Australasian Commedia dell'Arte Festival


Australasian Commedia dell'Arte FestivalThis inaugural festival is being staged from the 28th to the 30thMay, 2010. Commedia artists from all over Australian and Italy will converge on Gympie and the Cooloola Region for thisthree day celebration of a living theatre tradition, including performances, workshops and discussions.


Headlining the event is internationally renowned Italian Commedia artist, director and teacher, Antonio Fava, who will perform his world premiere of “PulcinellataNera” (Black Comedy alla Pulcinella)


With its roots in 16th century Italy, Commedia dell’Arte boasts a colourful history of artistic innovation, political controversy and above all, pure entertainment. This 3-day festival celebrates this living theatre tradition and promises to recreate the magic and mayhem that is Commedia.


Australasian Commedia dell'Arte Festival

The festival will take place at the Gympie Civic Centre and include daytime workshops, presentations and discussions with evening Commedia performances being staged in the beautiful Heritage Theatre. A special Drinks, Chalkboard and Dinner is also being held on Saturday afternoon of the 29th May at local Italian venue, Raffinati’s Restaurant& Bar.

To signify the closing of the festival on the night of Sunday 30th May, the Noosa Botanical Gardens in Cooroy will host MrFava’s World Premiere performance of “Pulcinellata Nera”. This performance, a little opera in words, lazzi and music in the style of the Neapolitan Commedia dell’Arte, will beheld at the stunning Lake Macdonald amphitheatre, Cooroy.


The festival is the brainchild of highly creative performer/director, Tony Kishawi, a Gympie local andex NIDA teacher. With a commitment to the world of Theatre, Tony explains, “I want to share the rich cultural legacy that is Commedia in Australia. And what better place to hold the festival but in Gympie, on the doorstep to the Great Sandy National Park, Fraser Island, Noosa and the Sunshine Coast.”



The Artists

Antonio FavaThe world premiere of a work by a man who embodies the history and spirit of the commedia dell' arte theatre tradition was going to take place outdoors this weekend in an amphitheatre, alongside Lake Macdonald in Cooroy, Queensland. 



Antonio Fava, who runs a school in Italy teaching the subtle skills of the classic commedia masks, was to have presented Pulcinellata Nera, a "little opera in words, lazzi [jokes] and music in the style of the Neapolitan commedia dell'arte", bringing to the Sunshine Coast hinterland the best of this centuries-old tradition.


That plan came unstuck. The idea of Pulcinella and all the other zanni from the classic tales of love and deception, greed and trickery, gathering in Gympie, which was to have been the centre of a weekend festival for actors, teachers and audiences, was too ambitious.


Organiser Tony Kishawi, a commedia aficionado and teacher, was faced with the impending cancellation of all the workshops, lectures and performances of his inaugural Australasian commedia dell'arte festival.


But, in the comic tradition, just when all looked hopeless, a surprising intervention turned around the plot. It's now heading for a happy ending which, Kishawi hopes, will also be a beginning.


Australasian Commedia dell'Arte FestivalToday and across the weekend, the Australasian Commedia dell'Arte Festival, celebrating the living tradition of this exuberant theatre, will be held at the Kelvin Grove campus of Queensland University of Technology as part of Brisbane Italian Week.


It was fortuitous coincidence, Kishawi says, that Italian Week this year was scheduled for the same weekend, and when he started talking to Alessandro Sorbello, producer of Italian Week, he realised that event, which is supported by the Italian government and the Brisbane City Council, provided the perfect framework on which to construct and develop his commedia festival.



Australasian Commedia dell'Arte Festival


"Commedia is like stamp collecting," Kishawi says. "Those who know about it are passionate, but it's hard to know how to sell it."


The most recognisable element of commedia is the masks that distinguish the different character types, from the young lovers, always foiled in their love-making, to the old miserly Pantalone, who beats up his poor servant Arlecchino (precursor of the romantic Harlequin) but inevitably is tricked in the end.


Kishawi was drawn to the commedia tradition by the masks. Brought up in a performing family and trained at the Victorian College of the Arts, Kishawi began to develop his own mask work as a street performer, eventually realising he would need to train in Italy with Fava if he were to understand the art properly.


