Message for Commedia dell’Arte Day 2013


dedication by Üstün Akmen

I am very honored to have received the invitation from the Italian Institute of Culture and from the Association SAT to write a testimonial for the occasion of the 5th anniversary of Commedia dell’Arte Day which takes place February 25th.  I speak to all my friends working in theatre and to all the world’s theatre lovers with the scope of learning about the tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, which was born in Italy and nowadays is spread everywhere.
First off I must say that Commedia dell’Arte is the tradition of popular theatre that for about two centuries has most profoundly influenced the life and vitality of not only European theatre but theatre in many other countries around the world. On the other hand, before undergoing a strong, organic evolution, Commedia dell’Arte, developed from popular roots derived from cultural traditions. It carved out its place in history as a part of popular knowledge.
It’s also true that this popular phenomenon allowed a common theatrical language between people speaking different languages.
It’s no coincidence that Istanbul hosts world Commedia dell’Arte Day on February 25th because the roots of popular Turkish theatre known as ‘Ortaoyunu’ originate in mime and Commedia. The characters and subject matter of Commedia and ‘Ortaoyunu’ are surprisingly alike!
Western scholars have studied the effects of Commedia dell’Arte on traditional Turkish theatre; they have connected the roots of this influence to long-lasting relationships between Turks and Venetian and Genovese peoples.
Without doubt it is not a coincidence that such similarities exist between Arlecchino and Pişekar, Pantalone and Kavuklu, Scaramuccia and Sevgili (Celebi), and Colombina and Zenne! The closeness between the two traditions is upheld even in the use of props such as Pişekar’s pastav/şakşak and Arlecchino’s slapstick.
Even the words “orta” from dell’Ortaoyunu and “arte” as in dell’Arte are proof of this influence of cross-culturism. Resemblances don’t end there. Terms for piazza or square (palanga in Turkish) recall the Italian word ‘palanca’.  “Matiz,” the surname of the drunkard character, remembers the “madidus” (“drunkard”).
Because there exists a spirit of fun in the very nature of Commedia dell’Arte, I am convinced that the worldwide recognition of this great tradition must also be celebrated as a festival, as a party, as a holiday. I believe with all my heart that this festivity allows for the emergence of what a suppressive ideological power keeps under wraps. I feel the powers that be tend to dominate society and squelch the dynamism and potential power hidden within cultures and all of life.
My point of view is that this festival is by and for society and not by or for the individual.  In this way a sincere, profound relationship is created that enables a joyous coexistence of people worldwide. It is the true spirit of Commedia dell’Arte come to life: to find joy and harmony together with all people.
As exists in the concept of festival, so also exists in the world of Commedia dell’Arte a grotesque base in which, from one minute to the next, exaggerations of all kinds emerge that reflect the comical as well as the horrific.
So it is in this spirit that I give my best wishes to all theatre lovers on this occasion of worldwide Commedia dell’ Arte Day.

Üstün Akmen
Performing Arts Critic