Commedia dell’Arte now!

“There is no Commedia dell´Arte!”
Nicola Savarese, Professor of the Performing Arts at the University of Roma, shouting at a Finnish novice researcher in the yard of the University of Trier during the NOH – theatre transversal seminar’s coffee break on 2 March 2006

1. Tradition

If one was to identify something from the European theatre tradition preceding the 20th century where even minimal systematic thoughts about acting were included in the total concept of a work of art, that tradition would probably be Commedia dell’Arte.

There is only one problem, considering research, in that it does not exist. In other words, it does not “exist” in the same sense as, for example, the NOH theatre tradition which remained fairly uninterrupted in Japan for 500 years. As the entire history of Commedia dell’Arte has a number of gaps of more than a hundred years, it must have been reinvented at times. Often, this has been carried out on the basis of a single painting, a piece of text or an impression. Such activities are problematic considering art history and anthropology but, for art, they can be very inspiring. All of this was explained to me – in a loud voice and through complex gestures – by Nicola Savarese, Italian professor as I told to be interested in acting techniques related to NOH theatre and Commedia dell’Arte.

In my opinion, there are a few similarities between Commedia dell’Arte and NOH theatre. Both of these traditions relate to the artistic practices among the people where the only differences between the performer and the audience were the roles in the performance. Both of the practices evolved into the direction where the best amateurs became professionals and, as a result, developed their form of art, creating the significant difference between amateurs and professionals. In this sense, it is amusing to imagine an interpretative link to the Finnish theatre – to our way of acting, to the idea that the preferences of the Finnish theatre audiences could somehow be traced as an actual location. This refers to a “domicile” of the theatre which is traditional, or mythical even, and through which the entire artistic experience is perceived. It is a temple in Japan and a town square in Italy. In Finland, it would probably be a club house, workers community hall or summer theatre. In ancient Greece, it was, according to some interpretations, a meeting between the citizens or Parliament of a kind (Guénoun:19).

Furthermore, musical thinking and form combine the concepts stated above. It is impossible to imagine Commedia dell’Arte, NOH theatre or a traditional Finnish performance in a community hall without any music. The reduction of European theatrical acting art into mere speech is not that old a phenomenon and is strongly associated with changes in the requirements for middle-class theatre at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (Frish:329). In the new “post-dramatic theatre” (Lehmann:56-59), the musical forms of the theatre and stage have regained their positions as generally-accepted performing features (Lehmann:161-164). In my opinion, there has not, however, been sufficient discussion at the practical artistic level of how the actors could think in this new historical situation through their bodies and, as a result, develop their tools in artistic work. In this chapter, I will present a few proposals for actors for planning their bodily object on the stage (by defining parameters), while “living” the object (by playing and varying it) together with other parameters on the stage (swarm).

Both Commedia dell’Arte and NOH theatre were also highly closed communities. Generally, knowledge was passed forward within families as a verbal/embodied tradition from one generation to another. The families and traditions of NOH theatre still exist (to some extent). Those of Commedia dell’Arte do not. However, the Finnish theatre does not have, or has ever had, any uniform theatrical form or a single dominating genre. The Finnish theatre constitutes part of the modern Western tradition. Its stories and ways of narration are constantly subjected to changes and re-evaluations, similar to our entire post-enlightenment society. In my opinion, this is not, however, seen in how the theatre and its practices are discussed or in the theatre’s institutional position in society.

2. Mask

The reason why I find Commedia dell’Arte and NOH theatre interesting as art forms is the underlying idea of the mask – the ritual or symbol which expresses that the performer (the material of the theatrical object) ceases to be important for the audience and the character steps forward (the theatrical object as formed by the actor). Nowadays, this is especially important because the actor’s public identity, i.e. stardom, involves a number of artistic problems. For the actor to be able to focus on artistic work and develop the art, i.e. acting (not the “performance”), the mask is one of the best ways for dispelling the star, or the celebrity, from the stage. The “idea” of the mask or its “symbol” could provide us with material for specifying diverse differences between acting and performing.

In his essay “Celebrity and the Semiotics of Acting”, Michael L. Quinn discusses the problems between stardom and the artistic stage character aimed at. Quinn’s semiotics originate from the model where ACTOR (expressive task), STAGE CHARACTER (referential task) and AUDIENCE (receiving/reacting, i.e., conative task) each form one of the tips in the triangle below. Together, these tips form the symbol of acting (Quinn:45).

