Arlecchino’s Feet

All the Commedia ‘masks’ have distinct postures and walks, indicative of their characters.  In my new book Unmasking the Mask: Insights from Physical Theatre and Life, I describe how we see a PRISM for each character: Posture, Rhythm, Inner Soul and Mask.

Arlecchino’s posture and rhythm come from two animal sources: a chicken or chick, and a cat.  Blend them together, and you get the comical strut from the chicken with his moving, jerky head, looking around and up and down for anything to eat.  Plus the stealth, lightness and agility of the cat, ready to change positions, run or jump quickly and lightly.  Arlecchino’s weight is often on his straight back leg, ready to push off or jump in any direction, while his front leg is bent at the knee, with heel grounded and toes up, ready to hop or leap with great agility.  With such energy he is indefatigable: always hopping or skipping to and fro, running from Pantalone or running to his paramour Colombina.

If you can’t find Arlecchino’s feet, you can’t find the character.  Jacques Lecoq used to say that because Arlecchino came from Bergamo (a mountainous region in Italy), he developed the dexterity of his feet by running down rocky hillsides.  

After my training at Carnegie, I was fortunate to be cast as Arlecchino in a production of Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters.  My mentor, Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, knew that the character’s PRISM is very different from my own personal posture and rhythm.  To help me “get my legs” and prepare for the role, he had me jump rope for an hour each day before and during the rehearsal period… while he sat in the rehearsal room with me and fell asleep in a chair.

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