“I fear that the freedom might be the final freedom. The one where my tan is hided and I join the devils below.”
What happens when a group of rogue actors hijacks a lecture on the Commedia dell’Arte! Their conflict becomes a battle for the soul of the Commedia, questioning the purpose of art, how history is written, what is funny and what it means to be free…
Mary Eileen O’Donnel
Stage Manager: Cihan Sahin
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Tim Robbins ranks among contemporary cinema’s most acclaimed and provocative voices; a multifaceted talent, who has acted in, written, directed and produced films including Mystic River, Catch a Fire, Dead Man Walking, The Shawshank Redemption, The Player, Bob Roberts, Bull Durham, Jacobs Ladder, Hudsucker Proxy, The Secret Life of Words and Cradle Will Rock.
In addition Robbins has been a consistent and influential voice in the theater for the past 32 years as an actor, director, playwright and artistic director of The Actors’ Gang, which has travelled the world to five continents and extensively in the United States with productions including Embedded, George Orwells’ 1984, The Exonerated, The Guys, and The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.
Robbins has also been instrumental in the development and expansion of education and outreach programs at The Actors’ Gang, arts programs that have reached thousands of children currently without school funding for theater programs. In addition Robbins and several other Actors’ Gang members regularly conduct theater workshops with incarcerated men in an effort to fill the gap in arts rehabilitation programs in the California corrections system.
The Actors' Gang
Harlequino: On to Freedom is back at the Actors’ Gang for two special performances before going on tour.
CULVER CITY, CA – “We’re been workshopping and training actors in commedia dell’arte for 30 years. We have always used the stock characters in our workshop in our classes as a way to free the actors to create a character out of whole cloth.” Although much is written down on the beginnings of commedia dell’arte when it emerged as an art form in 1530s; the harlequin, the clever servant, has no mention until a hundred years later. Tim wondered if the harlequino character wasn’t a satirical reaction to the African slave trade that started in the late 1400s. “Spoils of war, those from the losing side, were put in servitude, slavery. If you look at the first mask that survived, there’s African features in the harlequino mask. We started questioning.” And the seeds of HARLEQUINO: ON TO FREEDOM were sown.
The Commedia dell’Arte was developing as an art form in the early 16th century, a time that was witness to great changes in religion and culture. Rebels were breaking off from the Vatican in the early years of the Reformation. The African slave trade had begun in Portugal. Religious conflicts led to a succession of wars between Spain and Italy and France.
Amidst this tumult some in this war weary Italian culture began telling the story of the relationship between the wealthy and the poor, the rich Pantalone and his servant Zanni, (later named Harlequino). Along with this came the story of the Innamorati (the lovers), unbridled and passionate, kept from their true love by a business deal between Pantalone and a pompous Doctor or fraudulent military hero.
Hypocrisy was satirized in the town square by roving bands of actors and musicians. Historically we have no evidence of the actual content of these plays. The first written scenarios appear in the early 17th century, and these only the works of the elite companies that performed for royalty. So what about the first hundred years of the Commedia dell’Arte? Who are the unknown players? What was important to the poor and powerless in 1530 Italy? Why in one account was a Duke in Mantua so offended by a Commedia troupe’s performance that he hanged three actors? Who were these daring acrobatic actors that dared to tell truth to power?
Harlequino: On to Freedom asks this question. Set in a time that is both 1530 and 2016, the play tells the story of an itinerant group of actors that hijack a lecture and slide show on the Commedia dell’Arte. The play questions how history is written, what is funny, when is a servant a slave, and why are we still in this discussion today?