The art of comedy: Free shows coming up
Fayra Teeters likes to call herself an equal opportunity destroyer.
The founder and artistic director of Beaverton-based Masque Alfresco theater troupe, Teeters takes commedia dell'arte — a theater form originating in early 16th century Italy — very seriously.
Traditionally, commedia is both scripted and improvisational and Teeters likes to keep it that way.
Masque Alfresco formed in 2002 and the group's main focus is, as the word "alfresco" indicates, outdoor theater in public spaces.
Each summer, Teeters and her troupe take their commedia dell'arte show on the road, armed with the most up-to-date gossip on celebrities and stinging criticisms across the political and social spectrum.
This month the troupe will perform Moliere's "Tartuffe," a comedy written to poke fun at what Moliere considered the religious hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church.
When the play premiered in 1664, says Teeters, "extremists immediately banned it because it satirizes a wealthy merchant in the clutches of Tartuffe, a religious conman. The entire household becomes dysfunctional, with everyone contorting, conniving and scheming, as they must to survive in the face of hypocrisy."
In her version, Teeters, has plans to honor the playwright's intent and the same time take the opportunity to make light of America's current political landscape.
"There is ample room to throw in references to Steve Bannon and Ivanka," she said. "And we'll throw in some celebrity slams that have nothing to do with politics."
Teeter promises a family friendly, entertaining production of the classic-yet-timely play, with slapstick, broad physical comedy schtick and colorful period costumes.
The style of commedia dell'arte is "the notion of ridiculous," Teeters said. "If you can laugh at something bothering you, that's the first step to healing."
Centuries ago, commedia dell'arte actors would travel by wagon to town squares. The back of the wagon became the stage space, said Teeters. "Two poles and a curtain was the backdrop."
Masque Alfresco does things much the same way, but instead of a wagon, the actors carry the backdrop and any props around and the trunks of their cars.
Teeters herself studied theater in college and holds a master's degree from San Francisco State University. While in college she studied Moliere and commedia dell'arte.
She's performed locally at Artist's Repertory Theatre Portland and HART Theatre in Hillsboro.
She's also it appeared on TNT's "The Librarians," filmed partially in Portland-area in locations. In the episode, she played "a Venezuelan old lady," she says. (Hint: Check out season three, episode six.)
Teeters says she loves the commedia style because the actors as well as the audience are "very much in the moment. There's total engagement."
She likes to give her actors free rein to ad lib and engage the audience by speaking directly to them, for example. Often, Teeters said, right before a show the actors will put their heads together and talk about breaking news of the day, then work that into the show.
Masque Alfresco typically has about 10 actors in their summertime production.
New to the summer show is the addition of original music by Samie Pfeifer. The music, which Pfeifer will play, will have the sound of the play's era, but with modern words.
Teeters is adapting Moliere's play a bit — trimming the performance length to an hour and a half instead of three, all the while keeping an eye on current events.
But because she's an "equal opportunity destroyer," she said, "I will have to find some liberal stuff to destroy."
Teeters founded Masque Alfresco with a dedication to "making theater accessible to people who can't usually afford it."
All of Masque Alfresco's summertime performances are free. Bring a chair. Get comfortable. And sit back and enjoy.