Friday, January 29, 2010

On the Subject of Knobby Knees

-Kate Meehan   

Let me be clear: I am not old.

But damn. I'd forgotten the rigors of the pacing of a true Commedia, particularly when playing a zanni.

After the first week of rehearsal, my husband began noticing the evidence - a bruise here, a scrape there. I turned to knee pads for a brief time, but abandoned them when I noticed how restrictive they were with my movement. A zanni moves.

My knees and shins now are a Monet of various splotchy hues as bruises fade to fantastic shades of yellow and green, mingling with newer ones of bright purples and reds. Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lazy Mortal Performance Fart

- Paul Joiner  

The first weekend was harder than I'd hoped. It was not nearly as bad as I feared. It is a rare thing for me to be happy with a show while it's running. We're all a little older and more experienced; but then so are my joints.


The second weekend was harder with two shows on a single evening. It was more rewarding with the higher volume of laughter. There were more folks at Deville and Ruta Maya was packed to the rafters for all the bands with whom we shared their generous stage. Those people laughed at jokes I thought no one would ever get. I love this town.

There was a time I did five shows a day plus street improvisation at the Texas Renaissance Festival. Those shows were only a half hour and I was a little younger and stronger. Or perhaps my memories of those days are clouded by single malt and time. But even then the high energy fart jokes wore me out.

The performing troupe is called Les Immortels. That was the next step in the line of one-upsmanship that is the history of Aaron's commedia troupes. We began as I Arroganti which is not-Italian for the arrogant guys. We got the idea from the historical troupe I Gelosi. What's better than being jealous? Arrogance, of course; arrogance and fart jokes.

When Aaron founded the Austin Commedia Society we decided the next step was I Megalomani. Again, not-Italian to honor our awareness that we are so very not traditional. The rest of us in the troupe thought megalomania nicely described Aaron.

Today we have reached the pinnacle of hubris. The name is also in French to add to the number of languages we simultaneously misuse. Using French also means that Adam (our Pulcinella) doesn't have to try and say Gl'Immortali.

Have I mentioned that I'm having fun with this? Mind you, working with these people doesn't help my own ego problems. They make me feel simultaneously inadequate and lucky to be alive. Gian worked us hard to make us funny. I feel like I'm running just to keep up with the rest of the troupe. But I need the cardio.
The thought of getting to play with them makes me get out of bed when I'd rather sleep just a few more days. To put it in my usual vernacular, these guys rock like God's balls.
Risate a tutti.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gian's Texas Kind of Blog

Having Dr. Gian Giacomo Colli serve as our guest director for Suitors and Tutors was an honor, an education, and a true gift. Apparently, of the variety that keeps on giving. Just today, I discovered a journal he kept of his time in Austin posted on Facebook in a series of status updates. I have compiled them all here them here for convenience, unedited. It’s hard for me to read without hearing his sometimes perfect English in my head.

January 3rd

1st day in Austin, TX. Long flight from Philly, with a stop in Tampa, FL. Chaos for the check-in... more than one hour and half! My trip is like to be on a bus. Between trains and flight, after 10 hours, I arrive dead tired, but tex-mex food and margaritas change the perspective. I live in a nice small loft-condo gently offered by La Fenice, the Commedia dell'Arte theatre company which is one of the reasons why I'm here. I bit warmer, and I can even use the swimming pool I see from my windows.

January 4th

2nd day in Austin, TX. Beautiful weather, definitely not "brrrrrr" like yesterday early morning when Natalie drove me to the train station. Not particularly warm, but you can seat outside and enjoy the sunshine. The radio says that yesterday at Newark airport was a big mess because someone eluded the security. I think about the poor Gil - visiting professor of Hebrew at F&M - that I met on the train from Lancaster to Philly: he was going to Newark, to take a flight for Israel. What's this thing between me, Austin, and terrorism?