"It felt like I was at home," he says of the time he spent learning commedia skills in Italy. "Fava is really the keeper of the form, he just emanates the essence of commedia, and I was able to understand."


Back in Australia, Kishawi set about trying to develop a commedia troupe, lecturing in drama schools as he sought out like-minded people with whom to work. For many years he lived and worked out of a circus bus, touring across the country, until eventually he settled in Gympie, where he creates performances for the boutique Heritage Theatre.


It was meeting a couple of other commedia experts - performers Antonio (Giri) Mazzella and Giovanni (Sanjiva) Margio - in Perth at the Northbridge Festival that set in train the chain of events that have led to Kishawi planning this commedia festival.


Mazzella and Margio, who run the Commedia Academy of Australia, will be performing today and tomorrow at the festival, presenting both traditional commedia and their contemporary Australian version.


The traditional part is explaining to audiences the different characters and how the tradition developed. The contemporary part is their irreverent performance under the guise of the Black Nonnas: tough women dressed in widow's weeds, "escaped from the suburbs, on the hunt for cheap coffee and husbands, preferably with very large tractors", Mazzella says.


Margio describes this kind of performance as "theatre of the wolf: if I don't eat you, you are going to eat me".


"There's no hunger in Australia except what you feel 10 minutes before the barbie is ready, but that hunger is what fuelled the commedia actors, what pushed their performance," Mazzella says. "If they didn't work, if it wasn't good, if the audience weren't grabbed, then the performers didn't eat."


Margio says when they teach commedia, they cannot be so strict about technique that they kill the gut impulse of actors. "It's about teaching the spirit of commedia, and then taking that into its modern form."


The actors have devoted their lives to commedia, touring Australia and overseas with their traditional and contemporary shows. They get cross at the continuing ignorance of people who are delighted by the performances, but then ask, "But what's your day job?"


"It's a profession but we have to keep explaining it," Mazzella says. "We have seen an exciting surge of interest in commedia productions. Many people have heard about it, but they've never seen it performed. Hopefully this festival will start to redress that lack."


Kishawi says he is talking to other venues in Brisbane and there are positive signs this new festival will continue. With its place as part of Italian Week, there is now a platform on which to build. With the Italians already involved and interest being shown from the US where there is a strong commedia presence, Kishawi is confident the idea is a good one. He is launching a book on teaching commedia, called Spirit of the Mask, this weekend at the festival.


"Everyone knows the classic gags of commedia, but learning to perform takes years of experience," Kishawi says. "I always say it's like pilots and flying time: you have to do it for many years to have the best skills."


The Commedia dell'Arte Festival, part of Brisbane Italian Week, is at Woodward Theatre, Queensland University of Technology, until Sunday. Antonio Fava performs Pulcinellata Nera on Sunday, 4pm and 7pm.





Friday 28th May “Commedia per te” ... for you

Friday 28th May “a poco a poco” ...little by little - Combined schools drama students, Directed by Tony Kishawi

Friday 28th May “Glue” - Birdwing Lane Theatre,Written by Karlo Bran, Directed by Ben Cornfoot, with Clint Bolster and Tammy Weller.

Friday 28th May “Commedia Viva” - Commedia Academy of Australia, Written by Antonio (Giri) Mazzella & Giovanni (Sanjiva) Margio

Friday 28th May “Inside the Mask” Commedia dell’Arte Workshops


Saturday 29th May “Festa Commedia” La Signora presents iSize - Corrina Di Niro - Interform 

Saturday 29th May The Black Nonnas - Commedia Academy of Australia, Written by Antonio (Giri) Mazzella & Giovanni (Sanjiva) Margio

Saturday 29th May “Women's Breath” - Carmencita Palemo, Written by Carmencita Palermo

Saturday 29th May “Inside the Mask” Commedia dell’Arte Workshops


Sunday 30th May  “Inside the Mask” Commedia dell’Arte Workshops

Sunday 30th May  Gala World Premier Performance - “Pulcinellata Nera”

Sunday 30th May Preview performance by Antonio Fava and Cecilio Di Donato




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