La Fenice's "table work" is primarily about reviewing the scenario as advocates for the stock characters we're playing. In its earliest stage, our scenarios are extremely malleable, so we like to tackle any problems with plot in a character-driven sort of way.
While we do a more "formal" table-work session at the start of the rehearsal process, it usually comes at the end of a series of more informal ones, like this one over beers last week between Genevieve Kinney, who is playing Ruffiana in our next show, Aaron Johnson, our Artistic Director, and Kate Meehan, our Managing Director.
[It's rather important to understand that the bulk of this conversation is underscored by a lot of AC/DC and Guns and Roses from the juke box.]
Genevieve: I had a lot of fun with Columbina from For Whom the Dong Tolls, and Gian [Giacomo Colli] said that, well, really, I was playing Ruffiana. And so, what is that, what's the difference? Why was she a Ruffiana and not a Columbina? And then, this Co...
My name is Kate Meehan, and I'm guilty of shoddy character choices.
I was the first person in our company to play Ruffiana, an older female stock character of the Commedia dell'Arte. This was some twelve years ago, and when I played her, I went straight for the laughs. Ruffiana translates to "lady pimp," and in my young mind, the joke was that she was a woman deprived of her sexual comeliness after decades of hard use. I played her drunk, raunchy, sexually forward and repulsive. It was an easy choice - prostitutes in America are one-dimensional figures, depicted as the very definition of desperate, powerless women. What few madams we have in our cultural lexicon - Miss Jessie at the Chicken Ranch, Lulu White's Mahogany Hall, are anomalies in a history of male-run brothels filled with downtrodden women.
It set the tone for how she was played by everyone after me. Genevieve Kinney, who's been performing with us for a decade, played her once and determined never to do it again, finding...
Kate Meehan has been performing with La Fenice since it's very first show as Austin Commedia Society back in 1999. Over the years, she's played a number of the Commedia stock characters with us, and currently serves as Managing Director. Before joining ACS, she performed on many famous Chicago improv stages, including ImprovOlympic and Second City.
How does La Fenice's approach to Commedia differ from other Commedia dell'Arte troupes?
Well, I've really only created Commedia shows with La Fenice, but for the last few years I've been in touch with a whole lot of different performers. Apparently, we're pretty unique in the United States in that we're performing Commedia outside of Renaissance Faires, the confines of a Goldoni script, or a proscenium stage. We perform in bars to keep things risky - usually at least half of our audience was unaware there would be a show that night, and it means we don't have the luxury of a trapped audience. They can ignore us, talk over us, throw...