Commedia Dell’arte

Commedia Dell’arte

A comprehensive overview of the Commedia dell’arte genre for teachers, students, and Enthusiasts.

Jan Miel – Actors from the Commedia dell’Arte on a Wagon in a Town Square
Balthasar Beschey

Commedia dell’arte – a theatrical style that began to develop in Italy in the 16th century, which was characterized by the use of masks and the improvisation of the text according to a basic plot outline. Arte –arte literally means in Italian – ‘occupation’ or ‘craftsman’, meaning comedy performed by professional actors who worked in the theater for a living. The dallarte players (in Italian – ‘comici dell’arte’) were organized in bands that traveled and performed with great success all over Europe during the Renaissance.

Historical review

The Renaissance culture was characterized by a renewed interest in Greek and Roman art, and development of artistic forms inspired directly by the ancient classical patterns. This trend did not skip the field of theater. Universities established during that period began teaching ancient plays, and in particular Greek tragedies and Roman comedies by playwrights Plautus and Terence. These classical dramatic texts were often performed in Latin by amateur actors, primarily students of literature and philosophy. This theatrical style was known as “Commedia Erudita.” These performances were not open to the general public but were typically performed in front of upper-class audiences in universities, noble courts, or scholarly circles.

The Commedia dell’arte folk troupes, which began to emerge in Italy in the early 16th century, “inherited” the subversive aspect of traditional Roman comedy. Pinpointing precisely when and how Commedia dell’arte was born has proven challenging. The prevalent assumption being that it began with troupes of mostly street performers, which were popular in markets and city squares during the medieval period: jesters, pantomimes, buffoons, jugglers, magicians, dancers and wandering singers (troubadours). They engaged in storytelling, singing, and music, presenting stories and plots focusing on love, heroism, and witchcraft. Organizing in troupes, refining performance skills using familiar classical dramatic patterns, led to the development of a new theatrical form. This form enabled troupes to earn a living from their performances, marking a significant historical shift in the evolution of theater. From the days of ancient Greece and up until that moment in time, actors were merely amateurs whose main income did not come solely from theater.

The Commedia dell’arte troupes

Jan Miel

בקומדיה דל’ארטה השחקנים היו מקצוענים שחיו והתפרנסו על פי אומנותם. להקות שחקני הדל’ארטה חיו והופיעו יחדיו, נדדו מעיר לכפר ומארץ לארץ, הופיעו בשווקים ובכיכרות העיר, והתפרנסו מהעלאת מחזותיהם הפשוטים, שהיו לעיתים גם גסים, אך מלאי חיים, קומיים ורעננים. הלהקות קיימו הווי חיים מיוחד במינו; בין השחקנים נוצרו מערכות יחסים של תלות הדדית – מקצועית, כלכלית ורגשית, כך שהלהקות תפקדו כעין משפחות מורחבת. כיוון שהתקיימו על אמנותן בלבד, לא נהנו בדרך כלל מביטחון כלכלי. אורח החיים השיתופי והוויתור על חיי יציבות ונוחות הפכו את הלהקות הללו בעיני דורות מאוחרים יותר למופת של התמסרות מוחלטת ליצירה . החל מהמחצית השנייה של המאה ה – 16 ועד לתחילת המאה ה-17 נעשתה הקומדיה דל’ארטה פופולארית ביותר. הלהקות האיטלקיות הוזמנו להופיע בכל רחבי אירופה. תור הזהב של הדל’ארטה היה בצרפת בתחילת המאה ה-17 בה להקות איטלקיות הפכו למבוקשות ומחוזרות בחוגי האצולה והמלוכה ואף קיבלו מימון ומשכן קבע בחצרות אלו . בדיעבד, שגשוג זה היה גם הגורם לדעיכת הז’אנר – הלהקות שהיו רגילות להופיע מול העם הפשוט ולאלתר ללא צנזורה וללא מגבלה הוכפפו לדרישות המארחים ה ‘מממנים’ שדרשו לעדן את ההופעות, לקבוע הרפרטואר ואת הדמויות המשתתפות במחזה ולעיתים אף את זהות השחקנים. כל אלו קיבעו, פגמו ולמעשה ניוונו את הרוח החופשית והחיות הרעננה של הקומדיה דל’ארטה

The characteristics of the dell’Arte

Fixed Characters Commedia dell’arte shows were based on a set repertoire of archetypal characters characterized by typical costumes and masks that allowed the audience to easily identify each character, reviving the ancient theater tradition of actors donning tragic or comic masks. Many characters in Commedia dell’arte were the ‘reincarnation’ of archetypal characters from Greek and Roman comedies, or, in fact, the embodiment of one or more human weaknesses.

