Performing the role of Countess Aurelia in the play The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giradoux adapted by Maurice Valency


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Performing the role of Countess Aurelia in the play The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giradoux adapted by Maurice Valency
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Project in lieu of thesis
Hamilton, Nichole Yvonne ( Dissertant )
Remshardt, Ralf ( Thesis advisor )
Garland, Tiza ( Reviewer )
College of Fine Arts, University of Florida
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Gainesville, Fla
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The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux was written in 1943 and adapted to English in 1958. I am creating the title role of the Madwoman, Countess Aurelia, at the University of Florida, directed by Timothy Altmeyer. This paper is a document of my creative process from first casting through final performance The first portion of this document is a thorough analysis of the play: when it was written, the genre, and the importance of the piece and the playwright to dramatic literature. This also includes historical and cultural context of the original text as well as the modern adaptation. Next is an account of the acting process, including the physical and vocal challenges of the play and the process of creating the character in the rehearsal period. Finally, the paper chronicles the performance itself, further challenges posed, accomplishments, and faculty and peer reviews.
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Theatre terminal project

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! "! 2011 Nichole Yvonne Hamilton


! #! We want a few mad people now. See where the sane ones have landed us. Mark Twain To all those who see the world for its beauty, seek to change what is ugly, and in doing so, are considered mad.


! $! ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to acknowledge Timothy Altmeyer for his direction ceaseless energy and motivation and Kristen ONeill for her superb choreography and playful spirit. I would like to acknowledge Kathy Sarra for endowing me with a new use of self through Alexander Technique and Yanci Bukovec for imparting me with a new sense of voice. I would like to acknowledge Ralf Remshardt for his guidance encouragement, and wealth of knowledge and Tiza Garland for precision to detail and inspirational work ethic. Most importantly, I would like to acknowledge my cast mates, designers, and the crew of The Madwoman of Chaillot for creating energy, creativity and a positive supportive playground.


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! 6! Abstract of Project in Lieu of Thesis Presented to The College of Fine Arts of the University of Flo rida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts PERFORMING THE ROLE OF COUNTESS AURELIA IN THE PLAY THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT BY JEAN GIRADOUX ADAPTED BY MAURICE VALENCY By Nichole Yvonne Hamilton May 2011 Chair: Ralf Remshardt Major: Theatre The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux was written in 1943 and adapted to English in 1958 I am creating the title role of the Madwoman, Countess Aurelia at th e University of Florida, directed by Timothy Altmeye r. This paper is a document of my creative process from first casting through final performance The first portion of this document is a thorough analysis of the play: when it was written, the genre, and the importance of the piece and the playwright to dr amatic literature. This also includes historical and cultural context of the original text as well as the modern adaptation. Next is an account of the acting process, including the physical and vocal challenges of the play and the process of creating the c haracter in the rehearsal period. Finally, the paper chronicles the performance itself, further challenges posed, accomplishments, and faculty and peer reviews.



! B! characters such as a juggler, a deaf-mute, a flower girl, and a poet enjoy all the beauty the Parisian district of Chaillot has to offer. However, this day is unique in that t here is a President, Baron and Broker in their midst discussing big business. This ultimately sets up the Giraudouxs social juxtaposition of ideal and reality An addition of a Prospector completes the machine of greed as he informs the other businessmen that he has discovered that the Chaillot has an untapped vein of oil. He has been denied a drilling perm it and has planted a bomb in the permit office across the Seine as a tactic to persuade them to grant him his wish to drill. The Madwoman, Countess Aurelia enters, looking for leftover bones and gizzards to feed to her cats. The President is disgusted by her and begins a rant regarding how the world needs to be ridded of people wh o respect beauty, love, and the mad as that respect would be the businessmens demise The cloc k strikes twelve and m uch to the mens su rprise, the bomb does not detonate Pierre, the young man who was to deliver the bomb because the Prospector is blackmailing him has attempted to drown himself in the river because he did not have the unethical ba ckbone to execute the task Thus begins the rising action. After the men disperse in fear of being caught, Pierre reveals the mens plan to the Madwoman of Chaillot. At first, as an idealist, she does not believe these men have any power and that life is too beautiful to be changed by their efforts The Ragpicker, an earth -bound character who is somewhat a counterpoint to the more ethereal nature of the Madwoman, provides a persuasive argument. S he concedes to the citizens concerns for the protection of the city and devises a plan to exterminate all the wicked of the world. The second half of the play consists of Madwomans attempts to be just in the matter does she have the right to destroy these wicked men? She gathers the other madwomen from


