The message for the Commedia dell'Arte Day

Each year a person associated with the tradition of Commedia dell'Arte is invited to write a special message in honor of Commedia dell'Arte. The message is translated and read at events around the world as well as published in newspapers and presented on radio and TV.

Tonino Pavan

Tonino Pavan

Dedication by Tonino Pavan

Commedia dell’Arte Day 2021

On Wednesday February 25th 1545 and extraordinary event took place.
A group of Professional comedians: Vincenzo da Venezia, Francesco de la lira, Hieronimo da San Luca, Giandomenico also known as il Rizo, Giovanni da Treviso, Tòfano de Bastian, headed by a ser Maphio del Re, known as Zanino da Padova, appeared in front the notary Vincenzo Fortuna, in the San Leonardo quarter to put down on notarial paper the formation of a Professional Company of Comedians.
It was the birth from scratch of the modern Theatrical Company.
And so it is with pride that we must defend, above all intellectual, literary, theoretical and ideologic intentions, this noble invention of Professional Italian Comedians.
The Comedian by Craft’s Cart, in its’ material entrepreneurial form articulated in a notarial document of that time - and in its consequent formation of other professional figures of the Entertainment Business at the service of the Interpreting Artist - made its’ entry, unexpected, into European Culture.
Maffeo’s notarial document was the first elaboration of a contract between equals that prescribed a supportive organization for themselves.
Italian historians of the performing arts world have nearly always neglected the social and productive potential that this first official document, and that a handful of people remember in a text-line or two.
Having undervalued it gives the idea how little importance our intellectuals have given to the most practical and immediate part of the professional artist, which is earning a living while at the same time practicing a profession that realized ephemeral and simulated products.
I think that without the example, and especially the courage, of that initial notarial document, to which numerous others followed and which are now kept in the historical archives of Italian cities, probably the Comedians who gave themselves a notarial social structure, immediately after February 1545, would not have had “the material and political justification” to fulfil their programs with a certain serenity and pride.
Maffeo del Re’s idea was an extraordinary idea, a provocation in an era in which actors were often censored and persecuted; an era, it must be remembered, deeply influenced by the Lutheran Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation.
The idea was ingenious because it finally consacrated the Comedian’s Work as juridically recognized.
With the notarial document that Maffeo and friends underwrote on February 25th 1545, the exclusive professional competence of the performer by trade in the modern show was born.
Italian Comedians had the merit and courage of inventing the way of taking credit in both the popular and aristocratic cultures of their time.
Comedians, ingenious in inventing their craft and business organization, were always itinerant. Their unbridled individualism, intemperate desire for popularity and “appetite” for money, bought them to travel beyond all limits.
Comedian’s “nomadism” was the sale instrument and method of the performance-product, and still continues to be a structural tradition, as well as an irreplaceable means of national cultural Unity in our Country.
Because of these existential conditions, it was always hard for Italian Comedians to identify common social participation moments. And this truly exposes a typically Italic collective weakness of the category; even so, because of jealousy among themselves and being in eternal competition, Italian actors developed an extreme ability to adapt to every political, social and cultural change. This ability allowed them, through centuries and up to this day, to maintain the organisational structure of the theatrical enterprise almost completely intact, the most tenacious and conservative among productive enterprises.
Because of their wanderings, Comedians had a great merit which has been neglected by many and almost ignored by academics: being, long before melodrama, an effective unifying element of a popular culture, of a sentiment that came from the squares, places in which traditionally people met, business was conducted and especially where communication took place. Only with the advent of television was a similar relevant phenomenon of popular cultural unification produced.
While not achieving total economic autonomy, because of the lack of a fixed “bottega” or a stable “sales territory”, the Comedian had the ability to create the need for an ephemeral organized product, in the society of his day, wonderfully stimulating and fascinating, as the Comedy by Craft was.
In contrast with academies, where theatre was a means of exalting the idealistic intimacies of the classical era, the rigor of the forms and untouchability of the text, or in religious brotherhoods where one found the instrument to magnify the religious spirit and the lives of saints, the theatre of the Comedy by Craft was born solely from actors, from their practical, material and artisanal scenic culture.
Their “revolution” should be identified in the ultimate goal of the Comedian, which was not the exaltation of the text or the message it brought forward, but in the sale of a theatrical even. To sell it well, the Comedian had to be capable. For the end of selling better, he used his technique as the best means of packaging the ephemeral scenic product; his professional resources were inseparable from the sale of the theatrical even, and, even more extraordinary but indispensable, was the careful union of single abilities, the wonderful collegial composition of individual talents.
