Theatron 3 – ‘The fools’ zanni’: exploring prominent characteristics of the Commedia dell’ Arte

Dramatic arts, E-Learning

Project summary

Our project aims to:

  • facilitate learners’ exploration of the link between theoretical knowledge and practical understanding of the Commedia dell’ Arte and related theatre forms
  • utilise the unique opportunities virtual open-air stages present in order to allow learners, of all abilities, the opportunity to recreate distinctive staging devices and performance techniques.
  • enable learners to gain a ‘working’ knowledge of the semiotics of the commedia stage, and practically explore how the performance space was subdivided into specific areas of action.
  • use advanced animation and motion capture techniques to explore the structure and form of a ‘typical’ open-air commedia performance, by experimenting with a wide range of commedia performance techniques such as; the spectacular acrobatic entrances and exits of the saltimbanchi;
  • create a vibrant forum for the exchange of ideas and stimulate wider discussion of the range of theatrical styles and genres that grew out of commedia’s unique performance methods.


Our project will actively involve Level 1 and Level 2 Foundation Degree and BA Hons Level 3 Performance and Events Production students. Each year group will focus on a particular historical theatre form and create a range of transferable learning resources, including:

  • Level 1 – Medieval ‘English Interludes’: utilising Theatron’s Medieval Pageant Stages the work will explore developments in secular drama and will be linked to the students’ ‘Contextual Studies’ module.
  • Level 2 – Commedia dell’ Arte: utilising Theatron’s the Medieval Pageant Stages the work will examine Commedia dell Arte’s traditional form and structure and the performer / audience relationship. The topic links directly to students’ ‘Contemporary Specialist Practice’ module.
  • Level 3 – Contemporary Street Theatre practice and its links to the Commedia dell’ Arte: the work will utilise the spaces outlined above, as well as exploring ‘site-specific’ performance opportunities within and across Second Life. The topic links directly to students’ ‘Major Research Project’ and ‘Performance Investigation’ modules.

Aims and Objectives

  • To enable learners to identify and explain the dynamic nature of performance and it’s context.
  • To enable learners to undertake, evaluate and implement performance research from a range of sources.
  • To enable learners to identify, describe and analyse the processes by which performance is created.
  • To enable learners to identify and develop the skills required in order to carry out academic enquiry into a range of areas pertinent to performance and events production.
  • To enable learners to analyse and evaluate a range of data and research evidence.
  • To enable learners to question contemporary perceptions and traditional orthodoxies within performance and events production using balanced, logical and supported argument.


  • Identification, selection, development and performance of material appropriate to the chosen historical period and Theatron environment.
  • Independent and whole group research into historical period and performance techniques and materials.
  • Creation and development of a range of informative multi-media learning materials designed by the student to a) document and communicate theatrical research processes and methods, b) communicate their findings to a wider audience (including non-specialists) c) provide a range of interactive learning kiosks and discussion forums, focusing on both the research process and presentation of outcomes.
  • The development of advance performance practice skills and techniques including experiments in mixed media performance (MoCap and Chromakey).

The students will work closely with Italian Commedia actor and director, Antonio Venturino, whose performances will be ‘captured’ and analysed during the project.


Our evaluation of the project will focus on formative and summative action research methodologies:


  • Develop meaningful learning materials for their peers in the context of emerging technologies.
  • Develop skills of reflective practice through the use of learning kiosks and project wiki’s / writeboards
  • Reflect upon opportunities for collaborative performance, through virtual environments.
  • Access, explore and reflect upon other project resources in order to  extend understanding of theatre history and virtual/mixed reality performance.

Learning & Teaching:

  • Create, develop and present a range of conference papers, presentations, journal articles and collaborative performance works.
  • Contribute to the development of new learning and teaching strategies within the context of emerging technologies.
  • Foster and promote innovative pedagogical research.
  • Reflect upon learners’ understanding of the conceptual frameworks that influence learning within virtual and mixed reality environments.


  •  6 x Project Web Casts, focussing on project development and the creative process rather than concrete outcomes. Student driven and tutor supported.
  • Series of filmed performance workshops with Italian commedia performer Antonio Venturino, focussing on commedia’s stock characters and the performance qualities of thee ‘masked’ characters. Materials created will be available as a series of ‘on-line’ tutorials.
  • Learning Kiosks and On-line virtual exhibitions – research findings will be presented within the Theatron environments as examples of ‘blended’ learning activites.
  • Journal Articles – focussing on major research findings and virtual performance opportunities within Second Life. Second article focussing on the ‘capture’ of Antonio Venturino’s performances.
  • Filmed performance extracts of Medieval Interludes, Commedia lazzi and contemporary street theatre.
  • CD-ROM featuring all of the above for – suitable for institutional archive / LRC use etc…


  • Medieval pageant stages
  • Globe Theatre
  • Animated commedia stock character ‘poses’ and perhaps ‘gestures’
  • Replicated virtual commedia character masks and costumes (where possible)


  • Substantially contribute to the range and availability of on-line and ‘blended’ learning resources for dissemination across own institution and broader HE community.
  • Students’ reflective practice shared across wider HE and subject community through web logs, web casts, pod casts, forums and discussion boards (including wiki’s)
  • Mapping of students’ developing skills set within mixed media learning environments shared across wider HE community.
  • CD-ROM – charting the first (and second) year’s progress, freely available to related subject areas and the wider HE community.
  • Learning & teaching experiences gained will provide significant staff development opportunities for the sharing of best practice across curriculum areas.
  • National Journal articles –will make project widely available to HE community, professional bodies, groups and individuals


  • MA Theatre & Performance Practice
  • Teaching & Learning Mentor
  • Professional Actor / Director
  • Project director for five successful European Cultural Exchanges to Spain, Greece and Italy under the Lingua, Action E and Erasmus funding initiatives.

Other resources

Project contact

Gordon Duffy-McGhie
Visual & Performing Arts
Middlesbrough College