Maurice Sand
Yoram Booker in various masks designed by Judit Greenspan

The use of masks refined the stereotypical design of the characters. As mentioned earlier, Commedia dell’arte revived characters from Greek and Roman comedies but gave them a modern twist: their attire and costumes reflected characters typical of 16th-century European society. For instance, the character of ‘The Old Man’ from classical comedies reappeared in Commedia dell’arte as ‘Pantalone,’ and the character of the ‘Braggart Soldier’ re-emerged as ‘Capitano,’ a military man wearing fancy clothes, boasting tales of heroism, but at the moment of truth, reveals himself as a coward. The scheming servant characters from Roman comedy have also found new life in various versions in Commedia dell’arte. Most famous of them all is Harlequin, a well-meaning and clever servant, who gets what he wants – and what his master needs – with shrewd practicality and wit. He’s pragmatic and quick on his feet, ignorant yet sharp, who can improvise his way into and out of every situation. It is no surprise, therefore, that Harlequin’s character became so immensely popular, as he represents of the common man with down-to-earth wisdom, struggling for his daily existence. Harlequin’s character underwent numerous adaptations and variations, such as Scapin in Molière’s “Scapin the Schemer” (Les Fourberies de Scapin) and Truffaldino in Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters”. Even the character of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp, may be considered a modern adaptation of Harlequin, who, more than any other character, embodies the free-spirited and mischievous essence of Commedia dell’arte.

Ferruccio Solari as Trupaldino which he portrayed for about 50 years in the Piccolo Theater

In various troupes, each actor specialized in portraying one specific character – one specific mask throughout their career. This specialization allowed them to master and develop extraordinary, virtuosic theatrical skills. Their vast experience enabled Commedia dell’arte actors to revolutionize the world of theater with an innovative theatrical tool for the time – improvisation. For the first time in theater history, a show didn’t rely on a play or written text, instead they used the ‘scenario’ (a basic plot structure) and the dell’arte troupe’s improvisational skills.

The Actor’s Skills As mentioned, each Commedia dell’arte actor specialized in portraying one particular character, which he spent his entire professional life perfecting. This specialization enabled them to fully embody the character and made improvising and finding its place in the scenario immeasurably easier. Each actor developed a rich repertoire of comedic verbal and physical maneuvers that characterized the specific character in various possible situations: moments of anger, courtship, parental-child conflicts, banter, and other witty-isms delivered with ‘spontaneity’. The Commedia dell’arte actors’ skill lay in unhesitatingly finding suitable actions and words and expressing them naturally on the spot. Over the years, an oral tradition emerged, with actors armed with pre-prepared jokes, monologues, and songs. This can be likened to a modern-day stand-up comedian who arrives at a show equipped with a supply of ready-made jokes and stories, which they can choose and integrate spontaneously between new performance bits. Commedia dell’arte actors were required to sing, play music, and move freely, and their performances were rich in physical humor, acrobatics, slapstick, dancing, and live music played by the actors themselves.

Isabella from the band of Jelousi 1580 Mayer unknown

Another historical innovation was the integration of actresses into the shows. Women were not allowed to act in the theater from ancient Greece to the Renaissance. The change was brought about by the “Gelosi” troupe, the most famous Commedia dell’arte troupe. The troupe was led by the actors Francesco Andreini and Isabella Canali from 1583 to 1604. Canali, a respected poetess in her time, was the creative force leading the troupe. Legend has it that during one performance, when the actor playing the role of the young female lover fell ill, Isabella, familiar with the troupe’s entire repertoire, replaced him and achieved great success. She became known as an enchanting actress with an uncanny stage presence. After she passed away in 1604. the troupe disbanded. However, Canali’s character continued to serve as a source of inspiration, encouraging other troupes to involve women in the role of the young female lover (and so, over the years, the young lovers’ characters began to be played without masks). Isabella’s name became the basis for the archetype of the young female lover that was added to the gallery of fixed Commedia dell’arte characters.