Once the actor performs on a talk show or presents his/her home in a women’s magazine, a new factor is introduced – the STAR CHARACTER. The new character forms an individual reality by pushing the above triangle farther, together with theatrical expression and the artistic possibilities related to acting. The star character starts competing over the attention of the audience with the stage character; thus, reconstructing the symbol of acting (Quinn:54). After this process, the continuation is as follows:

The aforementioned theory was explained, through clear practical examples, by my mother who admired and respected a Tampere-based actor. Her respect was based on the roles performed by the actor in the theatre. At the time, the actor was famous and highly appreciated because of his outstanding ability to transform, comprehensive skills in presenting comedy and exceptional sense of rhythm. When this actor was seen on a television game show together with his wife, everyone assumed him to be as clever and have as outstanding skills (as all of his stage characters) offstage. After the show, at least my mother was very disappointed: the star character (the actor’s public identity) was not nearly as interesting as all of the person’s previous stage characters. He did not give any clever answers, his general knowledge was poor and, by losing the relationship show on television, his star character reduced to uninteresting and ordinary. Because the actor had, however, taken the step towards publicity, his star character had finally been created. This had an effect on all of his future stage characters: he stopped from being as unpredictable and outstanding stage artist with possible hidden abilities, but everyone knew that he is nothing but an ordinary man from Tampere. The star character stepped between the actor and the audience. The mask had fallen down to the floor.

In my opinion, the mask brings out the narrative qualities and skills associated with the stage. The mask guides the viewers to read the stage in a specific way, enabling the ramp to be emphasised and elevating the position of the form in narration. At the same time, the content becomes more characteristic for the genre(theatre) and the three-dimensional possibilities provided by the genre(theatre).

3. First stage of the working method: the definition of parameters

I wanted to reinvent Commedia dell’Arte. What would be its driving force in the modern Finnish theatre? What would be the symbol of the mask (its practical idea) without any actual masks? Above all, I wanted to develop more tools for creating a stage character which produces rewards through experiences: an orchestrated object on stage to be built together with the actor.

Previously, I had already developed these pieces of ideas by collecting working material following the Commedia dell’Arte style that I found to be suitable considering the goals of artistic productions. Vsevold Meyerhold’s (vague and scarcely translated) notes in biomechanics, such as his book entitled “Teatterin lokakuu”, and John Rudlin’s “Commedia dell’Arte – an actor’s handbook”, in particular, formed literary cornerstones for building the working method that was tested in building the stage characters for The Screens and Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy plays.

The first stage of the working method is described below:

  1. The purpose is to quickly define parameters for each stage object (character).
  2. The content is not largely analysed. The objective is to start the practical work as quickly as possible, i.e., movement and work on stage (Method acting is for rich people! – Simon McBurney).
  3. Each actor is to develop several parameters for their stage character/role character.
  4. Planning (max. 30 min) is performed in groups or in pairs. All create ideas. Stage characters are planned within the actor’s body – not on paper or verbally. The actor presents his/her proposal (e.g., how the character is “standing”), on the basis of which others present improvements or other proposals using their bodies. It is important to have an embodied feel for the parameters of the stage object at hand through movement.
  5. The characters are presented to the entire workgroup. Notes regarding character parameters are made on paper so that they can be returned to at other work stages. If possible, the character presentations are filmed on video.


The parameters defined may be as follows:

(the figure in brackets refers to the minimum number of different variations)

  • Name
  • Status
  • Origin
  • Physical appearance
  • Clothing
  • Mask (face, expressions) (5)
  • Props (1-5)
  • Standing (5)
  • Walking (5)
  • Movements (5)
  • Gestures (5)
  • Speech (5)
  • Features
  • Animal
  • Relationship with other characters
  • Relationship with the audience
  • Significance in the story


In brief, these parameters refer to the following:

NAME: At times, the name of the stage character contains functional elements.
Any etymological or cultural references of the name should be examined or invented.
Example: The character of Harlequin in Commedia dell’Arte (Arleccino): In Italian, “ino” is a diminutive and “harle” or “herle” is a specific water bird. It is also possible that the name refers to the word “Hellecchino” (i.e., little devil, this is also the name Dante associates with the devil in his poetry). (Rudlin:76)

STATUS:At the top or bottom of the pecking order? Is the character the first or last to eat in his/her environment? Good or bad luck? Gladstone Gander or Donald Duck? Playing card numbers (2-14) were generally used as the scale because playing cards also included the exercise used for illustrating the entire status parameter. Status is a difficult parameter because, in order to be expressed on stage, other characters need to play it, as well. The status is also indicated in the reactions of others to the character.

