I have to admit I don’t remember when I met Carlo but it was before 1983. That was the year I convinced him to visit my studio to do some photographs. He was playful and not too prepared. He came with a couple of great Commedia masks and found objects in the studio to improvise with for the camera. It was great fun! I have decided to make this tribute since many movement-based performers don’t know about Carlo. I contacted a few friends that knew him well ask them to contribute to this post. They knew him better and have stories to tell!
From Wikipedia: Carlo Mazzone-Clementi (12 December 1920 – 5 November 2000) was a performer and founder of two schools of Commedia, mime and physical theater as well as a contemporary and colleague of leaders of the modern European theater. From his arrival in the USA in 1957, he was largely responsible for the spreading of commedia dell’arte in North America. He first gained attention in Italy in 1947 alongside Marcel Marceau in the mime’s first tour outside of Paris. From 1948 to 1951, he assisted Jacques Lecoq, while Lecoq taught and directed the Players of Padua University. In 1954, Mazzone-Clementi was at Piccolo Teatro di Milano with Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Click here for more information from their post about Carlo.
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Interview with Hovey Burgess
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Driving with Carlo Mazzone-Clementi
The Mid Atlantic Movement Theater Festival, January 2000, packed with various performers, vaudevillians and theater artists taking classes, teaching, performing and networking at a large motel in Maryland. Festival organizers approached me asking if I would make an important announcement. Everyone was called into the main room, “We have some very sad news.” Participants started shouting about the 2000 Presidential election recount tragedy going on at the time. “No, it is not about the election. Carlo Mazzone-Clementi has died”.
Arriving in the United States – October 4th, 1957 the world was shocked by Sputnik, the first satellite which was launched by Russia. That is also when Carlo came to New York, NY by ship. This I found out from Carlo’s son Val. Carlo was warming up for a show, “Cock-a-Doodle Dandy”. On the NY City Opera stage Carlo, jumping up and down like a rooster. The floor happened to be weak where he was jumping, suddenly boom! Carlo went flying through the stage floor landing in the basement and permanently injuring his knees. The result of this injury Carlo said, “I guess I teach”.
The First Time I saw Carlo – About 1977 Carlo Mazzone-Clementi performing at West Beth Theater Center, New York NY in the old Bell Laboratory main room with the insanely tall ceiling. It’s where the first television was turned on with Thomas Edison. An extremely high scaffolding happened to be up in the room, 3 to 5 levels high. Carlo entered, sweeping across the stage with a push broom. Looking at the scaffolding rising to the high ceiling, he started climbing it slowly, hanging off different parts with unique various actions on each of the levels. Arriving at the top, tossing something off into the house. Beautiful. It was simple and inspiring. Seemed like nothing was planned, everything was done improviso. But it was planned like a Commedia dell’Arte scenario. About this time one of my mentors, actor, director, producer and writer, Vasek Simek builder of the Perry Street Theater challenged me to make a leather Commedia dell’Arte mask. Over the next year, I discovered the beginning skills of leather mask making.
Carlo’s Tragedies – It is hard to talk about the great Carlo Mazzone-Clementi without speaking about the various tragedies that struck Carlo several times. Tragedies in his life affected his fate. These tragedies would make life hard for him, but affect other people’s lives in positive ways. Injury to his knees twice, early in his performing career. The theft of his tools and in Carlo’s words, “my school”, resulting in stealing opportunities for Carlo to share his knowledge, wisdom and vast numbers of exercises. Tragic events would force Carlo to create new opportunities in the United States and in other parts of the world, having positive effects on others. Like Copenhagen, Denmark with Ole Brekke creating The Commedia School http://commediaschool.com .
Carlo’s Beloved Masks – Berkeley California, Carlo visiting friends at a school in Berkeley California and had all of this masks and props with him in an old trunk tied to the top of his Volvo. Coming out of the school to his Volvo his trunk was gone. The tie ropes holding Carlo’s trunk were cut. All of his Commedia dell’Arte masks and special props – gone. For Carlo, this was a devastating blow. These beloved tools where taken from him along with part of his life and livelihood. It is likely the people that took Carlos trunk have no idea the value of what they have.