Improvisation Commedia dell’arte was based on improvisation: the actors did not present a written play but improvised the text during the show itself. They relied on the scenario – a general pre-prepared plot (either by the head of the troupe, one of the actors, or some other writer) that outlined the main events and major turning points but left the creation of dialogue to the actors on stage. Therefore, Commedia dell’arte actors were not only performing artists but also creative artists: they had to improvise perfectly in front of the audience and recreate familiar scenes in real-time, providing the performance with a fresh and authentic quality. The integration of improvisation into fixed patterns and familiar elements gave Commedia dell’arte its distinctive essence – a unique blend of free spirit and strict professional discipline. It was spontaneous, brilliantly original, witty, relevant, and at times satirical.

Lazzo ‘Thinking’ from ‘The Treasure of Lelio’ Scafino band 2012

The Lazzi Throughout the scenario, were non-verbal comic interludes: pantomime, acrobatic tricks, juggling, and more. These segments, known as “lazzi,” were not necessarily connected to the plot. Sometimes, they were used to ‘reinvigorate’ the audience. They were designed to amuse, entertain, and wow the spectators with the actors’ virtuosity. The “lazzi” were usually performed by the more common characters and allowed the actors to form a connection with the audience – yet another characteristic of Commedia dell’arte that made its way to modern-day circus shows and stand-up comedy. This contrasted with neo-classical and the realistic theater that followed, which maintained an absolute separation between the stage and the audience (the well-known “fourth wall” convention). Part of the popularity of Commedia dell’arte stemmed from this direct and immediate connection with the audience.

From Then Until Now

The Servant of Two Masters directed by Giorgio Streler, Piccolo Theater premiere 1947

Commedia dell’arte reached its peak in the early 17th century, particularly in France. Troupes of Commedia dell’arte performers traveled to almost every European country, also leaving their mark on literature and the art of painting. They became an integral part of French theater, and even had a profound influencing on aristocratic neo-classical theater. This influence was noticeable, among others, in the works of Goldoni, Molière, and Shakespeare. These playwrights extensively used characters and basic plot structures from Commedia dell’arte in their plays. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Italian troupes began to establish themselves within the French courts of kings and nobles. It is within these settings that Commedia dell’arte started to devolve – patrons demanded refinement in language, costume design, and, at times, in content and style. The once rugged, spontaneous, folksy and free-spirited art of Commedia dell’arte that allowed its actors creative freedom gradually transformed into carefully rehearsed and structured reenactments of the achievements of previous actor generations.

During this period, when most troupes settled in one court or another and rarely traveled, a style of wandering puppet theater emerged, adapting elements of Commedia dell’arte – from actors in masks to masked puppets, maintaining the same classic plot structure. This form of theater, operated by one or two puppeteers, also gained considerable success in rural areas and markets across Europe. In England, a style of puppet theater featuring two characters – Punch and Judy – developed and remains successful to this day, drawing inspiration from the Commedia dell’arte characters Pulcinella and Columbina.

In the mid-19th century, a renewed interest in Commedia dell’arte arose – this time from romantic writers captivated by the tales of the wandering troupes. They perceived Commedia dell’arte actors as emblematic of free and rebellious artists dedicated entirely to their craft. Théophile Gautier’s novel “Captain Fracasse,” published in 1863 (later adapted into a 1990 film of the same name directed by Ettore Scola), epitomizes this romantic perspective: the alliance between an impoverished aristocrat and a troupe of wandering actors symbolizes the rejection of comfortable bourgeois life in favor of the free and spiritual life of an artist.

In the early 20th century, innovative thinkers and creators in the field of theater began to explore Commedia dell’arte from a different angle: they did not seek it as a source of inspiration for adventure stories or romantic rebellion but as a model for future theater. These innovators were searching for an alternative to the dominant realistic style that prevailed in Western theater from the late 19th century onward. The birth of cinema – a competing medium with a clear realistic potential – reinforced the need to redefine the uniqueness of theatrical language. Artists and creators such as the British Gordon Craig from England, Vsevolod Meyerhold from Russia, Max Reinhardt from Germany, and Jacques Copeau from France delved into the history of theater in search of historical models as sources of inspiration. For these artists, Commedia dell’arte served as a valuable model for sophisticated, anti-realistic theater. The use of masks, for example, symbolized, in the eyes of these theater practitioners, the true power of theater – a medium that, despite its apparent artificiality, can touch the truth.

