Wednesday 11th January- Commedia dell’Arte

This week, we started looking at Commedia dell’Arte where performances toured around Europe in different languages formed a language problem. This then brought up the term ‘Grammelot’, also known as nonsense language. Any voice, language or accent can be portrayed and it does not matter if it isn’t understood, as long as the pitch and actions make sense to the scene, audiences should still be able to understand what is happening. The purpose of this session was to learn more of this specific part of Commedia dell’Arte with the aim to put what we learn at the beginning of the lesson into exercises to practice Grammelot.

I was able to learn of some examples of this nonsense language, such as:

  • Baby language: Babies cannot speak so instead, will make many noises, including crying to indicate if, for example, they are hungry or tired.
  • Television characters such as: Teletubbies, The Clangers, Pingu and Bill and Ben and the Flowerpot Men.
  • Rowley Birkin speaking on ‘Fast Car’

After learning the basics, we then took part in exercises, the first one involved getting into pairs. I was paired with Lou and we had to pretend to be having a phone conversation but we could only say “Yes”, the next time we could only say “Yes” or “No”. When showing our conversation, Lou was pushing me for answers but I was refusing, I found this exercise enjoyable, especially as we got into it as we relied heavily on the tone of our voices to get the conversation going whilst improvising. We then completed a similar exercise, but we had to count to 100, using as many numbers as we wanted at a time. This particular exercise also relied extra on listening to the other person to avoid talking over them and waiting for them to finish speaking their numbers.

Following this, we then got into different pairs where one person has to hide an object, leave the room while the second person watches and tries to take it. The first person will then see and the two must have an argument in this nonsense language. I was paired with Beth and we created a scene where we were both young German girls playing with their toys, but Beth hid mine as I went out. The argument we had relied heavily on the sharpness of the accent, I learned that it didn’t matter what the accent was, as long as the tone and the pronunciation sounded familiar. Therefore, we spoke with a high tone to portray ourselves as young children, arguing and completing actions such as storming our feet and calling for our parents at the end.

The final task involved once again switching partners and I paired up with Leah, this exercise again involved grammelot. We were tasked with creating a piece where we are demonstrating or creative something, for example, a cooking programme. We chose to construct a guitar in a different grammelot than before, which we decided was going to be in a Dutch manner. We were able to devise a piece within the time and work well to show our piece using everything we had learned.

Here are the pieces (Third on playlist):

In conclusion, as I didn’t know much about Commedia dell’Arte and grammelot, I was able to learn important parts of how to perform it: as long as the tone and actions match the performance, it doesn’t matter what is said. I enjoyed working with different people over the session to devise different pieces and complete these activities as we all were able to work together to create a suitable piece.



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