François, a masked clown character created and performed by Nick Trotter. Mask by Newman Commedia Masks. (Courtesy Nick Trotter)

Moab Community Theater invited Nick Trotter to present a free workshop on Commedia Dell’Arte. Commedia Dell’Arte translated from Italian is “comedy of craft” and is a form of theater characterized by improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios.

Moab Community Theater will be producing the play “A Company of Wayward Saints,” this Fall, which involves Commedia Dell’Arte. This gives an opportunity to introduce the craft to those interested in learning more.

Franklin Seal, producer of the upcoming play, said that participation in the workshop and play are separate. One may attend the workshop with no intention of being in the play, and one may participate in the play without attending the workshop.

Trotter is a graduate of Dell’Arte International in Humbolt, Calif., where he trained extensively in Clown, Bouffon and Commedia Dell’Arte. Dell’Arte International is the only school in America that teaches Commedia Dell’Arte.

Trotter found Commedia through his attraction to clowns and the circus. His early theater training was in Method style acting, which he found unsatisfying because it seemed to be “all about emotions and memories and relationships, and all the plays were about normal people living normal boring lives”.

Trotter said that he felt like more poetic, fantastical and plastic “realities” had more to say about human experience than psychology ever would.

He did several shows about ten years ago in New York, which involved masks, puppets and red noses. He wanted a deeper understanding and more training and moved to California to attend Dell’Arte International. He studied there for three years and earned a Master’s in Fine Arts.

Trotter regularly performs improvisational theater and is an accomplished shadow puppeteer. He teaches mask-making, physical theater and sketch comedy.

Commedia Dell’Arte is a very old form of theater and has roots in ancient Greek Satyr plays.

“Commedia dell’Arte is a style of comic theatre that coalesced in 16th-century Italy, and which became very popular in Europe over the ensuing 200 years,” Trotter said. “I say ‘coalesced’ because it is really an amalgam of Carnaval masking, mumming, minstrelsy, and the bawdy folkloric comedies of the Middle Ages.”

It was performed by traveling troupes of players who would set up their portable stages in town plazas and markets, and try to entertain everyone in town, from peasants and workers to merchants and the nobility. The players often wore masks and portrayed wild, archetypal characters that were often quite grotesque. The plays were often social satires, but they included broad farces and clowning, lampooning every aspect of society and sparing no one from ridicule.

The play “A Company of Wayward Saints” will incorporate this style of theater.

“A Company of Wayward Saints”, written in 1966 by George Herman, takes place in the present day and covers a performance of a commedia troupe that has been on tour for a very, very long time. Their set and costumes are in tatters, as are their relationships. The actors just want to go home, but they are broke. A Duke in the audience has promised to give them enough money to go home, but only if they succeed in improvising a play based on the theme “The Life of Man”. Things proceed from bad to worse as the actors increasingly take pot shots at each other while attempting to improvise the play. But all is not lost. A transformation occurs and things are on the mend.

Auditions are open to everyone in Moab. Open auditions will be from 6 ¬to 9 p.m. Sept. 15, 16 and 19. For those who want a private appointment to audition, they can schedule one between 6 and 7 p.m. on Sept.17 or 18 with director Shane Bartosh at 259-5238.

For those interested in helping on production, such as building costumes and masks, sets and props, or helping back stage: call producer Franklin Seal at 259-4811.

The play will run Friday and Saturday nights from Nov. 16 through Dec. 1. Tickets will be $10.