Comedy fest a first for Australia

Tony Kishawi (right) and actor Ben Cornfoot ham it up at the launch of the Australasian Commedia dell’Arte Festival to be held in Gympie in May.
Tony Kishawi (right) and actor Ben Cornfoot ham it up at the launch of the Australasian Commedia dell’Arte Festival to be held in Gympie in May. Craig Warhurst

IT’S not surprising really that the city with a heart of gold has a funny bone.

A little bit of Italy came to town yesterday, with the official launch of The Australasian Commedia dell’Arte Festival.

The festival, which will run from May 28 to 30 in Gympie, is the brainchild of performer/director and former NIDA teacher Tony Kishawi.

It will be a celebration of a living theatre tradition which dates back to 16th century Italy.

About 50 people enjoyed Italian coffee and cake at the Civic Centre and an Introduction 101 to Commedia dell’Arte by event administrator Janet Zijm.

The introduction included instructions on how to correctly pronounce the title (Com-may-di-a dell-ar-tay) and some background on the art, which when introduced had a remarkable influence on the theatre of the day.

Janet described the basic elements that had flowed onto contemporary performing arts genres, including theatre sports, improvisation and television shows like Thank God You’re Here.

The birth of Commedia dell’Arte was the origin of “stars” and actresses, where females actually played females.

A tantalising taste of the event to come saw actor Ben Cornfoot and Tony Kishawi staging a small performance against the beautiful backdrops created by local artist Alicia Murphy.

Tony described how masks were an integral part of the performance and explained how part of the process was the actor “finding the spirit of the mask – that means the actor gets possessed so to speak”.

The actors had the crowd laughing in seconds and whet their appetite for the three-day festival which will include workshops, presentations and discussions with evening performances staged in Gympie’s Heritage Theatre.

The closing of the festival will feature “the Godfather of Commedia dell’Arte”, Italian artist/director Antonio Fava, who will perform his world premiere of Pulcinellata Nera at the Lake Macdonald Amphitheatre.

Guests at the launch included Gympie Regional mayor Ron Dyne, director of Italian Week in Brisbane Alessandro Sorbello and Woodford Folk Festival director Bill Hauritz.

Mr Hauritz said as soon as he saw the program he knew it was something special.

“It will be a gift to the community of Gympie,” he said.

“Like a small boat with a large wake.”

He congratulated Tony on generating an idea that he wished he’d come up with himself.

“…an idea that hasn’t been done before in this country, he said.

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