Carlo the Odd Fellows Hall and his school – His stolen Commedia dell’Arte masks would lead me to work with Carlo at his school he created in the middle of nowhere in Northern California. There was cow pastures, two bars, loggers, a coffee shop, a small post office, maybe a beauty parlor and a small store. Peter Kors was one person he asked to join him in 1972. Carlo came up to Peter and said, “I just bought the Odd Fellows Hall in the mountains, come we start a school.” The big red building in Blue Lake was the largest in this small town, an enormous building. This was his base where Carlo did all of his work and return to after various teaching gigs around the world.
Coming to work with Carlo – Hearing from a few people there was a performer who trained at Ecole Jacques Lecoq, making leather masks in NYC, Carlo invited me to his school to replace his set of Commedia dell’Arte masks and teach. I had been working with leather for about 1 year has made a small number of leather masks in between performing shows several times a week, on the street, in theaters and various venues. In 1979, seven years after graduating from Ecole Jacques Lecoq I went to make masks and teach with Carlo. There were some very odd goings on at the school that I did not understand, they would become clear a few years later.
Spiritual moments with Carlo – Carlo gave me a room facing the street with a big window for the mask studio. Carlo would often come down to the studio late at night and say, “Stanley you work too hard, come we drink wine.” This happened almost every night. Would stop sculpting and cover things up. We would climb up to the upper unused studio on the top floor, it felt like Carlo’s hideaway. From a secret hidden place, Carlo would pull out a Gallon jug of Gallo wine and two glassing filling them; smile and laugh. We would drink and talk. “What do you Jews do on Friday night? Every Friday night you get together, stop relax and drink wine! Why?” It is funny; not until writing this do I realize Carlo’s great influence on me in keeping the Jewish Sabbath and drinking wine with friends on Friday night. This is often how our conversation would start and it would go on for hours. Talking about fate, faith, trust, history, and destiny. World War II and how he escaped capture from the Nazi’s. Carlo considered himself the Commedia dell’Arte character Brighella. In some ways he was a Dottore, knowing Italian, French, Latin, English and able to juggle them all. Looking at some of Carlo’s writings he was always playing with words and loved them. Art, theater, performing is a spiritual force – which also relates to Carlo’s Metaphysical Mask which more people are seeing its value.
Riding with Carlo Driving – Experiencing riding in the car with Carlo driving is one of the best examples of Carlo’s philosophy on life and theater. All the other teachers told me, “Never ride with Carlo driving!” Riding in a car with Carlo driving is an experience one never forgets. We are driving through weaving mountain passes with lots of blind turns and twists. Most likely an old paved logging road. Carlo would always take the shortest route between two points. This meant driving across the road, driving on the wrong side of the road against traffic around blind turns. I freaked out! After we got passed the blind turn and we were driving on the correct side of the road, only because it was the shortest route between two points Carlo would say, “You see Stanley, nothing to worry about! We are here.” It was about trusting fate and knowing nothing bad was going to happen to you. Knowing that you can go around a blind curve and you can deal with anything that is there. Yes of course, once in a while we would come onto an oncoming car or truck at high speed and Carlo would just gently, slightly alter his course while the other car was freaking out, swerving and honking. “You see Stanley everyone is fine! Do not worry so much. Why should I take the long way, this is direct.” The really scary thing is after a while I trusted riding with Carlo.
This knowledge and understanding, that trust relates to one of Carlo’s powerful exercises, that I use all the time. Closing your eyes, then running full tilt to an object on the floor, stopping and hitting your hand on the object. If you hit the object, with your eyes closed you get to move onto the next object. You go directly to the object knowing you will hit it. Being able to stop is very important, with both Jacques Lecoq and Carlo. Being able to run and then stopping on a point is vital.
