Actors at the Cooper Center for Creative Arts are in rehearsals for a comedy production set to open next week.
“Commedia! An Evening of Italian Sketch Comedy” is scheduled to play at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6-7 at the Cooper Center, 1174 N. Fourth St. Tickets are $7 in advance or $10 at the door, and doors open at 7 p.m.
Director Jonathan Sell described “commedia dell’arte,” which translates as “comedy of the profession,” as an early form of professional theater that originated in Italy in the 16th century.
“It’s basically sketch comedy,” he said.
Characters in commedia usually wear masks and represent stock characters, such as the know-it-all doctor, greedy old man or devious servant. Sketches are filled with “lazzi,” a term for jokes, and often the stories devolve into gags. Audience members can also expect plenty of physical comedy.
“Everyone would forget about the reason they started the story, and it became all about the jokes,” Sell said.
Commedia was a style that has informed a variety of comedy that modern audiences might be familiar with, from “Saturday Night Live,” to “The Carol Burnett Show” to Charlie Chaplin. Mr. Burns, a character from “The Simpsons,” was directly influenced by commedia.
A cast of 13 actors has been in rehearsals all summer at the Cooper Center. They’ve even built their own masks for the production, which will feature two sketches with an intermission in between.
The Cooper Center is a division of Ark Regional Services and provides opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to explore the arts. The center offers classes in visual arts, dance, theater and music.
Sell said he studied commedia in graduate school and has long wanted to share the style with students.
“This was a perfect opportunity to be able to teach the style and watch them make it their own,” he said.
Following the group’s most recent production of “Hamlet,” a dive into comedy was a welcome change of pace.
“Our actors here excel at comedy, and this gives them an opportunity to take that to the next level,” he said.