! ?! surrounding districts of Paris Constance, Gabrielle, and Josephine to deliberate. The solution is a trial. All gather in the cellar of her home to conduct a mock trial with the Ragpicker standing in for the accused. The wicked men are ultimately found guilty and the Madwoman is allowed to ex terminate them. The men arrive, and after concluding that they are in fact greedy and destructive, she sends them all into the stairs below the cellar and shuts the door so that they are never to return Once they have ev aporated the citizens return to inform her that the world is changed, the voices of animal and plant spirits thank her, and life and humanity has been restored to its perfect beauty. The Playwright Jean Giraudoux was born in 1882, a period in France known as La Belle Epoque (The Beautiful Era ), which is apropos, considering his love for the ideal and beautiful in the world. Giraudoux grew up in a small town called Bellac in the district of Limousin and was considered an awkward yet apt student and could be considered the epitome of Frenchman It wasnt until he traveled to Germany at the age of 22 in his third year as a student of German literature that his outlook on life drastically change d. While the French could analyze and classify with rational rigor the facts, feelings, or concepts constantly surgin g in them or around them, the Germans were able, through instinctive, intuitive insight, to establish an intimate, almost mystic, communication with the core of the uni verse (Lemaitre 9). His time in Germany seemed to have a truly profound effect on his way of thinking as if courting a new love. Unfortunately, World War I would blemish this romance and World War II would sever it altogether. Continuing his travels as far afield as America (studying at Harvard), Giraudoux became less and less concerned with aca demia and more interested in living the life of a bohemian. In


! 9D order to live this lifestyle he began his preliminary career as a writer short stories, reviews and sketches, etc. After somewhat unsuccessful attempts and nearing the age of thirty, he entered the Ecole des Sciences Politiques. Following the footsteps of his father, he decided to focus on becoming a French diplomat. But Giraud oux continued to write even during the outbreak of World War I when serving in the military and while suffering illness and injury. At the end of the war, Giraudoux was still smiling appreciatively at the wonderful gifts of life ( Lemaitre 18). Near this time, Giraudoux also courted the woman who would eventually be come his wife, Suzanne Boland. Her personality and their relationship can be reflected in many of his works from the younger tender years of love to the horrible marital conflicts in the la tter years. They had one son not long after marriage, Jean -Pierre. Giraudoux continued his diplomatic career as well as ventures as a novelist. At the progress of the Nazi party and the nearing of World War II, Giraudoux wrote Siegfried et le Limousin to reflect the French reaction to the changing world. Against his expectations this novel would be adapted and become his first, and highly successful play. Giraudoux met Louis Jouvet, a successful actor and producer in 1927 and was asked by him if he would write a script of Siegfried for the stage. This adaptation and extremely well received play set Giraudoux on his path as a dramatist Because of his optimistic outlook on life, proven intellect, experience as a diplomat, and demo nstrated authorship, Giraudoux was poised to become the most important playwright of French drama during the period. His relationship with Jouvet was one of kindred spirits and they would find themselves to be lasting collaborators.


