Home » Director Van Camp makes the case for a commedia dell’arte comeback with ‘The King Stag’
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Director Van Camp makes the case for a commedia dell’arte comeback with ‘The King Stag’

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photographs by Barry Wisdom /

The Three Stages Performing Arts Center at Folsom Lake College is a contemporary, fully computerized, state-of-the-art performance venue, so it would seem an 18th-century Italian play presented in the 500-year-old commedia dell’arte style would be anachronistic to say the least.

But Jamie Van Camp, who directs the Falcon’s Eye Theatre production of Carlo Gozzi’s comedy “The King Stag” (opening Friday, April 27, in the City Studio), said when it comes to commedia dell’arte – which focuses on physicality, improvisation, music, dance, masks, puppetry and a strict reliance on character archetypes – everything old is new again.

Though still a very foreign form to his 21-member cast, the 29-year-old freelance director said he’s seeing a worldwide resurgence in commedia dell’arte as a viable acting style.

“I always wanted to do the physical theater thing,” said the El Dorado High School graduate, recalling hours spent writing and directing his own scripts, as well as studying such diverse masters of comic movement as Charlie Chaplin and Jim Carrey. “But I had real trouble finding a school that specialized in it.”

Eventually, Van Camp discovered the Tooba Physical Theatre Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he learned to incorporate his entire body in the storytelling process.

“It was a great school and I got to work with some fantastic artists, including outstanding mime and clowning teachers,” said Van Camp, who followed up his training in Canada with a three-year MFA program specializing in melodrama, clowning and directing at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre along California’s North Coast near Arcata.

Today, Van Camp happily reports locating college-level commedia training is no longer akin to finding a vanilla bean in the gelato. That’s not to say, however, that troupes of commedia artists are now rolling across the country in Gold Rush numbers.

When he started the casting process in early February, Van Camp and Producing Artistic Director David Harris found only a few of their young actors had any familiarity with commedia.

“Some had just not heard of it,” Van Camp said, “while some had just an idea.”

But to his delight, his new-to-commedia cast of “The King Stag” proved to be quick studies, with some becoming so enamored of the structured, yet freeing, format that they sought his advice on where they could pursue training similar to his.

Jamie Van Camp offers direction to a cast member of “The King Stag.”

“The biggest challenge for most of the cast has been understanding the relationship between spontaneity and structure,” said Van Camp, “and staying in the moment.”

Also key to the success of “The King Stag” are the members of the play’s production staff, he said, with production designer Scott Gilbert, costume designer Paulette Sands-Gilbert, mask designer Tara Carisio, lighting and sound designer Les Solomon, and percussionist Scott McConaha teaming to deliver a feast of colorful visuals and loopy audio effects that further enhance the surreal experience of Gozzi’s “magical fantasy.”

Though some traditional aspects of the commedia dell’arte experience have had to be sacrificed due to time constraints in the rehearsal schedule, Van Camp said he’s not giving up, and continues to add commedia elements as his cast gets better and better in delivering the format’s core performance requirements.

“The great thing about this group is that they’ve been absolutely dedicated to fixing what’s come their way,” Van Camp said.

“A lot of them don’t have improvisation experience, and some have no acting experience at all,” he continued. “But they’re really working to fill in the gaps, with their energy, pacing and comic timing. The biggest challenge they’re facing is to take ownership of their characters, to get out of the mindset of following my outlines, but now they’re getting it. It’s really important they’re engaged and active in playing to the audience. I am personally striving to get them to do that.

“It’s a very terrifying thing, to be very vulnerable to an audience, but that is what is so exciting about it.”

“The King Stag,” presented by the Falcon’s Eye Theatre at Folsom Lake College, plays April 27 through May 13, 2012.

JUST THE FACTS

What: The Falcon’s Eye Theatre production of Carlo Gozzi’s "The King Stag" (adapted by Shelley Berc and Andrei Belgrader

When: Opens at 8 p.m. April 27, and continues through May 13, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, as well as two "extra" performances at 2 p.m. May 5, and 8 p.m. May 10

Where: The City Studio at Three Stages Performing Arts Center on the campus of Folsom Lake College, 10 College Parkway, Folsom, Calif.

Who: Written by Carlo Gozzi and adapted by Shelley Berc and Andrei Belgrader; directed by Jamie Van Camp; featuring Ross Branch (King Deramo of Serendippo), Chloe Cornelius (Smeraldina, Sister of Brighella), Gaby Haught (Brighella, Butler to the King), Tiffany Martin (Clarice, Daughter of Tartaglia), Matti McKenzie (Angela, Daughter of Pantalone), Ben Schilling (Pantalone, Minister to the King), Gavin Sellers (Truffaldino, a Bird Catcher), Michael Spargo (Tartaglio, Prime Minister of Serendippo), Jacob Vuksinich (Leandro, Son of Pantalone), Dana Alarian (Cigolotti, Servant to the Great Magician Durandarte), Patrick Gonzales (Guard/Ensemble), Jeremy Kaderka (Ensemble), Alyssa Matthews (Statue/Ensemble), Brandon Meyer (Ensemble), Suyash Pandey (Ensemble), Lindsey Ross (Bear/Ensemble), Frank Sanford (Durandarte, the Great Magician, and sometimes Parrot), Emily Thompson (Ensemble), Ben Woehler (Guard/Ensemble)

How much: $5-$15

More info: www.threestages.net; (916) 608-6888

“The King Stag” plays April 27 through May 13 at The City Studio at Three Stages Performing Arts Center.

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