In Realistic Theater, the written play is a central component. Other elements, such as stage design, music, costumes, and even the actors’ movements on stage, are often seen as secondary components, subject to the verbal text and serving it. 20th century theater innovators challenged this perception, viewing it as a “literary” approach that diminishes stage language. The uniqueness of theater, they emphasized, lies in the integration of the various theatrical elements, with the text being merely one of them. Commedia dell’arte, which relied on virtuosic physical language and visually captivating gestures, demonstrated the possibility of such a theater’s existence. Furthermore, it provided a model for improvisational theater. One of the challenges facing actors is to breathe life into the text written by the playwright so that it appears as an authentic expression of their experience at a given moment, rather than a rehearsed recitation. Inspired by models such as Commedia dell’arte, theater creators in the 20th century developed working methods aimed at restoring the experiential freshness of theater.

The influence of Commedia dell’arte in the 20th century is particularly noticeable in Italy, with the works of playwrights and directors such as Luigi Pirandello, Eduardo De Filippo, Dario Fo, and Giorgio Strehler. An especially well-known example is the 1947 production, directed by Strehler, of Goldoni’s play “The Servant of Two Masters.” This show, staged in the style of Commedia dell’arte, became a modern theater classic, gracing the stage for over 50 years.

Commedia dell’arte in the Israeli theater

The Servant of Two Masters – Khan Theater JerusalemThe first professional production in the Commedia dell’arte style staged in Israel was “The Servant of Two Masters” directed by Michael Alfreds. It premiered at the Khan Theater in Jerusalem in 1974. The show ran for three seasons, becoming the flagship production of the Khan Theater, featuring prominent actors such as Seffi Rivlin, Sasson Gabai, Shifra Milstein, Uri Avrahami, Avi Pnini, Shlomo Tarshish, and more. and ran for three consecutive seasons success of the play was attributed to the actors’ excellent improvisational skills. Alfreds worked with the actors on a basic action menu, allowing them to improvise different scenarios every evening without pre-planning. The show was born anew each time, as the actors gave it their all, infusing it with maximum liveliness and vitality. Alfreds skillfully merged the spirit of Commedia dell’arte with the unique atmosphere of Jerusalem’s Khan Theater, choosing to open the performance at the theater’s gates. Actors Uri Avrahami and Shlomo Tarshish welcomed and engaged with the audience, ‘warming them up’ before entering the theater hall. Excerpts from the play were also performed in various city streets before diverse audiences. The show’s music and songs, collected and adapted by Hana Hacohen, were based on original material from the Renaissance and early nineteenth-century period.

“Michael Alfreds has absolute control over this theatrical material. He is familiar with every single detail and knows precisely what he wants to achieve on stage. The result is calculated and precise like clockwork: the onstage wild behavior, jumps, antics, and acrobatics, which sometimes seem completely spontaneous. Michael Alfreds allows his actors total freedom and, at the same time, demands a perfectly disciplined performance from them, vital for the virtuosic performance of the characters without which they have no ‘raison d’etre.’ The incredibly meticulous and thorough work with a young, sometimes inexperienced ensemble yields excellent results…” (Idit Zartal, “Acting Exercises,” Davar newspaper, 28.11.74)

The Golden Goose – Yoram Boker Theater In 1990, as part of the Israel Festival, “The Golden Goose” was staged in the Commedia dell’arte style by the Yoram Boker Theater, directed by Yoram Boker himself. The ensemble included Uri Tenenbaum, Ezra Dagan, Irit Ben Tzur, and Effi Amir.