! 99 The Period In 1943, at the completion of La Folle de Chaillot France had been occupied by Germany for approximately three years. Now aged 61, Giraudoux had seen France prosper in The Beautiful Age and defeat German forces in The Great War but was now observing the melanc holy mood of an oppressed people. In France, a succession of nauseating scandals the Marthe Hanau affair, the Oustric affair, the Stavisky affair revealed the extent of the venality and corruption prevailing in high French political circles. Until the end of his life, he [Giraudoux] remained haunted by the depths of foulness and evil into which he had peered (Lemaitre 27). France had made no real efforts to re -establish political ties with Germany after the first war and was now in some ways paying th e price of revenge from an old nemesis. Giraudoux was also a man who had passed his midlife crisis in his fifties but could not repair the damage it had created in his relationship with his wife. He had moved into the Hotel Castille in Paris where he completed La Folle along with three other works. Although the plays were considered very different from one another, they seemed to reflect the various sides of himself and stages in his life as though he knew death was imminent and was seeking solitude to reflect through his art. La Folle de Chaillot was the most political of the four plays he wrote while at the Hotel Castille. It was not only a reflection of how the French were reacting to the invasion and occupation but a hope ful vision of how they would work towards a post-war life. Giraudoux never saw it produced, having died in 1944. On the title page Giraudox had written, This play was presented for the first time on the 15th October, 1945, by Louis Jouvet, at th e Theatre de lAthenee. The prediction was off by only two months and two days, and the splendid Jouvet premiere, subsidized by the state, signaled the postwar reb irth of French theater (Cohen 117).


! 9" Style, Theme, and Symbolism Giraudouxs style is so full of ambiguity and the dramatic structure is so often elusive that it could only be given its own term coined for its uniqueness, as Giralducian. To defy naturalism, Girau doux brought back the theatricality and fantasy that French playwrights were experimenting with, but that the French theatre had been lacking of late To create more complex literature, he mated t he fantastical settings with real human conditions and their conflict s, thus creating a dialectic form. His plays have been categorized as sexual, metaphysical or political (Cohen vii) and although he has been called an absurdist, he is better categori zed as an absurd existentialist His style was successful where Antonin Artauds Theater of Cruelty had failed, From existentialism to absurd ity is but a step, and the theater of cruelty just a step beyond that. Existentialism recognizes the absurd and tries to find ways to meet it. Absurdity accepts the absurd and submits to it. Cruelty adopts the absurd and becomes its blood brother. Cruelty uses absurdity as a weapon (Cohen 151). The Madwoman of Chaillot is classified as one of his political plays and best demonstrates how he uses the tragedy of absurdity in a comedic way by mixing allegory with satire. The theme of good versus ev il is evident in a nearly black -and-white fashion. The caf dwellers and their bohemian love for life is opposed by the wicked businessmen who want to destroy the city for monet ary gain. Poised in the middle is the Madwoman, Countess Aurelia. She is an idealist who is most likely considered mad because of her ability to stay true to her ideals, those rooted in the past ideas of love, beauty, and honor for the universe a nd its ever unfolding mysteries. But she is faced with the reality of the evil and what must be done to rid the world of its desire to destroy Thus begins the dialectic argument I f you could rid the world of


! 9# all its evil would you have the right to do it? In the act of destroying, do you not become the thing that you destroy? The Madwoman feels no need to be merciful in her plight, but wants to be just. The first action she takes is by calling her friends, madwomen from other districts in Paris, to assist in rationalizing her course of action Countesses Constance and Gabrielle are the first to arrive. They, like Aurel ia have their own conventions for ignoring the ugliness of the world in orde r to maintain their illusions of beauty Constance uses the memory of her dead dog Dickie and Gabrielle uses her imaginary friends. Much to Aurelias dismay, she cannot convince her friends to wake up to the realization of mans destruction of the world, and that they must do something to set it right. H ere, Giraudoux demonstrate s there can be opposition between like -minded people as well a s the difficulty in changing anothers perspective Countess Josephine is the last to arrive and proves the most valuable as she represents the law and justice and most likely, the democratic nature of the French republic, whether it supports Aurelias de mands or not. Her solution is a mock trial. The device of the trial is two -fold Firstly, as a call to action through the convention of plot, the trial is a reminder to the audience that it is the people (not one person) who must decide what is right or wrong in this case, and whether a verdict of guilty is truly just. In order to make a difference in the world (rather than sitting idly by and complaining about it ), they can take legal matters in to their own hands. Secondly, as dramatic conventio n, the trial serves as the play within-a-play, the theatricalism that Giraudoux was known to implement in his plays There are theatrical allusions which serve to remind the spectator that he is in a theater watching a play not peeping in on a domestic quarrel (Cohen, 146). By reminding the audience that they are an


