Our shadow figure theater is a replica of one used by an itinerant theater troupe active in France and England during the 1720s and 1730s. The screen is lit by candle light and the theater can only be presented in a darkened theater, or exceptionally, at night, outdoors.
Henry Fielding (left) and John Gay (above). Though Fielding is today remembered as the father of the English novel and author of Tom Jones, he began his literary career as a playright of ballad operas.

The Hurdy-Gurdy Band will using two of these Fielding Ballad Operas in their presentation: The Adventures of Tom Thumb and The Author's Farce.

The Paris Plays

ARLEQUIN ÉNEE
ou LA PRISE DE TROYES COMEDIE
En trois Actes & un Prologue
executée pour la premiere fois par
les Pantomimes du grand jeu du Préau
de la Foire de S. Laurent le 25. Juillet 1711
Le prix est de huit sols

and

SCARAMOUCHE PEDANT, 
DIVERTISSEMENT
Representé par les Sieurs
DOLET & LA PLACE
A la Foire Saint Laurent.
LE 12 SEPTEMBRE M.  DCCXI.

These "scripts" we have of these two comedies are in part little more than a sequence of scenes with plot summaries and a chronological list of stage business (lazzi) but which are never the less full of wonderful details of dialogue, songs and their melodies,

 

 

The theater stage at Foire st. Laurent (above) where our plays Arlequin Énee and were first performed in 1711.

Arlecchino,
Pulcinella, Brighella,
Pantelone, Captain Crocodillo, Il Dottore, Scaramouch, Pierrot, Isabella, Fanchon and Columbina: these are the classic characters of the Commedia dell'Arte, whose zany antics have brought audiences to tears of laughter for hundreds of years.

Their antics give English this precious word: zanny: humour that is outrageous, out-of-the-box, anarchistic, and a mirror of our follies. Their joyous energy has moved audiences of both the elegant fetes gallants and market-place stages of centuries past. Their tradition has enriched, and continues to enrich, our view of the world and ourselves.

Venice

New and Curiuos School of Dancing (1716) by Gregorio Lambranzi. (More about this on our Music page);

the plays of Carlo Goldoni and Carlo Gozzi, the Memoires of Casanova, the music of Antonio Vivaldi;

The Italian Comedy by Pierre Louis Duchatre and History of Harlequin by Cyril W. Beaumont, and Mel Gordon's study Lazzi, The Comic Routines of the Commedia dell'Arte.

Paris
Our sources include two plays performed in Paris in 1711:
Arlequin Énee ou La Prise De Troyes Comedie
and
Scaramouche Pedant, Divertissemente

Farce and Fantasy, Popular Entertainment in Eighteenth Century Paris, by Robert M. Isherwood: this book is incredible! It is our essential and original road map.

The Fables of La Fontaine, A critical Edition of the Eighteenth Century Vocal Settings, by John Metz: this is a fine collection of popular songs, ariettes, vaudevilles and the danses of the Parisian streets, guingettes (dance halls) and Theatre de la Foire. (More about these on our Music page)

In addition to these works on the Italian origins of the Commedia dell'Arte, we are studying theatrical and popular entertainment traditions in London and Paris. These English and French traditions owe an enormous creative debt to the Commedia.

London

The Beggars Opera, by John Gay, the original and best Ballad Opera, is our font of inspirtion, as it has been for all who have tried since it's first production in 1726

We have chosen two of most popular of Henry Fielding's Ballad Operas:

The Author's Farce
(with a Puppet-Show
Called
The Pleasures of the Town)
First Acted in the Haymarket in 1729

and

THE TRAGEDY OF TRAGEDIES or,
The Life and Death of Tom Thumb

 First Acted in the Haymarket in 1731

The British Broadside Ballad and its Music, by Charles M. Simpson. (More about these on our Music page);

There are, of course, many, many other sources that inform and inspire us, to be found both in print and on the web. For those of you interested in such academe, we will share these with you as we discover new ones.

Our rococo shadow theater takes its place beside the other great shadow traditions of the world: Chinese, Balinese, Indian, Greek and Turkish. In all of these traditions, improvisation plays an all important part of the spirit of the performance, linking them directly with the spirit and techniques of the Commedia.

Below are a few of the Twentieth Century's great performers who are direct decendants of the Commedia.

The Hurdy-Gurdy Band has set out on a voyage in quest of the spirit and techniques of this wonderous tradition.

We have worked with both shadow theater and traditional hand puppets for over thirty years.

2010 Outdoor Summer festivals are offered our new hand puppet production with all your favorite Commedia d'all Arte characters!

With, of course 18th Century Theater Music at it's finest!

Shadow Theater is NOT available to 2010 Summer Festivals.

At risk of giving the impression that this project is merely academic, we would like to mention that our study of this tradition makes use of, and is often guided by, several first and secondary sources. These include:
London and it's theatre during the early years of the 18th Century: riotous romps, farce and sauce, Newgate Prison, bawdy ballads, jiggs and reels, Hiwaymen and coaches on moonlit nights..
And there's the Shadow Theatre, (and magic lantern and peep-show). And the Hurdy-Gurdy Man and Gurdy-Lady, right there with them.

The stories also took advantage of the Shadow Theatre's ease at "Special Effects". 18th Century Londoners, Parisiens, and Venetians fantastic flights of Fancy as much as our audiences of today look to Industrial Light and Magic for their thrills.

Certainly the Theatrical Special Effects of 18th Century itinerant players had changed little since the Middle Ages. The improvised, satiric, farcial and bawdy flavours of the performances had changed little since Ancient Greece and Rome.
In their show Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Donald and Anicet unite the zany humour of the Commedia, the magic of the English language's earliest and most beautiful poetry for children set to their original melodies..

Always, the 20th Century Greats provide us with inspiration and humility in our endeavors!
We met up with Benny in Amsterdam!
And let us not forget that we study Burton's great Anatomy of Melancholy, to discover the manifestations, sources and treatment of La Folia Itinerant.
Graphic Artist Hogarth and Henry Fielding were close friends.

Here we see Fielding's Troupe preparing for a show.

Shadow Figure Theatre
This winter, as we prepare our new hand puppet theatre and show, we shall try to show you our theatrical endeavors, as they evolve. Look here soon for a sneak preview!