touched on basically everything that I am going to present, so I had a great time delving in to that.
Preparing for the presentation has been surprisingly fun and less stressful than I thought it would be. We all seem to be confident in what we're going to put forward, and we're all certainly on the same page. I think our argument has developed into something unique and specific, as well as very relevant to what I'm studying here at the U (in terms of women in theatre). This has definitely been one of the better group project-experiences that I've had.
I'd say that, despite the little media debacle, our presentation went fairly well. I think we got our argument across in the way we wanted to in the allotted time, and for the most part, we engaged the audience.
In the post-presentation discussion, we talked about what worked and what didn't. Some of the things mentioned that worked were: the skit, humor, clearly presenting your argument at the beginning of the presentation, relating the material to the audience, and different ways to engage the audience. After listening to this discussion and watching all of the other presentations, I wondered if I would do anything differently if I had a second chance. Again, I do feel pretty good about what we ended up presenting to the class, but I do think it would have been nice to have had a clearer idea of what exactly it was that we were arguing sooner in the process, so that we could have then directed most, if not all of our research towards that argument. I really feel as though we could have gone even further with our argument--I loved the idea of it, and think if we had had more time/if we had come up with it sooner we could have expanded on it/narrowed it down with specifics even more.
With Commedia, we were faced with a ton of information, and it was definitely a bit of a challenge to narrow our scope. I think we may have sped through that step in the process a bit too much, mainly because we relied on the fact that there was all this information no matter what. A perfect example of the opposite of this would be the Russia group, who was faced with absolutely no information, thus having to put all of their energy into narrowing their scope. I was very inspired by that process, and thought how interesting that would have been (although yes, the grass is always greener). After seeing that presentation I thought about how our argument was kind of given to us by our sources, and we didn't have to do much detective work ourselves--something that is, although difficult and tedious at times, pretty rewarding and fun as well.
This being said, I don't think this really negates or degrades the work we ended up doing. I think it was valid and a good argument. Just a different process. And a topic that certainly has more potential for research.
I think one of the most rewarding things about this whole process was actually seeing "The Servant of Two Masters" at the Guthrie just two days ago. Although it is technically not "true" Commedia, seeing as a source I read said something along the lines of "Commedia is not genuine Commedia unless it is improvised", it was still a fantastic Commedia dell'Arte production, and I believe that the only non-Commedia thing about it was that there was a set script. What was so great, though, was just recognizing all of the research that I did: knowing the different stock characters, recognizing the bawdy humor, appreciating the physicalization, and paying attention to the women in the show and the parts they played. Just understanding and appreciating a new art form was so rewarding, and makes me want to continue researching different types of non-Western theatre. Not to mention- that particular non-western Commedia show was by far the best show I'd seen at the Guthrie.