ORIGIN: This parameter presents the question: What is the possible reason behind the birth of the character? In what kind of a cultural/historical climate has it evolved?
Example: The character of Zanni in Commedia dell’Arte is a poor peasant from Bergamo trying to make his living through various strange, poorly-paid and physically strenuous work. Bergamo also involves historical phases, making its citizens subject to the national stereotype in Italy: “an immigrant worker with good intentions and slight hillbilly qualities who is always prepared to eat”. (Rudlin:67-68)

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: This attribute is used for painting the character’s physical dimensions using a few quick brush-stroke-like descriptions. The following is often said of Pantalone in Commedia dell’Arte: “Skinny and poor. Small. The earliest characters, in particular, had a phallic appendage in their trousers.” (Rudlin:92)

CLOTHING: With regard to clothing, only the character’s functional and narrative features are considered. Therefore, no final or total aesthetic selections are made at this stage. An example includes Zanni in Commedia dell’Arte, the lowest of the low in the pecking order, who often wears white flour sacks found from the food storage. (Rudlin:68)

MASK: (mainly in the significance of the face and expressions): Everyone is to come up with at least five expressions or facial reactions for their character. Example actions and emotions include “scared”, “lying”, “working”, “grieving”, “laughing” or “envious”. These parameters also include any external objects added to the character (big noses, large ears, etc.).

PROPS: The purpose is to consider the character’s functional or narrative prop selections, not the final or even aesthetic selections. The aim is to identify one or two items that quickly represent the character’s entire life story as a narrative horizon. An example includes Il Capitano in Commedia dell’Arte who is always carrying a sword. Il Capitano wears a sword as an extension of his personality that “strengthens his gestures”, not for the purpose of self-defence or fighting. (Rudlin:121)

STANDING: This is the “zero level” for the character’s activities. This is the point from where walking, running and other activities originate, and where the character ends up when it stops. The question placed for the parameter is: What does the character do when it is not doing anything? Standing is varied by different situations where the character is standing: sleeping, waiting, watching, holding back or hiding. John Rudlin describes how the character of Zanni in Commedia dell’Arte stands as follows:

”Has a lowered centre of gravity; either because he comes from the earth, or as a result of carrying heavy bags and sedan chairs. Zanni stands with an arched back, with his knees bent and apart and his feet splayed. The support knee is bent with the other leg extended, toe pointed. He changes feet repeatedly while talking or listening within the same position and without his head bobbing up or down. The elbows are bent and the other foot crossed over to the knee. The support side arm crosses the waist to support the other elbow, the arm of which goes vertically up so the palm can provide a prop for the nodding head (p.68–69)


WALKING: This is possibly the most laborious parameter for the actor. The question placed for the parameter is: How does the character move? At the same time, a number of different variations are developed for walking: basic walking, emphasised walking, running, happy walking, sad walking, military walking, etc. In his book, John Rudlin describes one of Zanni’s walking methods as follows:

”Little Zanni walk: this is a development of the basic stance, foot-changing but taking a small step forward on each shift. The shoulders down, elbows forward, feet pointed. The knees come high off the ground and to the side. Use a two-time rhythm in even beats with the head pecking like a chicken, but still without bobbing up or down. Zanni uses this walk when going somewhere, but with no great purpose.” (p.69–70)


MOVEMENT: This parameter sketches generalisations and more detailed definitions of the character’s movements where the body is required. Generalisations may include “Dynamic, exaggerated movements, where head movements are always independent of the rest of the body”.

