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A canovaccio a vague plot outline used by ''commedia dell'Arte'' players. It consisted only of a list of acts and scenes; the details were left to the improvisation of the actors. Actors in the ''commedia dell'Arte'' thus had to be endowed with an inventive mind since the success of the play depended largely on their creativity and above all on their ''lazzi'' (jokes and gags). The spotlight fell on the actors rather than on the play itself.

The use of improvisation on top of ''canovaccio'' enabled the avoidance of censorship because censors cannot censor that which is not written. Since the dialogue was almost entirely improvised on stage, actors and theatre companies could get away with almost anything.

Source: Wikipedia