! 9$ audience, in a self -conscious way, they can also be reminded of what or whom they represent and their ultimate responsibility as citizens when faced with real events. Once the trial is over, and a verdict of guilty has been established, giving Countess Aurelia full authority to carry out the sentence of extermination, Pierre returns. Aurelia plays a game with him, calling him Adolphe (one of her own conventions of a lost, unresolved love ). The positioning of this scene minutes before the arrival of the wicked is perhaps done to redeem Aurelia of her past regrets so that she may truly be pure of heart when condemning the men to the bowels of the earth. Adolphe is not a common French name and can onl y be understood to represent the most famous Adolphe in history Adolf Hitler. At this turning point in th e play, one could either interpret the C ountess as a proxy for Jean Giraudoux and Adolphe as Germany, alluding to the battered relationship and betrayal Giraudoux felt in regards to his first love, or perhaps more representative of all that is love and beauty in opposition to that which destroys Aurelia knows that Adolphe has always loved her, but needs to hear him say it. Pierre offers this gift of make -believe, and Aurelia seems to be restored to the purity she so desperately seeks. Pierre the n reveals to Aurelia that he ha s found her missing boa when he removed the mirror from her wardrobe door, as per her request. With much excitement she as ks if he found her childs sewing kit as well, to which he replies no. This suggests that the evil of the world stole pieces of her soul and quietly returned them to fool her, but did not return her innocence, her youth that she misses the most, that which the childs sewing kit symbolizes She also speaks of the golden thimble and how she would never use another, and realizing what reality is stealing from her idealism her fingers are badly scarred. When the wicked men arrive, she gives them one last ch ance, asking if they brought with them the childs sewing kit or the gold thimble.


! 9% When their response is no, she reaches her final decision and sends the men downstairs into the cellar and locks the door behind them forever. The caf dwellers return to inform her that the world has changed that pigeons can fly, the air is pure, and the land that once could not grow grass where the evil men tread is now producing fresh green grass. Here, Giraudouxs device of using the metaphysical is applied as the voi ces of the friends of animals, plants, friendship, etc. as they thank the Countess for her gift. Even the Adolph e Bertaut s of the world appear to ask for forgiveness, claiming they are no longer frightened, and ask for her hand in marriage. She replies, Too late! Too late! Too late! Too late! (Valency 65). Pierre and Irma ask her what she means. She provides three specific date s that she believed gave the Adolphe Bertauts of the world time to do something, say something, but they did nothing. Through the character of Adolphe Bertaut, G iraudoux shows his own love affair with Germany, his disgust at being jilted in world War One and being stolen from (the melon) at Alsace -Lorraine, and his final and complete repudiation of the German nation in World War T wo (Cohen 122). These dates represent specific markers in unresolvable French-Germanic relations that finally caused Giraudoux to give up faith on restoring the relationship to what it once was. Despite the Madwomans loss, regret, and wounds, she knows there is hop e. She turns to Irma and Pierre, the lovers, insisting they kiss and convincing them that if they let a si ngle moment pass, Pierre will become old and Irma will become the next madw oman in Paris. Giraudoux seems to communicate that even when ju stice has been served, the world may continue to be lost in hatred unless we recognize the moments that we can seize in order to restore beauty. In this case, it is a kiss that Irma and Pie rre must seize, allowing them not to be afraid of love, and rather embrace it and nurture it. If they can, the world will be happy. These