”When Arlecchino spots someone or something, the mask moves first; he then hops around and into the gesture of greeting or whatever” (Rudlin:78)


GESTURES: This refers to precise gestures performed mainly using hands and upper parts of the body that convey a specific message, such as “No”, “Yes”, “Come here” or “Go away”. At this stage, these gestures can also be provided with more general parameters that define all of the character’s gestures. John Rudlin describes the gestures of Pantalone in Commedia dell’Arte as follows:

”Old in body, but his head, feet and hands are still active. The hands (which he can`t keep to himself) flutter continuosly, gesticulating each thought as it comes into his head. The only way he can stop this is to hold them behind his back, underneath his cloak” (Rudlin:94)


SPEECH: A character may have a recognisable feature in his/her speech. The simplest features include different speech disorders, dialects and clear intonations, but there can also be other features.

”No pauses or silences for the sake of effect – he either speaks (continously) or doesn`t (silence).” (Rudlin:79)


FEATURES: These parameters comprise dimensions for the character, narrative attributes that can be applied to other parameters or any arising unexpected or improvised situations. Features may include “ridicules the whole world through his/her quick wits and indifferent behaviour” or “greed”.

”Never pathetic, always knows: he is never the loser. For example, if, in the heat of the moment, his slapstick gets off the ground, he somersaults to pick it up again. His paradox is that having a dull mind in an agile body. (….) very likely to become disguised later in the action (…) He responds to everything – hunger, love, danger – in a way that is taken to apocalyptic propotions…”(Rudlin:79)


ANIMAL: A mythical or even “totemic” tool. This helps the actor in deepening the experience of the character’s movements and reactions, and eliminating any unnecessary gestures. John Rudlin refers to Pantalone as a turkey. (p. 95)

RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER CHARACTERS: This parameter is slightly different from the status. The most significant difference is that others often act the status towards the character, whereas relationships are acted in both directions. A character may love another character or be its brother. Relationships may also include joint political ideologies or commercial interests. This parameter can be applied to other parameters or any arising unexpected or improvised situations. John Rudlin describes Columbina’s relationship with Harlequin as follows:

”Loves Arlecchino, but sees through him. Feels the need to look after him, educate him in the hope he too can break the bounds of being a fixed type. She therefore scolds him, punishes him, deserts him, takes him back, but in the end he does not change and she has to accept him for what he is.” (Rudlin:130)


RELATIONSHIP WITH THE AUDIENCE: Some characters may have a special relationship with the audience. Some may speak to the audience or completely ignore it. For some characters, the presence of the audience may represent the presence of God. This naturally depends on the form of the performance: How emphasised is the ramp and can it be crossed? John Rudlin describes Columbina’s relationship with the audience as follows:

”Collusive – she is the spectator herself. Very strong relationship with the audience, almost confidential in the sense that she too can see what fools the rest of them are. Flirts with spectators, moving closer so they can see her eyes, but not too close.”(Rudlin:130)


SIGNIFICANCE IN THE STORY: It is useful to consider the character’s position within the narrative on the stage, in the framework where all action takes place. Does the character start or prevent activities on the stage? Speaking in football terms: Is the character a playmaker, striker, coach, physiotherapist, referee or goalkeeper?

”An impediment to the action. For example, he typically wants to marry the same woman as his son Flavio, or is too mean to provide a dowry for his daughter, Isabella.”(Rudlin:95)


3.1 Practical rehearsals

The working method described above evolved and changed continuously during research and it was varied following the requirements set for the piece under preparation at each time. Between The Screens and Yvonne, I had enough time to consider the errors made previously and come up with new variants for all of the parameters for the upcoming production. A difference worth mentioning between the rehearsals for Yvonne and The Screens was that, in Yvonne, nearly all of the roles had a double casting, in which case the acting students were able to develop the parameters for their characters in pairs, while observing each other on the stage and learning from one another. In The Screens, roles were continuously exchanged and a number of students played Said or the Mother in different scenes, but the actors did not actually work on a specific character together because the roles were always exchanged in each scene. I wanted to experiment in The Screens if the parameters developed for the stage object could be transferred freely from one body to another without being personified in any single actor. This seemed to increase “loneliness” felt by the acting students during the production or a working method which is too free (for an acting student?) and under constant changes. I believed that, through closer pair work in Yvonne, it would be possible to reduce the feeling of “loneliness” when working on the stage character. On the other hand, this increased unhealthy competition between different casts in Yvonne, but also provided actors with a more observational attitudes towards the characters played.

