Posted on: April 29, 2020 Posted by: Hira Anwar Comments: 0

Hammad Bilal and Jibran Sharif | A collaboration between the Italian Embassy and Dramaline | 

“It made little sense to me; what?”
These were Saad Ali’s ‘22 words as we exited the source of his confusion, a performance of ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ presented by Dramaline and the Italian Embassy.

Taking place on Saturday, the 2nd of November, in B3 of SDSB, this performance was put together by two Italian artists, Mr. Marco Luly and Mr. Carlo Bosso. In the presence of the Italian ambassador to Pakistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, the two artists, in addition to Vajdaan Shah from NAPA Karachi and amateur artists from Dramaline, performed scenes which introduced the audience to the world of Commedia dell’Arte.

The event began with an introductory scene where Luly, along with a cast that included Dramaline members Ahmed Rathore, Sundus Noor Aslam, Maha Bukhari, Usama Saqib, Abdullah Haroon, Noor Hayat, Ahmed Mehmood, and Chouhan Ali Haider, explained the basics of Commedia dell’Arte via their enthusiastic performances. 

As explained by cast member, Maroof Taj ’22: “The special aspect of Commedia dell’Arte is the use of masks. As far as I understand, unlike our local theatre, you perform a mask. And masks don’t tell backstories, they just are.” This was clear in the performances of the actors. While not all actors wore masks, the masked ones were treated the same as the others. Taj further explained this by saying: “The audience knows we are performing, and we know that the audience is present”. This was evident in the scenes performed, when the performances oozed off-stage, as the cast interacted with unsuspecting audience members. In this breaking of conventional boundaries between actors and audiences, the characters showed to us that actors are more than effigies. Reimagining the entire auditorium as their stage, these acts liberated a kind of shadow in us whose existence unsettled, mollified, intrigued or even confused members in the audience who perhaps weren’t aware of this existence in the first place. 

For Ali ’22, this epiphany was less profound. From impelling him to fall into a sleep, to letting others like Mubashir Shakeel ’20 see with attentive eyes, to awakening me to look about as in a dream with eyes that see masks all around them, Commedia turned all ours’ gazes inward. 

Basing itself off the family drama, ‘The Servant of Two Masters’ by Carlo Goldoni, a few scenes were also performed in Italian. Despite the obvious language barrier, the barrier-breaking nature of Commedia meant that the audience were able to see the comedy in the scene regardless. As the President of Dramaline, Hamza Asad ‘20 put it: “Theater does not have any boundaries. It doesn’t have any single religion, region, or ethnicity. Theater is cultural exchange.” In addition to the scene in Italian, a solo piece was also performed in Urdu by Vajdaan Shah, which further emphasized this exchange through the medium of theatre.

As the audience sat either enthralled or confused by the performance, a new life was being given on stage, interspersed with a speech by the Ambassador on Civilization and Culture. There was a strange correlation between life and death, between convention and innovation which justified to Taj ’22 that art is not made to tyrannize but to tally with life: “Italian theater is very different and demands a lot of energy. Two days since the performance and I still feel the pain in my bones.” 

The event concluded with the Italian Ambassador being presented with a bouquet, which he immediately gave to the actors, declaring “I think they deserve this more.” and fittingly so. This play, whether one reviled it or adored it, unified the audience in breaking from a fossilised idea of a shadowless theater. Having seen our doubles performing amongst us, wearing masks, we were tempted to see nothing but emptiness where the stage was full, senselessness where the actors were only playing us. 

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