A Mask Maker’s Journey

Authored by: Stefano Perocco di Meduna , Brenda O’Donohue

The Routledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  November  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415745062
eBook ISBN: 9781315750842
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613374

10.4324/9781315750842.ch13

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Abstract

This story, the story of the reinvention of Commedia dell’Arte’s leather masks, has its beginnings in a ‘historical’ encounter: a meeting, between director Gianfranco De Bosio, mime virtuoso Jacques Lecoq, and sculptor Amelto Sartori which took place in the University Theatre of Padua, and marked the start of an experience that would bring about the rebirth of the theatrical mask. The outcome of this momentous experience was the liberation of the mask; freeing it from the glass cases of a museum and returning it to the stage. The encounter took place in Padua in 1948, and in order to fully understand its context, one must look to the historical backdrop against which it was set. The war had recently ended, and the memory of thousands of dead still dogged the collective consciousness. The world of culture had also suffered its losses – in Padua, the ruins of the Eremitani Church were still smoking, and the treasured Mantegna frescoes had been blown to smithereens. Despite all this, however, there was a tremendous desire for a new theatre. Through founding a university theatre, and an affiliated acting school, De Bosio, Lecoq and Sartori set in motion a series of experiments that became the hothouse in which the seeds of renovation and renewal flourished and then grew. Mime, the rediscovery of Commedia dell’Arte, the exploration of the Pirandellian mask’s symbolic value, the remodelling of the mask that began with an investigation into the profound depths of the human psyche – all of these elements were combined in the crucible with the intention of reanimating contemporary Italian theatre, and making it an integral part of the post-war European cultural awakening. And, thanks in large part to the renown of Amleto Sartori’s masks, the mask’s presence onstage gained a new significance.

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