And when the Comedians did not disdain to enact literary works by classical and contemporary Authors, almost leaving aside the stereotypes of the “canovacci”, the public became aware of the high artistic quality of their professional performance, and of the entertainment and passions they generated.
Contrary to an opinion as common as it is improper, the art of Improvviso was the least improvised it could have been: it consisted of rigorous performances in which the actor displayed his culture and personal scenic knowledge, the bases of which were handed down on the stage itself, and that he constantly renewed, experimented on and developed, by means of his work, learning and especially constant direct research in his itinerant “bottega” on the stage.
Each of them had a personal toolbox of costumes, equipment, individual mimic, means he used to impersonate the maschera. And with tis technique they were able to set up a performance. It could be said that rehearsals were for them individual study, subjective research of innovative techniques and new gestures, the personal experimentation of new “motti” and “bravuras”: in brief their professionality consisted of a constant research on themselves, both to enrich their personal artistic and technical patrimony, and to compete with, and measure up against colleagues of other companies. During the performance, their research and studies found their application in the ensemble of the company, which were solely the continuation and collective participation of strictly individual abilities, but masterly unified and coordinate between themselves, like a mosaic made up of distinct and evident pieces, because such was the architecture of the performance itself. Even though the scenic costume drew its origin from the style of regional clothes and from the uniforms of professional corporations, comedians were so capable they turned them into a rich, yet at the same time simple, synthesis of types, that collected attitudes and sentiments common to all people, but that individually succeeded in personifying and closing in on the public’s sensitivity.
“Maschera” and costume took on the function of a second skin and were the natural extension of the body, capable of exalting their individual mimic expression. The mask created the image of the hidden part of the face and elevated it to an extreme artistic synthesis. In them, the taste of gesture and movement, the mimic invention and corporal expressiveness, taken to their extreme consequences, prevailed on the word; the word, often being incomprehensible, exalted and underlined the gesture itself, taking on its’ own original communication.
For these reasons, their performances and exhibitions were understood by everybody everywhere, beyond languages and uses.
They were also capable and astute artisans in fixing in the mask that ambiguous and indefinite expression, between laughter and crying, between exaltation and pain, between stupidity and cunning, qualities that only the mimic dexterity and artistic sensitivity of a Comedian by Craft with talent could veer towards one sentiment or the other. All this technicality of the body was not in contrast with the effect of the word, even when mystified and contorted, to the contrary it was its’ dramatic exaltation that took shape in the phonic manner of its’ emission, laying the basis for the so-called “carrying the voice” to the public (Dario Fo and, even earlier, Marcello Moretti come to mind).
Whereas other professions grew in the social texture of single cities, the profession of actors was borne outside them, while daily drawing the necessary means to make a living; it was borne extraneous to the economic and social texture of the time, because it was not necessary for the lives of cities, and above all, it was not in demand.
But Comedians imposed it.
It was one of those “cultural accidents” that seem to bloom outside history, because not programmed by power, sometimes undesired. Flourishing outside the economic texture of Cities and States, Italian Comedians had no way of creating their corporations, but they gave birth to a great variety of companies, small and large, that would tour all of Italy and Europe. The comedian’s corporation was the very same Company in which he acted.
As Prof. Luciano Mariti said during the conference “Attori in cerca di personaggio” at the Centro Teatro Ateneo in Rome in 1987: “When actors do without the poet, the written text, they produce an actor’s dramaturgy, which is a work of actions, and they make themselves independent from the spectator’s culture. This was the revolution of the Commedia dell’Arte: a Theatre produced in an actor’s manner, that brought something that was not expected to society”.
Cultural event born of the Comedian’s work, tardy but legitimate inheritor of the Italian Renaissance, that gave back to the stage the presence of the professional, aware of his competence and of his irreplaceable human value on the stage. Borne of the Renaissance because the by means of his corporal technicality, the Comedian by Craft became master of the space he had been robbed of by court dilettantes.
Comedians by Craft enriched the ancient and archaeological “maschera” giving it an artisanal value even in its construction, in its’ manual modelling and in the use of the materials it was made of, because it had to help the Comedian in his hard and sometimes painful daily use of it; it had to be light and wearable; facilitate his breathing; make it adhere to muscular complexity of the face; give it the correct expression so as to be loaded onto the Comedian’s corporal expressivity.
An artisanal skill that today is being lost because of our public institutions, barely o not at all sensitive to the Craft of an Actor.
25 February 1545 is a symbol, a central point to promote the Craft of Comedy to the rightful recognition as UNESCO World Heritage.
A symbolic date from which to start celebrating the 2021 Commedia dell’Arte Day in all its’ breadth.
Tonino Pavan

