Commedia dell’Arte is a theater form that began in the streets of Renaissance-era Italy and eventually became the primary form of Western comedy, influencing Shakespeare, Melodrama, and film clowns from Charlie Chaplin to Steve Martin.

Studio Zanni is dedicated to bringing commedia dell’Arte to contemporary audiences.

Here are some of the elements of this enduring art form that has made it so appealing:


The ensemble has to be spontaneous. The actors may improvise a comedic routine in the middle of the show or interrupt a scene to interact with an audience member. The entire show is rehearsed and will have an outline, but everything in between could be up to improvisation. All of the actors have to be “on their toes” and ready for anything!

In every show there are recurring characters that are easily recognizable by their costume, movements, mask, and voice. Some of these stock characters include Pantalone (the miser), Dottore (the know-it-all), Arlecchino (the naïve yet lovable servant), and Colombina (the shrewd yet coquettish servant).

The use of mask is a long-standing tradition in the commedia dell’Arte. Many of the stock characters can be recognized immediately by their unique mask.

Slapstick and acrobatic comedic bits as well as the exaggerated physical movements of the characters are an important element of commedia. Physical comedy is a form of expression that isn’t constrained by language barriers. This has allowed commedia to be globally appealing for centuries.


The actors of the ensemble work together to create, stage, and perform the shows. There is no one star of the commedia. All of the ensemble members must do their part to help the show go on!