By Emily Baldwin
Freshman, Northwestern University
Art for Sale is a piece created entirely by Tut’Zanni Theatre Company in the style of Commedia dell’arte [a form of folk theatre based in 16th century Italy in which masked actors play around social issues]. Brighella, a director, is trying to introduce his play but is foiled by his less-than-competent actors, stagehand and grouchy theater owner. Can the much-awaited Script Doctor fix everything? Or will his own theatrical creations get the best of him—and the entire company? This hilarious piece—featuring puppets, audience participation, and a paper-eating monster — is not to be missed. I spoke with ALi Landvatter (Brighella) and Dory Ford Sibley (Dottore, Neutral, and Monster).
EMILY: What is this show? How would you describe Commedia dell’arte?
ALI: Commedia’s crazy. It started out as street theater so it’s very interactive with the audience, and even when you’re not in their faces, you’re always engaging them—making eye contact—and the characters are always aware of the audience.
DORY: [This show is] an original canovaccio [ALi defines a canovaccio as “the barebones outline of a show: the most major plot points that you absolutely have to hit for the show to happen.”], written by ALi, and we devised and wrote all the text together as an ensemble, so it’s a collective process.
ALI: We wanted to do something that was near to our hearts, something that we knew—and that was about trying to be an artist. And so we wanted to put up a show about trying to put up a show, and trying to bring something to an audience, and all the problems that can happen.
DORY: And the great thing about Commedia is that it’s almost cartoon in its form, so you can never get too ridiculous—you can never be too big and you can never go too far.
ALI: It can be very chaotic. What’s lovely about Commedia is that it’s not exactly scripted—you get up there and if you know the character then you would know how they would react in situations, and you just find your way to the different plot points eventually and you just explore what happens in between. We have such great people in this company that we trust each other to jump in when we need help or to catch what we’re throwing at them. Everybody is so open and willing to step in and just do whatever it takes—different characters or puppets or monsters…
DORY: It’s magical to get onstage with people that you really love to work with and just have fun. And that’s what happens every time we do this show.
EMILY: Do you have a written script that you pretty much adhere to, or…?
DORY: It’s more like we know which points to get to and so we just get to those points. It depends on the audience every time and how engaged the audience is with us and how much they want to participate.
ALI: The more they let us play with them, the more we want to play with them and the more we can play with them—it makes the show longer and funnier.
EMILY: You said you came up with the general story at the beginning, right? What was it like, in terms of the group playing a performer role, or a director role, or…who did what?
DORY: The interesting thing is that we came together […] and we all became just immediately equal directors, equal writers, equal devisors. […] So every single time somebody writes a canovaccio and then we’ll work off of that, we’ll decide which one we want to work with. But all the material inside was written and cut and written and cut by all of us, and directed by all of us—so there’s no one director, there’s no one writer—which I think is really amazing and what helps I think our show be the more fun. Because we just know that we can all kind of do what we want because…
ALI: Because we created it together.