Ciao amici, bonjour les amis! In its 8th edition, the popular Niçois summer event under Frédéric Rey’s reign reconnects with its Italian origins

It has become a beloved early summer ritual: when Pantalone, Harlequin & Co. call, lovers of commedia dell’arte flock to venues all over Nice in droves to enjoy their escapades. And this year, visitors are in for an extra special treat: the Festival de Commedia dell’Arte, which runs from 23 June 23 through 2 July, is packed to the brim with unexpected treasures and 50 international guest artists.

Organised by the cultural association La Semeuse since 2014, this eighth edition is a joyful celebration of this popular art form’s Italian roots. This year, the festival is on a declared mission to reconnect with its roots, dating back to the 16th century. Half of the performers therefore hail from our Appenine neighbour. Plays are presented in French and Italian, but language is not important here – understanding the story intuitively just through its archetypal characters, as well as gesture, posture, words and masks is the very essence of commedia.

Commedia dell'arte programme

The nine plays of the 2023 programme are a veritable kaleidoscope from classics to contemporary pieces. And their venues are just as diverse: from traditional theatre stages and the venerable Baroque Palais Lascaris in Old Town to pop-ups in city parks, and even visits to the disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Las Planas, les Moulins and l’Ariane.

The Festival de Commedia dell’Arte is committed to socially responsible theatre, rooted in every district of Nice, demanding of its artists, and accessible to all audiences. It is popular theatre par excellence”, says Frédéric Rey, the multi-hatted founder of the festival, director of the two cultural establishments La Providence and La Semeuse in Nice, and commedia writer, director, and actor. Theatre that appeals to all ages, that does not discriminate, that does not lecture – and yet holds a mirror up to society.

Commedia dell'arte 2023

It is hard, if not impossible, to pick favourites from such a rich artistic offering. The opening honours go to Trio de Commedia which packages the essence of this art form in three scenes. Of course, anything that Carlo Boso, the Living God of Commedia, touches is bound to be a hit. This year, apart from the masterclass co-presented by him and Frédéric Rey, he also signs responsible for directing no less than three literary classics, Aeschylus’ Greek trag(icom)edy Antigone, Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin, and La Folie d’Isabelle  by Flaminio Scala (aka Flavio), lesser known nowadays but one of the chartbusters of the 16th century. And to top it off, Carlo Boso also presents Le Faux Magnifico, a play from his own pen.

But there is still ample room for other talent. Stivalaccio Teatro from Vicenza is a much-loved festival staple, and their current creation, Buffoni all’Inferno pays a visit to Hell where Satan has an overpopulation problem. And Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo, adapted as a one-one show by Matthias Martelli, is certainly yet another red-circle event.

(Buffoni all’Inferno, Stivalaccio Teatro)

That’s still not enough for you? No worries, there are even more workshops, masterclasses, conferences, and events that also allow you a glance behind the curtain. The word “commedia” conjures up notions of light entertainment but asks for a lot from its actors, both in content and technique. Acting, singing, dancing, pantomiming, fencing, and acrobatics are all part of the commedia’s tool kit. And if you’re inspired, there are classes year round at the Providence. But for now, just sit back and let yourself be transported by the effervescence of the plays! Viva la commedia!

Commedia dell'arte 2023 poster

General info

See website for details, venues, and show times.

To buy tickets online, go here or to Billetreduc.

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Photos; courtesy La Semeuse/La Providence

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