Mandragola – Habima Theater In 1996, the Habima Theater presented “Mandragola,” directed by Ilan Ronen and performed by the young Habima Theater ensemble, including Guy Loel, Sigalit Fuchs, Yossi Eini, Amnon Fisher, Guy Messika, and others. It was the young ensemble’s first production, running for about 210 performances to great success.
Show documentation Part A Part B

“Ilan Ronen built ‘Mandragola’ as a play within a play. The actors play a troupe that presents the humorous story of lustful Calinco, the beautiful and chaste Lucretia, and her old and foolish husband. In this style, actors are supposed to fulfill a dual role. However, with Ronen, the ensemble has no specific characteristic or defined style, and when the actors step out of character, they are simply themselves. This allows them to amuse the audience with an abundance of imaginative and humorous stage inventions. The general merriment is enhanced by Miki Ben-Knaan’s elaborate set and costume design, Yehudit Grinspan’s masks, and Ori Vidislavski’s music. This is Habima’s young ensemble’s premiere performance, and they certainly know how to have fun, they enjoy being on stage, and invest a great deal of effort to share their enjoyment with the audience—and most of the time, they succeed.”

(Shosh Veitz, “Yediot Ahronot,” 5.2.1997)

Psik Theater Founded in 1997 in Jerusalem, Psik Theater was established by graduates of Nissan Nativ Acting Studio: Assi Shimoni, Shmuel Hadgas, and Uzi Biton. In its early years, the group focused on practical exploration of Commedia dell’arte. During this period, the ensemble collaborated with theater masters worldwide, including Pierre Tobiana and Dussio Bellugi (Théâtre du Soleil, France), and Adriano Urosevich, head of the Commedia dell’arte school in Venice. For years, the group maintained a collaborative lifestyle, reminiscent of ancient comedy troupes, and performed extensively in streets and markets, engaging with diverse audiences and redefining the actor-audience relationship. During this time, Psik Theater created numerous works that broke the boundaries between the audience and the stage, as well as time and site-specific productions.
Later, the theater delved into the study of masks, the design of Israeli mask characters, exploring the structures of Commedia dell’arte scenarios, and pushing the limits of these structures into the framework of modern-day plays. The fruits of this work include group creations such as “An Israeli Masks Project,” “The Twins,” and “The Jerusalem Comedy.” Through these three productions, Psik Theater established a new and unique genre, defining it as Israeli Commedia dell’arte. As the theater evolved and settled in Jerusalem, it shifted towards developing works based on young, experimental Israeli plays, moving from the stylized Commedia dell’arte to realistic productions sans masks, incorporating socio-historical themes of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Over the years, various theaters have staged different productions using Commedia dell’arte masks, usually in a play-within-a-play format. Examples include “Isabella” directed by Yael Ronen at the Jerusalem Theater in 2006, “Mandragola” at the Beit Lessin Theater in 2011, “Wing 6” directed by Yafim Kutcher at the Simta Theater in 2011, and more. Additionally, Commedia dell’arte-style productions have been performed in schools by leading teachers in the field, such as Avraham Dana, Zvika Fishzon, Gennady Babitzky, Yafim Kutcher, Nelly Amar, Haim Abud, and others.

Professor Yoram Boker, who taught for four decades at acting schools such as Tel Aviv University, Beit Zvi, and Seminar Hakibbutzim College, trained generations of actors in the art of Commedia dell’arte. המתודה אותה לימד בוקר בארץ הושפעה מהאסכולה הצרפתית שהתאפיינה בין היתר בעידון הדמויות וחילוף המעמדות בין ארלקינו ובריגלה. בריגלה באסכולה האיטלקית היה הזאני הראשון-פיקח וממולח לעומת ארלקינו התמים. אצל יורם בוקר ארלקינו הפך להיות הזאני הראשון – פיקח וממולח כשלעומתו בריגלה הפך למשרת תמים. גם המסכה של בריגלה בארץ היתה שונה מהעיצוב האיטלקי הקלאסי והפכה להיות מעוגלת יותר עם הבעה פתוחה ולא חמורת סבר כבוורסיה האיטלקית. שינוי נוסף שהטמיע יורם בקרב תלמידיו, המתקיים רק בארץ, הוא שימוש במסכות לדמויות הנאהבים הצעירים. באיטליה, עם התפתחות הז’אנר בתקופת הרנסאנס וליהוק נשים לתפקידי הנאהבת ( בתחילה נאסר עליהן לשחק בתיאטרון וגברים מילאו את תפקידי הנאהבת) הסירו את המסכות מדמויות אלו ועד היום ברחבי העולם הן משוחקות ללא מסכות.

Graduates, mainly from Tel Aviv University, formed groups under his guidance, creating and producing independent Commedia dell’arte-style shows within the sphere of independent theater—a phenomenon defined as “fringe” in the previous millennium.

