Happy Bedfellows

Commedia dell’Arte, politics, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe

Authored by: Claudia Orenstein

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


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Commedia dell’Arte’s grotesque masks, stylized gestures, irreverent humor, and comic scenarios seem the very antithesis of everything we might associate with politics. One ideally hopes for the political realm to be one of serious discourse on important issues impacting the lives of many. By contrast, Commedia dell’Arte – itinerant, comic performance – seems to promise nothing more than fleeting entertainment. But in the 1960s, swept up in a US cultural revolution intertwined with political activism, the San Francisco Mime Troupe discovered the latent power of Commedia to galvanize audiences around important social and political issues. The theatrical conventions of Commedia dell’Arte gave the Mime Troupe a set of tools perfectly suited to expressing their grass-roots, liberal agenda not only through content, but also form.

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