Over a lifetime, every person is certain to have encountered a greedy, miserly, old man. They have most likely met the witty and mostly aloof, always hungry, always tired, sidekick, too. And who could overlook the know-it-all “doctor” of everything from medicine to physics to obscure philosophical theories?
Director David Sebren sits across from these characters day in and day out, in rehearsal, onstage, and from the house of the theater.
He brings these archetypes to life by coaching his students and actors in the ways of Commedia dell’arte. While studying in Italy, Sebren earned a certificate in the practice at an international training session led by a renowned maestro of Commedia dell’arte, Antonio Fava. The art form was developed in the early 1500s but remains relevant to Sebren’s work as he fleshes out the characters in his thesis production of “Tartuffe,” which will run from March 30 to April 8 at the FSU Lab Theatre.
“Commedia deals with stock characters,” explains Sebren. “We still see all of these characters coming out today in any comedy, and they still exist because we still see these character traits in people as they walk down the street. If you scratch the surface those archetypes are right there.”
“Tartuffe,” a 17th-century French comedy, follows a wealthy family and the antics of a religious hypocrite. Though the text was written 300 years ago, Sebren is amazed by the comedy’s ability to have a finger on the pulse of modern day issues and the hypocrisies of society.
As an FSU graduate student earning his MFA in directing this spring, he’s excited to see the growth of his students and the actors who will perform in the show. To prepare them for their roles, he introduced them to Commedia through workshops as a way of learning the characters and “wearing the masks” to color their work.
“They’re always coming up with something new and attempting to break the mold,” remarks Sebren. “So often we get stuck in traps of doing things the way they’ve always been done. We have to remember, especially as artists, that we have to before thinkers, and I’m constantly inspired by my students.”
Growing up in Asheville, Sebren can pinpoint his magic moment with the performing arts as a high school student in a production of “Guys and Dolls.” Committing to the path of an actor, Sebren graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with his BFA and spent a decade working.
Some of his favorite roles have included playing Patsy in a production of “Spamalot,” touring with the California Theatre Center, and spending his summer months performing in outdoor theater. After graduation, Sebren will jump into the role of artistic director at Snow Camp Outdoor Theatre in North Carolina. With him, he’ll carry the many quips of his mentor, and former FSU School of Theatre program director, Fred Chappell.
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