In theater, it is easy to be too safe. In theater, you must be able to go around blind curves. It is far more exciting theatrically. Can it also kill you? Of course, it can. But when it is your time, it is your time. This was part of Carlo’s thinking. Not being captured or escaping the Nazi’s in WWII helped influence his philosophy. With Carlo it is about the joy, being in the moment, now – improveaso –meaning improvising within the moment. It is what the neutral mask is all about. Being totally in the moment. Peter Kors explained to me during our Metaphysical Mask Lab in NYC. The first one in the USA since most likely the 70’s, something very important which helps understand Carlo’s thinking. Carlo would say, “It is not about being. It’s about becoming. Great theater is about becoming. You are always in this state of becoming. Being is stagnant. Becoming is active. Like the trapeze artist from the moment he lets go of the first trapeze to when he touches the second trapeze.” Being close to the ground, becoming one with the ground. Trusting yourself. But with Carlo, it is beyond being in the moment. He wants you to be going beyond the moment to a constant stage of becoming.
Carlo and his character_ Brighella, Arlecchino or Dottore
Carlo considered himself Brighella; however, in my opinion, his true love of etymology makes him a bit of a Dottore as well. He was a person that could play with words and word games within several languages, including Italian, French, English, and of course, Latin. Reading a few pages of his personal notes, he writes in all four languages because he most likely thought in all four. This is why it was hard for some to understand him. Some people looked at Carlo in his life as Arlecchino. One of Jacques Lecoq’s definitions of Arlecchino was, “a 50-year-old child that never grows up”, this was also Carlo, as he was always ready to play.
Carlo had many sayings, some he might only say once in a situation. Some of his known favorites:
“The Earth is your friend.”
“The Earth is your friend, my friend.”
“Character starts in the foot.”
“Effort, Momentum, Risk and Joy.” The four elements as a creator in the theater you must have.
“This is what you think with (hitting both hands on his ass) this is what you shit with (hitting both hands on his head), this is the principle of Commedia dell’Arte.”
Carlo still lives.
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Derived from his text Mime and Pantomime in the Twentieth Century, – Published by Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, N.Y. 2008
An area which is commonly associated with the history of mime is Commedia Dell’ Arte. Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, Italian born and reared in Padua, learned mime in the traditions of Commedia from his grandfather who “was the natural born Commedia specialist. My grandfather gave me a lot of identity consciousness and understanding.” Others who influenced Carlo Mazzone-Clementi in his technical growth were Marceau in 1947 when he visited Padua in search of Commedia and LeCoq in 1948 who came to Italy to research the natural movement of the Italian people.
Mazzone-Clementi’s contemporary definition of Commedia Dell’ Arte seems to provide a significant reason for the apparent growth and interest in the form during the last two decades. Mazzone-Clementi suggests that the phenomenon of the Renaissance is again reviving because people of our age are seeking personal identity as well as challenging conventional theatre forms.
It is man’s representation of rebirth on the stage about anything that you can say is happening in life; finally representing everybody, but most capably represented by the soloist who can play ensemble and concerto, and by the virtuoso who can play the mountebank and the silent one.
Inherent in this definition is the prerequisite for depth, technical training, intense observation of human nature, and appropriate translation into meaningful human experiences on stage – all the requirements of a good actor.
Carlo Mazzone-Clementi identifies the hardest thing for contemporary students to grasp “is that you don’t say Commedia; you mean Commedia. It is the harmonization of a bit to a situation.” This definition presupposes that Commedia can be applied to any theatrical situation and that a certain objective displacement is necessary in order for the performer to both assess the situation on stage and place himself into it with the appropriate character context. It further necessitates a high degree of technical skill to the extent that the performer is capable of recalling those resources instantaneously on stage.
The mime inherently neutralizes his character, both through the use of the mask and through universal gesturing. Mazzone-Clementi approaches performance as the bridge between the actor and the mime. “Philologically I know what character means, but I use the term ‘personality character.’ It is a physical internalization. I cannot be a character; rather, I have to be the character.” The mask becomes the ultimate physical comment on the character, not the point of initiation of character. The mask should not conceal the actor’s identity but should reflect.