Short Biography

Tonino Pavan was born in Trieste on December 4, 1937 into an Istrian family. He is an actor in the theater, cinema, television. He was loaned to the union to manage the interests of his category. He is considered and appreciated for his historical knowledge in the field of theatrical organization and the social improvements of the actors. He attended the acting school of the Teatro Stabile di Trieste in the years 1954 and 1955, unbeknownst to his family. His theatrical and social activity began in his teens, when he became part of the leadership team of the Circolo Studenti Medi in Trieste, making his debut at the age of seventeen at the Auditorium Theater. Discharged in 1960 from military service, to support himself, he worked as an entertainer of children's parties in Padua in private homes, culturally preparing himself as a self-taught and was followed for acting by Maestro Bruno Matesich Montalto in order to participate in the admission competition of the 1962 at the National Academy of Dramatic Art "Silvio D'Amico". Having passed the exam brilliantly, he attended the Academy with a scholarship, graduating as an actor in 1965. Written by the Stabile di Trieste, it makes its debut (in German) in "POVARO SOLDÀ" written and directed by Giuseppe Maffioli, with texts taken from the comedies of Angelo Beolco, known as “el Ruzante”. He continued, with annual continuity, in the activity of actor with the Stabile of Trieste, with the Teatro San Babila in Milan, with the Company of Tino Buazzelli, with the Teatro Popolare la Contrada in Trieste, with the RAI headquarters in Trieste, Milan , Turin and Rome, with Radio Capodistria, with the Italian Theater Center directed by Salvatore Solida, in film and television production and, occasionally, in dubbing. He has also collaborated with private theater companies with administrative and organizational positions. He was general secretary of the SAI-Società Attori Italiani in Friuli Venezia Giulia until 1979 when, at the request of Pino Caruso, Marco Guglielmi, Aldo Massasso, Didi Perego, Ferruccio De Ceresa, Toni Barpi and Wanda Benedetti, he moved to Rome and took reins of the Società Attori Italiani and, in the same year, on 8 July, at the Sala Borromini in Rome, he presented, together with other colleagues, the dissolution of the SAI and membership in affiliation to the Federation to the National Assembly of Members Italiana Lavoratori Spettacolo FILS CGIL, which collected 75% of the votes, effectively constituting the Italian Actors Union and was the responsible National Coordinator until 1988. At the First Congress of the SAI (Vittoria Theater in Rome) Seg. Gen. for Rome and Lazio. In the National SAI, he was replaced by Pino Caruso and Sandro Piombo. He was a member of the Prose Commission in the Ministry for Tourism and Entertainment from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, representing the actors and technicians. He was a member of the Film Expert Commissions in the 1980s. He continued to collaborate with the SAI until the end of May 1999, when he resigned with an open letter in which he expressed his positions in contrast with those of the SAI and with the same objectives to which the unionization of 1979, in the CGIL, they had aimed. He accepted, in June 1999, the invitation of the FISTEL CISL Federation to organize the trade association FAI Forum Italian Actors then, for health reasons, he was forced to abandon all activities to return to his city.