! 96 values are not frequently spoken for in literature, not at least in good literature, for they smack of the obvious and the oversentimental. Yet Giraudoux laced them with such brilliant measures of irony, wit, and savage understatement that they have become quite palatable (Cohen 128). Context In 1943, it is evident that Giraudoux was reflecting on the current social and p olitical atmosphere in France. But w ithin this reflection was a plea to the French for a return to i dealism, to hold true to all that the culture was known for art, poetry, love, beauty, and freedom. It was a petition for how life could be in the post -war years. The audience responded. It ran for nearly three hun dred successive performances and carried Giraudoux posthumously to the pinnacle of his fame as a dramatist (Lemaitre 142). Despite some critics disapproval of a more elementary approach to his writing style the success of the play proved that the French were in agreement with Giraudouxs vision. To put this work into a contemporary context, specifically in 2011 for a primarily young American audience, the script underwent some necessary dusting off The director eliminated specific historical dates and location s, added more colloquial language, and streamlined the content to get to the meat of th e matter or universal themes the effects of greed, reality coexisting with idealism, proactive solutions, love and revenge and the costs of both. In an academic atmosphere, the script was most likely chosen to accommodate a large body of student actors, but also for its topical sense as we are a culture obs essed with oil and capitalism greed. The irony is that we as a culture are often in denial of this o bsession with greed, much like the character of the Madwoman. The allegorical nature of the play can still be teaching to ol, even though at times we may seem too far gone to return to a state of grace.


! 9< Although America is a me re child compared to the nearly 1600 -year old history of France, comparisons can be made between the countries in context of the plays message. Both France and America were countries founded on a set of principles and ideas where a man is to be his own master and freedom is to be protected. Now, over two hundred years later, America is no stranger fraud, greed, and enslavement to capitalism. The Gulf War, The Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan (and now the Libyan conflict) are all examples of conflicts that were launched ostensibly as campaigns to eliminate terrorists and preserve freedom but many believe to be products of the worlds fight for oil. A series of bank frauds beginning in 2008 that have yet to be resolved (led by such brokers as Bernie Madoff) sent the country into a st ate of financial ruin comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s. But perhaps the greatest lesson from Giraudoux for this generation is to be cautious of the machine. Giraudoux was concerned with the advent of technology brought to France by the G ermans, and its hostility to conservation. Though often thought of as a liberal (as he would probably be called in America), Giraudoux was a staunch conservative. He wished to conserve the trees, conserve the simplicity of rural life, and conserve the importance of love, nostalgia, beauty, and communality (Cohen 127). Implementing this concept of conserving into his writing, one could consider Giraudoux a prophet. He may have unwittingly predicted the current environmental effects of the Industrial Revolution not only on the human co ndition but also on nature itself. This concept of conservation is one that the current generation still has the power to use towards protecting the planet and the human spirit.


! 9B CHAPTER 3 THE PROCESS Casting and Concept Originally, this play was to be directed by professor Yanci Bukovec. He decided to hold casting auditions among the graduate students who had been selected to perform their thesis project roles for this production. Over the next several months leading up t o the rehearsal process, I read the Giraudoux adaptation by Maurice Valency to prepare. Although I did not intend to memorize lines as it can often interrupt the process and the directors concept I wanted to become as familiar with the script as possible. As the rehearsal period neared, it was decided that professor Timothy Altmeyer would take over the direction of the production. When I returned to campus at the beginning of the spring semester after having been away for summer employment and a fall internship, it became apparent that although the design concept had been established the direction would change and the script would undergo some major revisions. As I had discussions with professor Altmeyer, it became apparent that I needed to stop reading the Valency script and be patient while waiting for the edits. Professor Altmeyer was very specific about the actor s approach to this production. As a cast, we were asked to recognize the entert ainment value of the piece. It is a satire about what it is to be human and a citizen of the world and about this hunger, this greed at all costs that is killing our society. It is a war between what is essential and what is not. Although it is a satire, the actors were asked to avoid commenting on the characters or the situations. Our portrayals of the characters were to be exaggerations, yet rooted in truth and realism as if we were convincing carto ons. It is a lesson that throughout the dark times, love and c omedy is what