Between Yvonne and Ruotsalaisen kesän yö, I became familiar with Donna Haraway’s ideas of cyber theory and general ideas of parametric design. Later on, this significantly changed the practices of before said method. If we think of the aforementioned embodied parameters cybernetically, we can choose and develop these parameters much more freely – we will have a substantially larger toolkit. We can think of adding embodied components to ourselves that the list above cannot support: for example, “a hand with the sense of vision.” As I am now afterwards (in 2011) reviewing the parameters used in the rehearsals of Yvonne and The Screens they still cling onto many psychological and realistic theatre justifications.

In Ruotsalaisen kesän yö and Maailman paras, the method evolved so that we discussed over a single parameter in greater detail and did not go through the entire list. The parameters also moved closer to the language of digital design: I often used “echo” as an example for walking, “volume” for standing still or “balance” for two people standing side by side. In Maailman paras, we separated a scene from the performance and considered specific, more graphic parameters in the scene, separate from the rest of the performance. Acting parameters in Maailman paras were more like actual cybernetic combinations. For example, while we adjusted “volume” for actor Herny Hanikka’s actual hand movement, we were also able to adjust the digital parameters of the motion sensor in his hand.

4. Second stage of the working method: To mix a musical whole on the basis of the parameters defined for stage work.


“There´s a lot of different stuff as well, but when it comes down to it, it´s all meaningless if we don´t rock” (Onhan tässä hommassa paljon muitakin juttuja ja tasoja, mutta se kaikki muu on aivan turhaa jos meillä ei rokkaa) – Maki Miura (Fushitsusha). (Finnish translation by me)


Music has always been the first and closest form of art for me that has shaped my philosophy of life the most. Through music, I have always been able to come close to a “truth” or the horizon of truth. It is difficult for me to approach any form of art without considering its relationship with music. This also applies to my relationship with the theatre and acting, in particular. It is also as impossible to examine or reinvent Commedia dell’Arte without considering its stage requirements in relation to music.

4.1 Music

Music contains a number of features that raise my interest compared with many other forms of art:

    1. Music is completely abstract. It is its best quality. It is almost completely free of all symbolic and semantic references. Here, I am referring to the concept or objective of music, instead of its generally-understood purpose. In his essay Music and language, Adorno says:

”(Language of music)…is the human attempt, doomed as ever, to name the Name, not to communicate meanings.” (Adorno:2)

    1. By listening to music, it is possible to quickly engage in analytical thinking after deep experiences. The musical structure is often easy to observe and, even if it was copied to another work of art, the result will never be the same; instead, it is possible to learn of the essence of the work of art by transferring its structure.

  1. At the same time, music is the highest/purest/most complex form of art in existence and the lowest/cheapest/easiest filth culture can produce. Music aims at direct, uncovered communication but its impact is often based on what it hides. Everybody likes music, at least in some form.
    Each of us has a superlative opinion of all music heard. This was the best polka ever! That was the worst jazz I’ve ever heard!


For me, the observation of the musical form is the defining parameter in making theatre, particularly at the final rehearsal stages as I am watching the performance and, as the director, in the position of an abstract substitute viewer. I often try to watch the performance as it was my first time. I attempt to pay special attention to the performance’s musical structure and language. I follow the performance’s sequences, beats, sections, themes, tone, tempo, rhythms – some might call these the performance’s dramaturgic missions (story, information, duration, etc.). It is of particular importance to make the performance and its parameters “rock”. As a work stage, this does not differ from following the musical language but requires a slightly different way of listening. Actors also need this same work stage once the parameters have been studied and it is time to make the performance “rock” within the actors’ and the performance’s collective “hive”. In both cases, it is reasonable to refer to a central parameter in the experience of the performance: music and mixing.

The true musical potential of scenes and the entire performance cannot be identified until the final stages of the work process. After all, the question is whether the director and/or actor has the energy to watch every scene or the entire performance during rehearsals over and over again. If not, you must finalize your work properly – remove the bad scenes or rethink them.

The best albums in your record collection could be played endlessly. This should also be the aim in orchestrated theatre  work and acting: To turn the stage object’s parameters into playing and vibrant activities that strike us time after time.

