Commedia dell’Arte invented the modern professional theatre.
It disappeared long time ago, when the Roman Empire, that was embracing Christianity, fell into a sort of religious-cultural revolution, which erased all that was entertainment and the concept of show itself.
There is an ’empty time’, which reduced to its lowest terms by prolonging the agony of the Roman professional theatre and by going back to the very early origin of the Commedia, goes from 400 A.D. to 1530. During these thousand hundred thirty years, professional theatre did not exist; all memories about it were lost and so was the concept. Theatre itself made sporadic appearances, only to be “reinvented” as an extension of the official liturgy for religious purposes. There were also secular forms of comedy of course; farce among all genres.
The term ’Mercenary’, ’Zannesca’, ’Improvised’, ’Italian’ or ’dell’Arte’ – which all precede the word ’Commedia’ that stands for ’Theatre’ – represents a new starting point for professional acting, a permanent one, which invented the actor and the actress as well; figures that both spend their lives trying to get their Audience to laugh (yes: ENTERTAINING!).
Modern professional theatre was invented without any expectations of being “supported” - nowadays “funded” - by whatsoever institution. They were simply asking for money. They were selling a product/service and they were asking to get paid for it. Today things are terribly different: however, that was and remains the only principle that can guarantee continuity of the project, its existence, its survival.
Commedia dell’Arte actors were selling the pleasure of enjoying a well-crafted story, performed by a great and highly skilled theatre company. Intervals were filled with songs and dances by the very same actors, which were also selling products of all kinds, just to earn some extra money.
With very few exceptions, art has never turned any of its most devoted promulgators into a millionaire. However, the versatility of the actors allowed them to produce a lot, anything, always, constantly and tirelessly: they produced Art, Craft, Culture; and by doing so they were able to support themselves.
By constantly producing and selling great, beautiful, respectable products, Commedia dell’Arte actors have marked a significant part of European societies for at least three centuries.