Today I'm getting my bearings with the car I rented, and right now I'm at the Performing Arts Library of the University of Texas, the other reason why I'm here. Just 'this' special section of the university library is bigger than Shadeck library at F&M. The good, old smell of a 'real' university. By the way, the security guard at the entrance of the campus, when I asked for directions, asked me which was my first language - my unmistakable accent - and when I said Italian, with a big laugh showed me a small book on how to learn Italian dirty words. Eccchecazz! I said.

I like Austin, you have the feeling of the big city, but also the impression that not far away there is the desert. The mix of American and Latino cultures is intriguing, and I was here more than eight years ago, 9/11/2001. How could I forget this place?

Today, at 6:30 pm, I have the first rehearsal with my "crazy-comedian" friends, and I can't wait to visit one of my favorite grocery stores, Whole-Foods. Ok, I've to go, a herd of cows is running towards me, and apaches are shooting all around the place. Stay tuned.

January 5th

Another beautiful day in Austin, not too cold and full of light. Had an excellent 'fish' dinner at Whole-Food yesterday, for just $21. How to describe it? Whatever you desire in terms of food & wine is there, a Disneyland of food, with 'special islands' where you can seat and have fresh meat, Italian, any kind of salad, anything! My "crazy-comedian" friends are insane!

January 7th

Kind of depressing weather yesterday, but today is beautiful again. I'm with Aaron in a "cool" wi-fi coffee-shop. Lot of places with very good coffee down here. We have rehearsal in one hour or so. It's going well, and now we have also a great accordion player. No rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday. I guess I will go finally to visit The Alamo, it's only one hour and half away.

January 8th

Cold, cold, cold here today, and I woke up in a frozen apartment, which didn't help my backache. I couldn't move, something wrong with the heating. Yesterday we rehearsed in a fascinating place, a sort of small metal & wood big room-castle built from scratches in a remote area of Austin... and had great 'pulled pork' for dinner!

January 9th

Went to San Antonio. I visited the Alamo. It's strange to finally see for "real" something that you have always experienced through movies and books.

January 10th

Another great day, but I'm kind of sick, with a bad cold. Rehearsals in the afternoon today. Yesterday the police stopped me inside the parking of the University of Texas. I was driving 20mph instead that 15mph. They gave me a verbal warning, no shooting this time.

January 14th

Back online after 36 hours sick like hell, cold and coughing. I guess since everything is big in Texas, even the flu is big. Weather doesn't help, foggy, rainy. Today I gave a lecture at St. Edward's University and later we have the dress rehearsal.

January 15th

Rain, rain, rain. My last day at the University of Texas Performing Arts Library. I'm late with my work, as usual. Tonight it's opening night for Suitors & Tutors, but I guess it won't be possible to perform outdoor, however. MERDA!

January 17th

And here it is my last Texas blog, the weather is beautiful again. Yesterday night, my crazy Commedia friends were able to perform outdoor. The audience was laughing a lot. I'm at the Austin airport right now, the same airport where I spent a lot of time during the week of 9/11. I don't know if the world has changed since then, but I know that (TG) we are still able to laugh.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Week 1 Begets Week 2

-Aaron Johnson  

If you have a passion for Commedia dell'Arte, then as a performer it’s like riding a bicycle, you never quite forget how. That statement does nothing to account for the shape of the bicycle when you dig it out of the garage years later, however, or the shape of the rider for that matter. We've had to knock the rust of the frame, tighten the brakes, and true the wheels and then, of course, there is the issue of repairing the bike.

We have just begun our second week of rehearsal with Gian Giacomo, charging toward our opening on Friday like an opposing trench, the machine gun positions manned by our audience. It has been an intense process. Il Maestro is kicking our asses gracefully all the while wearing a gritty, but relaxed smile, like one that follows the first slug taken straight from a bottle of properly aged Chianti. For his efforts, one expects applause and laughter at each moment it is clear that our heads have been gently coaxed from their collective rectal confines. Ultimately, that will be for our audience to determine. Until then, as our reward for the hard work hill we still have left to climb, we shall savor the memory of this past Sunday when we took a break from rehearsal to enjoy the excellent marriage of fine wine and Gian’s homemade risotto.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Open plea to media captains, moguls, and giants (beyond the press release)

- Aaron Johnson  

To whom it may concern,

As the former Artistic Director of The Austin Commedia Society, an arts organization known for its enthusiastic, and often guerilla interpretation of the influential style of Commedia dell'Arte, I'd like to take a moment to inform you that in the last year our company has reformed under the name of La Fenice, Italian for "the phoenix."