! 9? brings us hope, and it should be informed by the outrage over the absurdity of the human condition. The first sound the audience hears at the beginning of the play is a World War II is a famous radio address by French General Charles de Gaulle, an appeal to the French people to resist the German occupation. The radio then changes to Edith Piafs La Vie en Rose, a song that describes a lovers ability to view the world with r ose colored glasses. When the Madwoman enters, she begins to change the radio, searchin g for a song that will inspire her to begin the day. The music skips forward in time, sampling French music through eras such as disco and rap, finally ending with Lady Gagas Bad Romance. Other Lady Gaga songs, Poker Face (for when the characters prepare for Act II) and Just Dance (the final song leading into curtain call that acknowledges the fun and celebration of the theatre ) were selected to echo the themes of the play. A current cultural icon, h er music is re volutionary and she is known to be a bit of madwoman herself. Her music is fun, lively, and ludicrous yet there is a seriousness underlying it. Scenically, in the pre -show before Act I begins, the walls were covered in cloth and the stage was bare except for the antique radio. When the radio began to play there was a bright sharp shaft of light cutting across the space from house left to the radio, the light that draws the madwoman into the room. Once the music played, actors carrying caf chairs and stoo ls entered to set the stage in a choreographed dance. During this time, the madwoman, having found her motivation, tears down the cloth from the walls revealing curved, slatted, metal walls alluding to transparency. I n the final moments leading into Act I, she picks up the radio, takes in the scene, and exits upstage. There was no intermission, so the actors change d the scenery in to Act II in another cho reographed movement piece. The metal walls were fixed, but the scenery changed


! "D from caf to a living are a bar, stools, couch, coffee table, and two chairs. However, these pieces were molded out of manne quin parts to further reflect the non -realism of the cellar location; this was an old room where men ( wicked plastics ) have gone to die before. Another interesting aspect of the cellar set is that the room responded to characters. Shelves jutted out from the walls when needed to set drinks down on, present needed items, etc. The costuming was as eccentric as the other elements in the design concept. Actors were costumed in extravagant variations on contemporary fashion. The caf citizens were more flamboyant in color and cut than their businessmen counterparts, but the most ou trageous of all were the madwomen. Each ma dwoman had elements that made a nod to the original 1943 design concept for the characters a parasol for Constance, a corset for Gabrielle, double French hair rolls for Josephine, and a Victorian blouse for Aurelia. Characterization One of my greatest chall enges was eliminating my pers onal habits that can interfere with the process and limit me as an actor In regards to the psychophysical relationship, I am an actor who tends to work with the external approach. I determine the characters posture, how she will physical ly respond to the atmosphere, and what her voice sounds like often before rehearsals begin. The director Tim Altmeyer, has commented about a tightness he has seen in my acting over the past three years. Working with Mr. Altme yer in more than one setting challenged me to approach the process differently, to explore first the internal approach and then let the physical and vocal choices evolve from discovery, rather than predetermine them. In attempts to get out of my own way, I was met with anxiety of expectations from the director and peers. Being the Madwoman, I was concerned people expected me to come in to the


! "9 process with a certain set of physical ticks or a dialect to demonstrate the characters eccentricities. But this habit of demonstrating may be from where the perceived tightness stemmed I decided rather to trust a new, altered process and that the eccentricities of the character would be come her choices rather than actor impediments. Although the Stanislavski system was the technique I used for a foundation in my acting for this process, another technique proved worthy of exploration to assist in this new approach. The method has been termed Practical Esthetics created from the work of the Atlantic Theatre company founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy, Mamet refined Meisner by demonstrating the difference between what the character wants the characters objective and what the actor wants the actors objectiv e (Luckhurst and Veltman 63). This is not to say that I denied the characters objective, but instead, as a modification, I made the characters objective my own as Mr. Altmeyer has stated on numerous occasions to own the characters point of view. It proved to be a liberating concept bringing the value of myself to the character It rid me of actor guilt that I have had in the past. A great amount of focus is required to be completely in the characters emotional state at all times When dual con sciousness distracted me from that concentration, I felt that I h ad failed in some way That may have been a reason that I often demonstrated a particular state of mind, rather than owning it, melding my own intent with the characters intent In hindsight, it may have also been a safety mechanism so that I did not have to indulge in any scenar ios that may be too similar to those in my own life. However, using the Practical Esthetics as if (similar to Stanislavskis Magic If or Meisners E motional Recall ) allowed me to be vulnerable to the scenarios and provided for more truthful moment -tomoment work.


