For Alyssa Ravenwood, introducing Commedia dell’Arte to people is not only a profession, it’s a passion
article by by Nicole Victoria
Michael Newberry’s task was simple—to make the classic Commedia dell’Arte story of “A Servant of Two Masters” work for his students at The Oakridge School in Arlington, Texas. The script itself was one he felt his students would enjoy recreating, but Newberry suddenly came across a dilemma. “Commedia [dell’Arte] was a style so foreign to anything we’ve ever done at Oakridge,” he said, “We needed someone with the expertise to come in and give us a sense of authentic Commedia style.”
The solution was found in Alyssa Ravenwood, who, with her Physical Theater Boot Camp, made believers out of Newberry and his students in the magic of Commedia dell’Arte.
The brainchild of Ravenwood’s, Physical Theater Boot Camp is a class taught in connection with a production where actors need to learn the techniques of physical theater acting in a short period of time. The workshop includes ensemble acting, mask performance, puppet manipulation, physical acting, character development, clowning, slapstick and the development of original performance material.
The result of the boot camp made a profound impact on The Oakridge School’s production. According to Newberry, “The students developed a great confidence in themselves and in the style. So much so, that we left a great deal of the script up to improv. The workshop gave me the confidence in my actors to let them sort out a great deal of the show themselves,” he raves, “It almost became organic. Alyssa gave us the ability to apply the style to tell the story.”
“Commedia, mask performance, clowning and other physical theater styles require a radically different style of acting than your standard, naturalistic performance,” said Ravenwood, “I provide a practical and fun technique for actors to make the shift from realism to the more animated style of physical theater.”
She has received plenty of praise for her workshops, “The physical work was immediately appropriate and helpful. This work really dropped me into my body. The workshop was also excellent in jarring me out of my comfort zone, challenging me to stretch for more risky, interesting choices,” said boot camp graduate Mark Twohy, “She’s a miracle worker! Alyssa was able to whip 11 untrained actors into a Commedia Troupe in just a few hours. The Commedia segment turned out to be one of the best and most satisfying parts of our play,” added producer Myra Donnelley.
Ravenwood was introduced to physical theater in college. She continued to develop her knowledge at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre. She supplemented her studies by attending workshops with master teachers Sue Morrison at the Institute of Canadian Clowning and Ole Brekke, co-founder of the Commedia School in Denmark. “I took my first physical theatre class as a way to become more flexible and spontaneous as an actor. The style of physical theatre is so exciting that I became passionate about it.”
Adding to her repertoire, Ravenwood also creates masks for the productions she works with. Her accolades include the 2004 Portland Theater Drammy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Mask Design. Said the committee, “In addition to conveying a vivid impression of each character in this stylized show, these masks were lovely works of art. They reminded us of the rich tradition of European mask-making and the important role of masks in the history of theater.”
A strong supporter of her craft, she also travels throughout the United States to teach actors the basic techniques of physical theater. “I love introducing actors to the style and seeing the same passion light up in them.” Boot camp alumnus Ben Dziuba said, “Alyssa’s class opened the door to a whole new world of theater for me. After years of training in other styles, Alyssa showed me a way of approaching the craft I could sink my teeth into. She bypassed years of blocks and brought out characters I didn’t know I had.”
When asked if other directors would be interested in Ravenwood’s Physical Theater Boot Camp, Newberry said, “Absolutely they should be interested in bringing Alyssa into their workshops. If any teacher/director is worth their salt, they strive for truth—to the text, the style and the story being told. Alyssa gave us the ability to apply the style to the story.” For more information about Ravenwood’s Physical Theatre Boot Camp, contact Ms. Ravenwood