Ask any of the country's best clowns how they learned to do what they do and they'll likely answer: Christopher Bayes, a veritable household name in the physical comedy world. He has been a company member at Theatre de la Jeune Lune and the Guthrie, been a faculty member at Julliard, Yale, and Tisch, and has staged work at nearly every theatre in the city.
Here is Christopher's take on Commedia, Moliere, and more:
How do you define Commedia dell'Arte?
Commedia is the art of the virtuosic actor. It is a celebration of the art of the actor as well as a celebration of the theatrical form itself. It is the on-going playful tragedy of the underdog trying to "stick it to the man".
What do you think is the most common misconception of Commedia?
That it is dated. It is a living form that continues to evolve as the rich get richer and the poor do all of the work to help them do so.
Why do you think Commedia dell'Arte is an important training for contemporary actors?
It encourages "physical psychology" and playful abandon. It teaches actors to think with their bodies and appetites. It removes the possibility of the "polite or appropriate" body. It is deeply vulgar and violent. It kills realism or naturalism by encouraging the actor to play in grand scale with truth, fun and poetry. You can't play commedia unless you can listen with your body.
Do you have a favorite Commedia character to play?
Pantalone. Why? He is such a skeevy, tragic bastard.
How does your background in Commedia influence your directorial choices when you work on a Moliere play?
Moliere trained with a commedia company and shared a theater with one. He was deeply inspired by the Lazzi and the lengths that they might be pushed. He brought his own sense of poetry to a comic/tragic world but kept the root of the characters in the commedia. The misconception is that Moliere is polite. So…I try to uncover what inspired him so that I
might be inspired as well. More hitting!
While Commedia-inspired groups like the Mime Troupe have been around for decades and while some elements of Commedia-esque satire have been absorbed by the sketch comedy world of SNL and such, do you think that we'll ever see a traditional masked travelling Commedia troupe dealing with contemporary material?
No one can afford to have a company anymore. The producing structure has killed the company system. And television has seduced the artists. How long can you pass the hat?( God I' so cynical.)….. Sure. god bless'em! How can I help?
What can Commedia and its legacy teach us about creating contemporary satire?
Look at the Simpsons. It's commedia.
As the soon-to-be-head of the Physical Acting program at Yale Drama, can you give us a sneak peek at the syllabus?
More squirrelly fun.
Anything you'd like to plug?
Yes, but it would be impolite and vulgar to actually write it down.