The atmosphere of the workshops is about having fun, enjoying the exploration of the work, and allowing laughter. This complements the tough physical work and focus of the workshops.
I always start the character work with the zanni, as they are the most accessible archetype. Students experiment with the physicality, and then quickly work on a very short two person piece to show to the class. Use of words is deliberately limited, so that students concentrate on physicality, repetition of sound, movement and rhythms. Masks are used when they show their pieces to the class. Feedback is given, and they then rework the pieces to show again.
Other characters in the Commedia pantheon are introduced on a daily basis; Pantalone, The Lovers, Captain, Harlequin, The Doctor, etcetera. Their physicality, movement and the roles that the new characters play in the Commedia world is explored, and each time a new character type is introduced they are tried out in the context of a showing or an improvisation. In this way, the status of the different types, their relation to plot, and their relationships to other characters is explored. All the time, the ‘showings’ are given feedback, and the students begin to understand the Commedia style.
Text is limited at the beginning to encourage different means of expression, but gradually more text is used as the students learn to both minimise and play with text instead of resorting to it as a natural impulse. This stops the danger of students not physicalizing the masks.
In the final week, groups are split into small groups of five or six, in which they work on their showings - characters are allotted, and they create their own 15 - 20 minute pieces. In ideal circumstances these are shown to other students in the college in a suitable place outdoor on campus. The shows are worked on by the students - but there is a ‘hands-off’ guidance throughout the process, and feedback and direction is given where needed.