Those of you familiar with our past antics are probably wondering if you can expect to see simulated multi-orifice sex, suffer blunt force political commentary, and experience the sort of manual disemboweling that coated the Off Center in a thin layer of Karo blood during the Frontera Long Fringe Festival back in 2000. Rest assured you will be far from disappointed, though in our accumulated wisdom, we have decided to replaced Karo blood with "representational" red velvet because it isn't nearly as sticky.

The debut performance of our newest original scenario, Suitors and Tutors later this month is a reunion in every respect with four of the original members of The Austin Commedia Society, Aaron Johnson, Paul Joiner, Genevieve Kinney, and Kate Meehan, being joined by film maker, comedian and Esther's Follies veteran Adam Wade Rodriguez. The venue we have chosen is Club Deville, the site of our very first production, The Isosceles Love Triangle, in 1999. For good measure, we've even managed to convince Dr. Gian Giacomo Colli, an Italian born master of modern Commedia dell'Arte to serve as our director, proving that there isn't much a good bottle of Barbera D'Asti can't do.

For those of you new to town, with short memories, or convinced that we were never much of a blip on the radar in the first place, a brief history lesson, followed by tea and Scrabble.

The Austin Commedia Society was formed in March of 1999 under the umbrella of the Austin Circle of Theatres, and was organized to advance a greater understanding and appreciation of Commedia dell’Arte, a highly stylized mix of masked, archetypical characters, improvised scenarios, and slapstick comedy that was performed in the streets and town squares of Renaissance Italy. Commedia dell’Arte paved the way for the rebirth of professional theater in Europe, influencing the comedic works of Moliere and Shakespeare, the opera stylings of Puccini and Mozart, and eventually the later day developments of Vaudeville and the modern television sitcom. During our tenure we produced over a dozen original works, performing them in venues typical of the form, such as coffee shops, bars, parks, and museums, encouraging a broad audience to enjoy the show in an authentic setting.

(It all sounds pretty, but basically it means we performed a variation of traditional black and blue comedy where people were known to hang out.)

In 2001, we produced the Commedia dell’Austin Festival, attracting a number of performance companies from across the United States, and two recognized European masters to facilitate workshops for the festival participants. This is when we met Gian Giacomo Colli, an Italian born expert theater practitioner, who studied under the direction of the God Father’s of Commedia dell’Arte and who has published a book and a number of articles on the subject as well as a producing an educational play: Commedia dell’Arte, The World of Harlequin, Then and Now. The festival, while critically acclaimed and financially successful, opened on September 8th and was sadly overshadowed by the tragic events of September the 11th that year.

(On a lighter note, Gian Giacomo has been joined by the Department of Homeland security in celebrating his his time in Austin so far by marking the "days without a major terrorist attack.")

In conclusion, I know that there are often too many local interest stories pertaining to the arts to award them all the media real estate they rightfully deserve, so all we ask is that you grant us someone else's 15 minutes. We feel we have a good story to tell, even if in our lack of forethought we chose to name our company La Fenice, thus branding it “rising from the ashes.” Still, there is something to be said for the core membership of the little theater company that could, shaking hands and parting ways in harmonious fashion to follow their own pursuits, only to return years later to the same city and the same art, garnering the assistance an old friend and modern maestro in the process.

So what do you say, column inches anyone? How about just a few precious moment in between commercials on the local news cast? Just give us an interview, I promise you won't be disappointed.


Aaron Johnson
Artistic Director
La Fenice