Transformative Fava in Philly
One of the most transformative experiences to occur in the US this year will happen in PHILADELPHIA! This work came to my attention about 15 years ago, through my son, Bernard. He was at an audition outside of New York. The script was really bad. Auditions were being held in a theater so tiny that the waiting actors had to squeeze into the small audience space- forced to watch everyone else’s audition. Actor after actor went up to read, and bombed, including Bernard. Then one actor got up and animated the text in a way that had everyone else laughing hysterically. On the ride back in the bus, to get the train, to get back to New York- it was really way out there- Bernard caught up with that actor. He was curious how he had brought the house down with such crappy material. The actor told Bernard that he had one person to credit: Antonio Fava! He had studied with Antonio Fava in Italy!! Later that evening, Bernard told me the story and I immediately told him that I was going to bring Antonio Fava to Philadelphia! Bernard was dumbfounded. He knew I had never done anything like this before. He kept trying to calm me down, but I insisted I was going to do it! And I did! For 5 years we sponsored Antonio’s classes here in Philadelphia. And they were AMAZING!
Antonio shared with us the benefits of his entire lifework and historical research. Believe me this was definitely not just “do what you want”. Antonio had culled this information from his father who had been a famous Pulcinella and also from his own in depth study and burning desire to know more- to document, totally contrary to what most people teach and believe, that this work, known as Commedia dell’Arte, was the highest form of theater performed by the most famous actors in Italy and it was performed INDOORS in gorgeous theaters. Antonio has fiendishly collected historic books, all written in Italian, of course, to document and substantiate the actual work and its roots. His devouring of his own huge private collection of original manuscripts- one of the largest in the world- enabled him to share these principles with us- not just ideas about improvisation, but true facts based upon ancient documents. Once we knew these principles (which resonate within all of us- which is why authentic Commedia performances, during The Renaissance, were able to be presented in more than one language) and were presented with a scenario, we were asked, without only one hour of preparation, to present our scenes in front of a live audience. It was like magic! And torture! At the same time! For me it was especially painful, because I came from the opera world where long coaching and months, sometimes years, of other people telling me what to do went into preparation of a new piece. And here we were presenting after one hour- based on our imagination and this gorgeous new knowledge! Antonio has had a huge impact on my own work as director. His work has also led me to the principles that are at the heart of my own creations! Being with Antonio is like that. He is at the same time master and audience. When Antonio came, I was still trying to recuperate from a major tragedy that had affected our family for a year and a half. He put us in contact with the umbilical cord of our artform that, up until then, had laid dormant inside. I was experiencing the “historic memory how and why”! Why had acting become a profession? How had the greatest actors in Italy been able to inspire me through their work and add value to my understanding of art today- in a world that is so completely different, but still inhabited by humans and I was to learn that in that humanness and shared conditions, and the ability to laugh at them, is the force that connects us into what is considered the heyday of culture creating society: the 1500s. I was to experience why acting based on these authentic historic archetypes can jar, interrupt and then lift- make us laugh and fill everyday, from that time you are first introduced to it, with more creativity than you had ever imagined possible. To better understand why we do what we do and to always have a way to recapture the connection . Could an artist ask for more?
The image above is of a performance of Isabella Andreini, most famous actress in Italy during The Renaissance, in a Commedia performance. I believe it was for the wedding of The Grand Duke Ferdinand Medidi and the French Princess Christine of Lorraine in 1589 at The Medici Theater in Florence. More on Isabella Andreini soon!