The Man Who Married a Mute Woman – An Independent Production In 2000, a group of Yoram Boker’s graduates from Tel Aviv University, mounted “The Man Who Married a Mute Woman” at Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater. The show, directed by Yoram Boker in the Commedia dell’arte style, and featuring Ronen Hershkovitz, Nili Itzhaki-Gefen, Ofri Aloni, Anat Eliyahu, and Haim Abud, began as the group’s acting studies’ production project and continued successfully as an independent production at the Tmuna Theater upon their graduation.

My Wife’s Revenge – An Independent Production In 2003, right after completing their studies, another group of Tel Aviv University graduates began working with Yoram Boker – ‘Ensemble Cremeschnitte.’ The members of the ensemble – Hila Gonen, Barak Gonen, Sheffi Malek, Eyal Zusman, and Haim Abud – independently wrote, performed, and produced “My Wife’s Revenge”. The show, directed by Yoram Boker, premiered in 2004. The show gained success nationwide, regularly performing at the ZOA House, which, at the time, was considered a fringe theater center.

“There is much more to the show than just entertainment. Firstly, there is a very dedicated and talented ensemble of actors who, under the delicate direction of Yoram Boker, excels in creating strong and well-crafted characters. All in all, this is one of the most refreshing shows seen on our stages lately. Rush to the theater!!!” Lilach Dekel, Habama website, 5.12.04

Commotion on StageAn Independent Production In 2007, yet another group of Tel Aviv University graduates – Shiri Elraz, Ronen Hershkovitz, Haim Abud, Liat Ophir Kislovich, and Hadas Kreidelman, created the play “Commotion on Stage” under Yoram Boker’s guidance. The play was performed at the Haifa International Children’s and Youth Theater Festival. The show was a huge success at the festival and won numerous awards: Directing Award – Yoram Boker and Elinor Keinan; Best Play Award – Members of the ensemble; Costume Design Award – Meirav Nathaniel Danon: Lighting Design Award – Meir Alon; Best Music Award – Misha Segal. At the end of the festival, the show was adopted by the Haifa Theater, but the theater was facing financial and managerial difficulties at the time, which led to a freeze in its activity, a change in management and in repertoire. The show did not continue to run.

“This was the most professional play at the festival. Professor Yoram Boker does what he knows best: fast-paced and stylized Commedia dell’arte. With his students, he put on a professional and dynamic performance… Boker manages to combine the stories and characters, and makes his own variations on the theatrical conventions: he turns the rich and stingy Pantalone into the wicked Mrs. Pantalone, and pairs Bernard Shaw’s Androcles with Harlequin, the resourceful servant of the Renaissance. Boker guides his actors well. Especially during the “stage fights” and comic antics, of which the show is full, so that the commotion is well-orchestrated and often looks like a stylized dance. In this sense, “Commotion” sets a high theatrical standard of restrained stage ethos, which deviates in the best possible way from the wildness, not to say vulgarity, common in many children and youth shows, where the commotion on stage is almost a necessary stamp of approval.” Haim Nagid, HaBama website, 7.4.07

“Happiness personified! Our personal bet for the lucky winner of the competition! Professor Yoram Boker, known as a masterful mime, and director Elinor Keinan, have recruited a collection of insanely talented actors for the play. With amazing precision and accuracy, the actors manage to portray the oh-so-stereotypical and familiar characters of Pantalone (this time as a woman), Harlequin, the lovers and the captain. The set design, in an impressive duet with the lighting, allows the audience to focus on the actors’ bodies and faces, as well as the transition from city to nature, and even the changes it goes through: at times it is a bed for the lovers and at others, a dangerous trap. Towards the end of the play, the audience, who have been sitting on the edge of their seats for nearly an hour, are rolling with laughter, shouting at the actors and applauding the wonderful and very deserving cast!” Rachel Elg’im, Haaretz, 5.4.07

