Commedia dell’arte group Panini Players to perform murder mystery, serve sandwiches at Saturday performance


Madison Smith/Daily Senior Staffer

Two Panini Players rehearse their upcoming show, “Blood and Beans.” The “commedia dell’arte” performance premieres this Saturday.

Chiara Kim, Reporter

Much like their name describes, the Panini Players promise comedy, intrigue and sandwiches at their upcoming performance.

The performance, “Blood and Beans,” will take place Saturday at 7 and 10 p.m. in the Technological Institute. The Panini Players perform “commedia dell’arte,” a form of improv comedy that originated during the Italian Renaissance.The first form to include women, commedia dell’arte is also known for its use of stock characters and masks.

“A defining part of our (organization) is joy and community,” Communication junior Barbara Burns said.

As artistic director, Burns oversees creative decision-making, guides the plot, gives notes and makes final decisions.

She was also the artistic director when the players were performing this spring over Zoom.

“Being able to do it in person is just completely different … and so much more fun,” Burns said.

The group’s name is inspired by the make-your-own-panini bar that makes an appearance at each of its shows, according to producer and Weinberg junior Haley Mailender.

“Blood and Beans” is the group’s take on a comedic “pseudo-murder mystery.” A chalk outline from a fake murder scene provokes chaos between the characters as they try to figure out what happened.

Mailender said the group’s members are all good friends.

“We appreciate everyone’s input,” she said. “It’s a very welcoming environment to just be yourself and have fun.”

The group is ensemble-driven, as the company creates its own stories and improvises the dialogue, she said.

Weinberg sophomore Haylee Lanfranco said she had not engaged much in improv before joining the Panini Players. Drawn to the unique structure of commedia dell’arte and the vibe of the group, she decided to join.

Compared to high school theatre’s “PG” content, Lanfranco said she enjoys experimenting with more mature jokes for a college audience. The group’s artistic process typically starts with brainstorming an idea it thinks would be funny for the show and then integrating its stock characters.

Burns explained commedia has a number of these characters, including tropes like the “young lovers” or the “miserly old man.” The cast takes into account which roles work best with the play and which characters the members like playing, while also aiming to challenge themselves with their roles.

“It’s a balance of trying to do something that’s challenging and doing something that’s really fun,” Burns said.

Once they come up with their “canovaccio,” or plot, the Panini Players write a couple sentences of inspiration for the scene and then improvise the rest, workshopping the scene throughout rehearsal.

Everything in the play can change between the brainstorming and performing periods, Burns said. They have strict staging if something potentially physically dangerous is occurring in the scene, like a fight.

“The plot definitely isn’t completely iron-clad,” Lanfranco said. “It becomes more fleshed out as we actually do it.”

Lanfranco, who plays La Signora, describes her as an “evil stepmom archetype.” She said she enjoys playing a character who has an opposite personality from her in real life.

Mailender said her favorite part of the playmaking process is portraying a character she’s never played before.

“It’s been really fun spreading my own comfort zone,” Mailender said. “(I’ve been) exploring a new side of commedia that I haven’t really gotten a chance to play around with before.”

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Twitter: @chiarafkim

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