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The Science of Slapstick

Students Train to Tickle the Funny Bone
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This summer, eight Cal State Fullerton students and a faculty member got silly in Italy for all the right reasons.

They joined Cal Poly Pomona course coordinator Bernardo Solano and an international faculty at Atelier Teatro Fisico in Turin for a physical comedy training known as commedia dell’arte.

“Commedia dell’arte is a style of physical theater that has influenced playwrights such as Moliere and Goldoni, the farces of the 19th and 20th centuries, live theater and television variety shows, clown and Cirque productions, silent films and legions of actors,” explains Evelyn Carol Case, lecturer in theatre and dance. Among the physical comedy greats: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey.

Theatre arts students Kyle Anderson, Katherine Devoe-Peterson, Samantha Emeahara, Megan Kappelhoff, Christina Morris, Kyle Pazdel and Karina Pennett, along with Heidi Palomino ’15 (B.F.A. theatre arts) trained in the three-week intensive “Commedia dell’Arte: The Art & Craft of Physical Comedy” 10 hours a day for 23 days, with a public performance at the end of the training. The historic genre includes acrobatics, acro-yoga, pantomime, clown, mime, parody, satire, buffoon and slapstick as it explores the importance of these art forms and its performers.

The three-week intensive course was part of CSU Summer Arts program.

“The trip to Turin opened my eyes to the technique behind comedy,” says theatre arts major Devoe-Peterson. “We spent time looking at the history of comedy and its roots in commedia dell’arte, mime and even clown. I’ve always enjoyed improv and making people laugh, but always tackled it instinctually. I had never been taught how to look at something comedic and dissect why it is funny.”

“Training in commedia teaches timing, rhythm, appropriate physical tension, generosity, courage, risk taking, split-second decision making, how to read an audience, stamina, specificity in choices, a sense of play … the list goes on and on,” says Case. “All of these principles can be applied to many styles of theater and our students are already using them in classes and in rehearsals.”

“With my new basis of knowledge, I feel inspired to tackle comedy in its many forms and hope to apply it to my work both as an actress and a director,” says Devoe-Peterson.

“It was a joy to see our eight students blossom into trusting, gutsy, funny compassionate actors through this training,” adds Case. “We will forever be grateful for this experience and are looking forward to sharing the joy of physical comedy with our community.”