4.2 The stage as a sound image

4.2.1 Mixing

In his book The Art of Mixing, a visual guide to recording, engineering and production, David Gibson opens his practices in the production of music by presenting a visual (abstract) tool for defining the final shape of recorded music. Gibson starts from the idea that we have a two-part relationship with recorded music: we hear (and feel) sound, and we imagine locations for the sounds in the reality created by speakers (Gibson:8). The latter method has nothing to do with reality: there is no sound-producing element in the middle between the speakers but we can easily imagine that it exists. In order to enjoy music, there is, according to Gibson, no need or ability to locate the place of music. However, if artists (or music producers) wish to control as wide a scale as possible considering different music styles, instruments and dynamic variations, they need to be aware of the possibilities and limitations of this “imagined area”. Gibson proposes a visual tool for the definition and discussion of mixing. The basic pattern of the tool is illustrated below.

In the image, Gibson illustrates the place of music in a stereophonic space – in the “visual” reality created by speakers and located in the actual world. This place is realised as the space created by the speakers in the images of the listener (mixer). Because the resources available are limited, developed elements must be placed correctly in the imagined space for bringing out the whole and different elements as desired.

In the image, the Y-axis represents the sound frequency, the X-axis the horizontal position of sound (left/right) and the Z-axis the sound volume (energy). As a result, the position of different energies in the space created by the speakers depends on the style desired. The question for this tool is: What kind of a visual image of the desired space are we aiming at?

Gibson presents a few examples of different musical genres:

Symphony orchestra:


Intro to PINK FLOYD’s “Time”:

4.2.2 An application of mixing on stage

The following is an example of an exercise used in all performances in the research. My attempt is to discuss acting through a visual, imagined and harmonic structure of the performance. The method was primarily aimed at the actor’s actions in relation to the text. The scale built was referred to the spectrum of sound (12 Hz – 20,000 Hz) and the ratio of the desired sound volume (energy on stage). The objective was to add the entire image of sound and all of its potential frequencies to the stage structure, and avoid any overlapping frequencies (energies) so that as many different frequencies as possible could be heard. In other words, this process dealt with “mixing the scenic image”, or placing energies on stage. When mixing music, it is important to place instruments within the full scope of music for bringing out their tones as well as possible. If the bass drum is not carefully located at the lower range of the sonic image, its tone (energy) could cover other instruments in the middle range.

At the beginning of rehearsals for each research production, I presented my applications of the “Action and text” exercise – its basics were presented to me by Simon McBurney during the Shakespeare’s Stage workshop in Copenhagen in 1996. I have shaped the exercise towards a more musical form and, to be honest, cannot remember McBurney’s original form. In the exercise, the event on stage is divided into different “sounds” or “frequencies”. The aim is to control the sound and tone of all elements simultaneously, i.e., fit the desired energies in specific locations on stage for having them produce the desired “harmonies” and for avoiding any disturbing overlaps (unnecessary harmonies).

The method is briefly described in the following:

First, the energy on stage is divided into seven imagined “frequencies”. These are:

  1. catatonia (the absolute “zero” level)
  2. relaxed
  3. neutral (economical, basic level, I will only use the energy required by the situation, the direction from this point is upwards or downwards)
  4. alarmed (elevated, observation of everything occurring in the space, animals at all times)
  5. passion (over-reaction to the situation)
  6. tragic (can still be maintained)
  7. ecstasy (peak, can be maintained for a maximum of 0.5 seconds)


The frequencies are used so that a situation (scene) with a number (e.g., 2. relaxed) is selected and other stage numbers (frequencies) are provided for the others: Actor 1 selects number 4 (alarmed) and Actor 2 selects number 6 (tragic), whereas the remaining numbers are reserved for lights, music, etc. One number can only be represented by one object at any one time on stage, and all numbers must be used. In other words, there cannot be any overlapping “frequencies” and no “frequency” can be left unused.

Once the basic situation has been identified, the situation can be varied endlessly by changing the number of a single actor in the middle of a scene or introducing new people with new numbers. Furthermore, the number of the situation (text) can be changed in the middle of a scene.

This working method was used in all performances for identifying the basic situation of a scene and pushing rehearsals to a start. The purpose was not to come up with a deep analysis of the situation but to go directly on stage with the text without any extensive discussions or prejudices – to identify the possibilities of different “frequencies” in the situation for each actor.