In 2010, the Scapino Theater Company was founded by Ella Gopher, Barak Gonen and Haim Abud. The latter two are former students of Yoram Boker and members of the ‘Cremeschnitte Ensemble’ and Ella Gopher – a student of Haim Abud. The company is dedicated to the preservation, development and creation of mask theater art in general and Commedia dell’arte in particular. Their first production was ”The Miser, Now What?” which premiered in 2011 and continues to perform to this day with over 500 performances all over Israel and even abroad. This is a remarkable achievement for an independent production. Ella Gopher won the 2012 Golden Hedgehog Award for her performance in the play. In 2019, the show was adapted and translated into Arabic and performed by the Nazareth Fringe Center Ensemble, directed by Haim Abud. In 2014, Orit Peres, a student of Haim Abud, joined the company. The four of them form the core of the company, in addition to the company’s set, costume and mask designers – who have worked with the company members in various frameworks since the early 2000s. The ensemble continued to specialize and create numerous Commedia dell’arte productions and add new actors and actresses to its ranks. Its veteran members began teaching in professional acting schools, thus distinguishing and training a new generation of Commedia dell’arte actors. The ensemble is active in the international Commedia dell’arte scene and is a member of the international SAT organization, which unites Commedia dell’arte artists, creators and researchers. With the organization’s support, the ensemble initiated and produced the events of the International Commedia dell’arte Day in Israel, hosting international workshops and masterclasses. Taking advantage of the COVID-19 period, the organization collaborated on international online productions, solidifying its position as one of the leading dell’arte troupes worldwide. In 2020, it was recognized as a theater group and began receiving support from the Israeli Ministry of Culture.

International Commedia dell’arte Day


On February 25th, the ‘International Commedia dell’arte Day’ was established by UNESCO, the United Nations organization for education, science, and culture. The special day aims to promote and expand knowledge about this unique theater language that originated in Italy during the Renaissance and continues to thrive, kick, and perform globally to this day. Supported by UNESCO and the Italian Center of the Theatre Institute ITI International, the day is celebrated in numerous countries around the world. Events take place in universities, theaters, drama schools, cultural centers, museums, and include lectures, workshops, exhibitions, masterclasses, performances, and other events by a large community that considers itself as part of the long tradition of Commedia dell’arte. All of this serves as a living testimony that this distinctive style, the cradle of modern theater, remains lively, fresh, and kicking.

This special day of celebration is an initiative of the SAT organization, an international organization dedicated to the study, development, and preservation of Commedia dell’arte heritage. Comprising artists, researchers, and fine arts professionals, SAT is recognized by UNESCO as an organization dealing with undocumented cultural heritage of unique value. This collaboration led to the establishment of the International Commedia dell’arte Day in 2010, celebrated annually on February 25th. On this date in 1545, the official founding document of ‘Compagnia dei Gelosi’ (“Company of Jealous Ones”) was signed, marking the earliest recorded organization of Commedia dell’arte actors as a professional troupe. Thus, officially, Commedia dell’arte was born and began spreading from the squares of Italian towns and villages to the noble courtyards, eventually reaching all of Europe.

חוזה ההקמה של ‘להקת אחים׳

International Del’Arte Comedy Day in Israel

In Israel, the day was first celebrated in 2014, initiated by the Scapino Ensemble, representing Israel in the SAT organization, in collaboration with Hasimta Theatre and sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute. The event included a masterclass for actors led by Prof. Yoram Boker, an exhibition by mask artist Yehudit Grinspan, a professional panel, and a Commedia dell’arte show. Since then, the day has been marked annually throughout the country, hosting leading Italian dell’arte artists such as Cristina Coltelli, Fabrizio Paladin, Fabio Mangolini, and others. In 2021, due to the pandemic, quarantines and venue closures, Scapino Ensemble organized an international online event, Commedia of the Plague, featuring dell’arte artists from around the world performing monologues related to the pandemic. Video of the show >

Events in Israel are produced by the Scapino Ensemble, in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv and Haifa, under the artistic direction of Haim Abud.











The Characters

זאני Zanni

ארלקינו Arlecchino

דוטורה – Dottore

לליו – Lélio

איזבלה – Isabella

פנטלון – Pantalone

פולצ’ינלה – Pulcinella

ויטוריה – Vittoria

קפיטנו – Capitano


Here you can download full texts of original Scapino Ensemble plays for free!

  • The performance of the plays does not require the use of masks.
  • All our plays are performed with masks; therefore, the plays are written to allow each actor to portray multiple characters. Hence the varying number of actors in each show.
  • The use of texts is for non-profit educational purposes only.

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