ISABELLA! (an inspiring improviser)

Published by ShawnKinley on

ISABELLA (originally written for IMPRO WORLD TOUR blog)

Women in improvisation (and often in life) become the shadows of the men they stand on stage with. Many groups aspire to draw women into their company only to pigeon-hole them into the roles of mothers, daughters, sexual images and princesses. It’s a tired, dark observation and a tedious, slow-changing reality.

I’d like you to meet someone. Her name is Isabella.

I met her three days ago and was instantly inspired by her intelligence, humour, ability, and strength. Isabella is a dark-haired, Italian Improviser who speaks many languages, skilled in character work, literature, poetry and the star of her company. She started when she was 14 and quickly became the co-organizer of her troupe. She has performed for Kings, Queens and politicians as well as kids and people on the street. She is recognized as possibly the BEST improviser you might ever meet.

Here’s her secret.

She is respected and was given the opportunity to express herself. AND she expressed herself. And she owned the space where she stood. She embraced all sides of her gender, personality, social background, and being. She did what all good improvisers do. She improvised with vulnerability and strength in balance. She is not a female improviser. She is an improviser in a group of improvisers. She makes no apologies for what she has to offer and no aggressive fight to be more than what she brings to the stage.

Isabella Adreini… died giving birth to a child on the way back to Italy after a show in France.

Isabella Andreini

I met Isabella on Wikipedia while researching an article on commedia dell’arte?

Isabella Adreini (1562 – 10 June 1604) was a member of one of the first and most influential Commedia groups –Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi. At 14 she began performances with The Gelosi.   At a time when there were few if any women on stages anywhere in the world, Isabella became a star.

She wrote. She improvised in an art form that didn’t even have its formal name until years later. Eventually she ran the company with the man she married.

There are many distinguishing events in her life where she broke the mold of who she should be and became the person she was.

In 1601 she was integrated into the literary society of the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia. She was a published playwright and poet. There was an account of one performance that thrilled the audience with her ability to imitate all the characters in the play including the men, the various languages and dialects and characters. One of the stock characters of commedia dell’arte was fashioned after her portrayal and is known by her name, Isabella.

After her death, the city of Lyon gave her a tribute that was akin to a state funeral. But it was her husband, Francesco Andreini who gave her the highest symbol of honour. So shaken by the death of his Isabella, Francesco announced the immediate end to the company.  A great performer in his own right, Francesco Andreini never performed again. He spent the rest of his days compiling, publishing and promoting Isabella’s written work.

By all accounts Isabella Andreini enjoyed what she did. She was exceptional at it and did it with passion. She helped make her style of Improvisation popular and made women on stage possible.

Pioneers who step from the known world into the unknown, leave this place with more light than the one they were born into. An improviser is always looking for that darkness to shed light on. Where the moth is drawn to the safety of light, good improvisers are pulled by the mystery in the shadows.   Where there is nothing, define.  Where there is little of worth, make it better.  Where there is ignorance, shed light.


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