“Method-acting is for rich people” Simon McBurney


I used this way of thinking at the final stages of each production as a checklist or a tool for mixing on stage. While watching the performance, I checked if I had placed certain scenic elements over the same “frequencies”, preventing the full range of possibilities from being used. Had I placed gloomy lights and gloomy acting in a gloomy scene, or had I made room for other “numbers”, as well?

Let us think of stage energies in this scene from MAAILMAN PARAS


The scene is repeated identically five times in the play. If the entire performance is a pop song, this scene is the chorus in that song. There, the protagonist “logs in” to a poker site on the Internet. He enters his user ID and responds to the moderator’s questions. The scene could be divided into the aforementioned energy levels (1–7) as follows:

1. catatonia (surrounding darkness, immobility of the cyber actor…)

2. relaxed (an utterance of the protagonist, the presence of musicians in relation to the events)

3. neutral (basic textual situation: the protagonist is logging in to a gaming site)

4. alarmed (a groping entrance of the master of ceremonies)

5. passion (accelerated speech/sound in the scene)

6. tragic (continuously accelerating flow of video images)

7. ecstasy (“white noise” at the end of music)


A similar idea is already presented by Wagner. For Wagner, the tragedy was a “collective work of art” formed by the scenic image, text, mime, song and dance that was held together by music. Moreover, Wagner did not refer to the “soundtrack” played by an orchestra but the performance’s inner rhythm and its adaptation on stage.

5. Conclusion

In this documentation, I have mainly described such performance structures that have interested me purely as practical objectives and solutions related to theatre direction. I am not claiming that the practical theatre is an area free of any ideologies or theories but, when work is running smoothly and problems are mainly related to opening the potential of practices, it can be difficult to produce clear text of these areas.

It is essential that I wanted to add multiple sounds to these performances that do not recognise any existing or single authority, interpretation or outlook. The preparation of plays was to be stripped of their existing historical and rooted hierarchies, while liberating their numerous potential that were opposing each other. This need for multiple voices only increased and became more specific at that stage of my research (in 2006) when I became familiar with Haraway’s theory of cyborgs and the principles of parametric design.

During these performances (in 2004-2007), I felt to be alone with my performance goals, particularly in Finland, but I have realised that I was a representative of the mainstream. In November 2009, I am reading Hans-Thies Lehmann’s book “Postdramatic Theatre” which has recently been published in Finnish, saying:

”…music has transformed itself to independent theatrical structure for actors and directors. This is not the case of self-evident role of music in “musical theatre”, but it is much more far-reaching idea of theatre as music.” (s.161) (translation to english my own)



  1. Adorno, Theodor (1963). Quasi una Fantasia, essays on modern music. Suhrkamp Verlag. Translated Rodney Livingstone (2002). New York
  2. Frisch, Hartvig (1963). Euroopan kulttuurihistoria IV. Suomentanut Katri Ingman-Palola. WSOY. Porvoo. (European Cultural history part IV)
  3. Gibson, David (1997). The Art of Mixing, a visual guide to recording, engineering and production. Mix Books. Vallejo.
  4. Guénoun, Denis (1998). Näyttämön filosofia (Philosophy of the Stage). Finnish translation by Kaisa Sivenius, Esa Kirkkopelto ja Riina Maukola. Like. Keuruu 2007.
  5. Lehmann, Hans-Thies (2009). Draaman jälkeinen teatteri (Post Dramatic Theatre), finnish translation Riitta Virkkunen. Teatterikorkeakoulu. Otavan Kirjapaino, Keuruu.
  6. Quinn, Michael.L (2005). Celebrity ant the Semiotics of Acting. Translated to finnish by Johanna Savolainen. In book Teatteriesityksen tutkiminen, assembled by Pirkko Koski, University of Helsinki, Department of Arts, Theatre Science. Otavan kirjapaino, Keuruu.
  7. Rudlin, John (1994). Commedia dell` Arte – an actor’s handbook. Routledge. London.

Mikko Kanninen

Theatre as a Project of a Body - artistic research on the theoretical and practial possibilities of moders acting



To be presented, with the permission of the board of School of Communication, Media and Theatre of the University of Tampere,

for public discussion in the Teatterimonttu theatre, D-wing, Kalevantie 4, Tampere on April 22nd, 2012 ay 12 o`clock.


(c) Mikko Kanninen 2012