Visting Prof. Peterson directs The Servant of Two Masters

April 16 will mark the opening night for the upcoming performance of Carlo Goldini’s The Servant of Two Masters. The play focuses on the cunning servant Truffaldino who attempts to play the other characters off one another as each tries to navigate his or her particular set of troubles. The performance is being directed by a visiting professor, Faculty Fellow in Theater and Dance Dave Peterson.

Theater has been a life-long passion for Peterson. “I did theater going all the way back to middle school,” he said. “I enjoyed performing and being in front of people.” Peterson acted throughout middle and high school before enrolling at the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree. When he got there, he thought that he would have to choose between his love of theater and his love of history.

Peterson feels that he never had to make the decision, however, because pursuing theater allowed him to fulfill both passions. “I learned…that these performance areas could also be their own forms of research,” he explained. “There was a lot of complex thinking to do, both in studying theater from a standpoint of history or from a standpoint of critical studies….Performance itself was this exciting way of engaging in research.” He would go on to study theater at the Michigan State University, where he received his masters degree, and at the University of Pittsburgh, where he received his PhD.

“I found out that I didn’t need to choose between being a being a theater person and being a scholar,” Peterson said. “They were very mutually complimentary disciplines. So I’ve been a theater scholar since then.” For example, his dissertation focused on physical comedy, especially as it relates to more traditionally verbal works, such as Shakespeare. While writing it, he relied on a mixture of archival research and more hands-on research.  Attending workshops and observing the physical practice he was researching functioned for him personally.

“Any theatrical process necessitates that you bring your own style to it,” Peterson said. Indeed, Peterson applies much of his expertise in physical theater in his approach to directing The Servant of Two Masters. “There are two key ways we interact in the rehearsal room,” he explained. “One is work that is general skill building, how do we get our bodies to be clear? How do we use language to be precise? And with that clarity comes comedy….The other thing that we do is then work particularly on a scene. So we take these general physical and vocal skill sets that we’ve been learning and apply them to the scenes.”

However, Peterson was certain to make clear that his is very much a part of a much larger machine. Many of the designers in the play’s company, faculty as well as students, have been working on the show since fall semester. “We have two strands that go along,” he said. “One is the production side, where we’re meeting weekly, and people are working on projects and developing ideas….The other side of that are the performers themselves who are in the room, probably for about three hours a night for four nights a week as we rehearse….There’s been an immense amount of work that they’ve put in.”

The play is modeled after commedia dell’arte, a performance style that developed in Italy in the 1500s, which relied on specific types of characters, usually depicted by masks, and a good bit of improvisation. But The Servant of Two Masters, Peterson explained, is Goldini’s attempt to reform that style. The script was then further revised in the translation process in the early 2000s, during which more modern comedic elements not present in the original were introduced. “The script is fun because it’s based on characters and situations from this form that developed in the 1500s through a refining scripting process from an author in the 1700s, and then adapted for our contemporary moment by a team of adapters and translators in the 2000s,” Peterson said.

Peterson also believes that the integration of improvisation has extended beyond the performance itself, allowing the company to better respond to the changes that he says come as part of the nature of any performance. “In our process it’s been nice because everyone has acknowledged that nature,” he said. “Changes happen and when we embrace those changes, we end up with stronger results.”

Peterson thinks that the comedy will have a familiar feel to it, similar to that of a sitcom or cartoon. “It should be fun,” he said. “It’s a madcap zany world….It’s fast and it’s intense, so we hope that it feels a bit like an exciting ride….If it has a commentary, I think it’s just exposing the foibles of the world that we can take a minute and laugh at ridiculous the things we passionately pursue are.”

The Servant of Two Masters will show on April 16, 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Strider Theater. Tickets for the show are available and can be reserved online through the Department Theater and Dance Website.

Comments are closed.