Explore a maestro's masks online

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Fans of Commedia dell'Arte—the renaissance dramatic art form that shaped the modern theater—gain an innovative electronic resource on February 25, 2011, when Northwestern University Library officially launches a new website featuring a set of virtual Commedia dell'Arte masks that can be manipulated in three dimensions. Commedia dell'Arte: The Masks of Antonio Fava makes a series of five original character masks created by renowned actor, author, director, teacher, and mask-maker Antonio Fava available to students and performers world-wide.
 
Digital media specialist Dan Zellner, who oversaw the website project for the Library, explains that the masks represent the set of stock characters around which traveling troupes of actors would perform semi-improvised comedies in 16th century Italy. "Commedia dell'Arte was the first expression of professional theatre," Zellner says. "Actors became experts in one character/mask and formed groups that were able to work together with just an outline of a story or a suggestion —very similar to what you would see for instance at The Second City comedy theater today."
 
In fact, the connections between this ancient art form and today's theater world are very much alive, according to Fava, whose book The Comic Mask in the Commedia dell'Arte is published by Northwestern University Press. Declared Commedia dell'Arte Day, February 25 will see a world-wide community of enthusiasts celebrating its vibrancy in workshops, lectures, and performances, including a performance by Northwestern's own student Commedia dell'Arte troupe The Panini Players and  the opening of the play The Servant of Two Masters performed and presented by the Piccolo Theater in Evanston, IL. Both shows feature masks by Fava.
Besides making Northwestern's set of masks available virtually outside the University's immediate community, Zellner says, the digitization project also marks an important step in the Library's capability for digital preservation: launching its first such website with 3-D capability. "For documents, images, and sound we have standard procedures," he says, "but this is the first time we've tackled the question of how you make a digital copy of a 3-D object."
 
Funded by a gift from the estate of Northwestern alumna Dorothy Jean Adams, the project involved a collaboration with the University of Georgia Department of Theatre and Film Studies, which did the modeling of the masks, and Northwestern's Academic and Research Technologies Department. Thanks to translation work by Northwestern's Department of French and Italian, the website is available in both English and Italian.
 
For more information, contact Dan Zellner: d-zellner@ northwestern.edu.