The similarity of activity in style mime and Commedia is unmistakable. The major distinction is Commedia’s spontaneity with the usage of mime techniques. “One cannot be a jazz musician if he doesn’t know where the bit is and if he doesn’t have the technical ability to resolve it.” Mime technique corroborates movement skills when the spontaneity becomes inherent in the activity.
From the Grand Comedy Festival at Qual-a-wa-loo, Mazzone-Clementi’s work centers around his school, which was begun in 1975. The curriculum includes training in basic acting, philosophy, and techniques of Commedia, acrobatics, mime, clowning, and guest instructors with particular expertise to complement the program. The reason for the school is to regenerate meaningful Commedia in the Twentieth Century. “Usually people use Commedia for obscenity (low comic laughs) in production but I see it as the central focus of the production.”
The essential reason for contemporary Commedia lies in the demand for more than conventional theatre. Many unconventional theatrical experiences are inflammatory attempts to communicate, whether it is social, political or instructive. “The purpose of playing is the need to communicate. As a performer or a commedia, I would invent something that would be a mirage, a reflection, and a respondent.” This aspect seems central to the pervading philosophy of mime as it is emerging along with the contemporary Commedia.
The capacity for improvisation is based in this instance on a high degree of technical skill and training. But along the same lines, spontaneity and improvisation can be employed by the unskilled and untrained for different purposes and with different results, just as theatre games can be used in psychological therapy.
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It seems that I have been collecting information and comments since 2011. Here is John Towsen’s contribution dated August 2011. From his wonderful blog:
ALL FALL DOWN – The Craft & Art of Physical Comedy
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“Commedia & the Actor” by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi
I once heard Avner “the Eccentric” Eisenberg dedicate his show “to Jacques Lecoq, who taught me everything I know, and to Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, who taught me everything else.”
This was a compliment, not a putdown, for Carlo’s specialty was not so much commedia technique as it was the zen of just being there, “being available.” When he did perform, he apparently planned nothing, content to just play with masks and props. This annoyed some, inspired others. His favorite exercise the summer I was at Dell’Arte was The Maze: blindfolded, you’d walk a winding path bordered by piles of junk while reciting a nursery rhyme or singing a song. Touch anything before reaching the goal and you had to go back and start over. The point, of course, was not so much getting good enough to ever make it to the other side (few did), but rather savoring the innate comedy and body language of our inevitable failure.
It may be a cliché to talk about exploring “the child within us all,” but that was certainly part of Carlo’s persona. I remember a 4th of July party at our clown loft on Chambers Street in NYC, 1981 or thereabouts, with Carlo in attendance. Like a naughty kid, Carlo had gotten hold of a sizable stash of illegal fireworks and was up and down the street setting them off, on and around parked cars, coming close to blowing up the neighborhood and raining police down on us. We literally had to send out a posse to corral him. He was over 60 at the time.
My earliest encounter with Carlo, years before I studied with him, had been over the phone and through the mail, as I first solicited him for the article you see below, and then worked with him on it as its editor. It was 1973 and my NYU grad school work-study job was as an assistant editor at The Drama Review (TDR). With Brooks McNamara, I was putting together an ambitious issue devoted to popular entertainments, a subject that editor Michael Kirby had open disdain for. While Marvin Carlson’s historical article on the Boulevard de Crime (see post 162) was deemed acceptable, Carlo’s more fanciful effort —”who has more to say to us than the zannies?” — was to Kirby just a bunch of hippie crap. Eventually, we got the piece into solid shape and I think it holds up well today as an introduction to and rationale for a physical approach to acting.
Commedia and the Actor by Carlo Mazzone Clementi
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Here is a link to the ‘talk’ given in July of 2015 by Joan Schirle. Or here!
Broadcast from Dell’Arte International’s Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake California as part of Dell’Arte International’s 40th reunion—a celebration of 40 years of artistic creation, collaboration, community engagement, and actor-training.
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