A Comparison between Commedia Dell’ Arte and Trestle

Commedia and Trestle are both mask performance companies each with its own mask rules and styles. Commedia is mostly set in olden times and uses more traditional characters and plots, where as Trestle tackles more up to date issues and focuses on more of an emotion than a character. Commedia was mostly popular from the 15th to 17th century, but was said to have been derived from the Ancient Greeks comedies (Fabula Arellana). Trestle on the other hand is a recent company and was only established 1981 by Toby Wilshire, Sally Cook and Alan Riley.

Commedia was originally an Italian based company and uses half masks. Trestle is an English based company and uses full masks. Both companies inspired other shows and companies such as Cirque Du Soliet. With Commedia if the audience had seen the last play they did, they would already know the characters. They were performed almost like our soap opera’s today, in a weekly or a monthly series. Trestle is very different from Commedia in this way. Trestle devise polished improvisations with different characters every time they create a new play.

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Also one big difference was that Commedia could speak where as Trestle cannot. Commedia was comical and historic. Trestle is also comical but it can also be very tragic and moving too. Commedia characters have special movements and physical skills. Each character walks and talks in slightly different ways. Trestle has not got one character per mask; they use different characters in every mask because the masks are set as emotions and not as definite characters. In Commedia certain characters moved in very odd ways.

Example the Harlequin and Mezzetino characters walk with a slight bounce, with pointed feet and with an almost ballet technique. Trestle is completely different again. Where as Commedia has certain movements and physical skills, Trestle has not much certain movements but just elaborated ones because of the lack of vocal communication. In Commedia because of the half masks, the actor’s mouth is showing. This is very helpful when you are trying to portray different emotions. Because Trestle has full masks they have to rely on a difficult technique called ‘counter masking.

Counter masking is where a happy mask tries to portray sad by using sad movements and actions. Take my character, in our play I have to change my emotion from very happy; when I realise my friend have threw me a party, to anger; when I realise that all of them bought me socks. It is quite a hard technique to master. In Commedia the best description of my character is the Lover or sometimes called Leandro, Flavio or Ottavio. He is always charming and tries his hardest to be liked and loved.

In Commedia the plays are noted down in scenario form and kept for later, on tour later on in the years. Again Trestle uses just its actors to work from. If an actor does something well or funny, then the actor himself notes it down in his head. They do not script their plays. They just run from improvisations. We used more of the Trestle way of producing a play, but then used the notation of Commedia so we wouldn’t forget it. The masks are created in different ways. For example, Commedia used leather.

This is because in Italy it is so bright and the plays were usually performed outside, therefore using leather eliminates glare to the audience. A disadvantage of this is the heat inside the mask. It could sometimes become really unbearable. Trestle uses plastic. This is because it projects on stage better than most materials. This also keeps heat in and sometimes becomes a problem. Trestle and Commedia both use masks and are both theatre companies, but I hope you can see that obviously they are completely different in many aspects.