! "" Although Countess Aurelia is an allegorical character, an actor cant play a meta phor, an actor can only play action. This is another reas on Practical Esthetics served me well, as it was difficult and somewhat unnecessary to create a backstory for her or provide given circumstances, other than those supplied in the script. She begins as a somewhat one dimensional character. She is a metaphor for all that is beautiful in the world. She views life through rose -colored glasses and finds splendor in all that is around her. It is when the Ragpicker informs her that the world has changed, and that the people are different and no longer happy, that the she becomes more complex It is through this opposition that a more complex character began to d evelop, dualistic and dialectic in nature. Developing the exaggerated aspects of Countess Aurelia although challenging, was the most fun. Under the directors advice, I looked to the British television sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous, for an understanding of the style he was attempting to create. For inspiration on women to emulate, I looked to filmed in terviews with Katherine Hepburn (the actress who played the title role in the 1969 film), Bettie Davis, and Bette Midler as real life madwomen, women who are a bit eccentric in physical or vocal modalities or even in their outlook on life, going against the social norms. I also brought the more exuberant side of my own self in to the process of developing the character. When the world changes for Aurelia, and a specific scene called for more serious tones or nuanced work, I introduced the as if, drawing from events in my own life to create a deeper emotional investment. One particular example of this is the scene between Countess Aurelia and Pierre. Although my as if changed quite often in the rehearsal period, it was always rooted in the fear of abandonment which can b e very true for many people. It has been stated that the relationship may be symbolic of historical relations, but this scene calls for something playable, actions


! "# rooted in truth. In this scene, Pierre provides a gift for Aurelia by playing Adolphe and acting out a scenario that Aurelia had always wanted but was never able to experience The result is the redemption of her spirit I used my own personal need for resolving conflict, relationships, and abandonment to create a realistic scenario. Another technique I found helpful to emphasize her dialectic nature was the modified use of Michael Chek hovs Psychological Gesture. Each individual psychological state is always a combination of thoughts (or Images), Feelings, and Will -Impulses. Therefore the psychological state in which the actor finds his character gives him the full opportunity to see it as the Action (or Gesture) with appropriate Qualities and Images (Chekhov 59-60). My use of psychological gesture was somewhat happenstan ce. Many times throughout the rehearsal process, I found myself contracting at my center, rounding in the spine as if I had the physical gesture of being sick at my stomach. This was usually connected to the state of frustration in either not succeeding in my objective or in reality, searching for the exact text. Conversely, when the objective had been achieved, and the obstacle of a person, an idea, or searching for the text had been overcome, the gesture became a release in the spine, with the body moving upward and forward as if I had an idea or inspiration come to me. After a few weeks of rehearsal and a run through of the play for professors and crew, it was suggested that I consider a physical gesture that would embody the character and allow the audie nce to understand the characters state throughout the entirety of the play due to her complex, diale ctic journey I began to heighten or diminish this psychological gesture according to the psychological state in specific moments throughout the play.


! "$ Vocal Explorations Having studied a Lessac -based vocal approach the role of Countess Aurelia was a perfect opportunity for me to apply numerous aspects of the technique due to her eccentric nature. Arthur Lessac defines NRGs as an a cronym that s tands for energy and refers t o pure, harmonic, intrinsic, vitalistic motion as opposed to movement (Lessac 273). The foundation of the Lessac approach asks the actor to indulge in these vocal, tonal, and consonant NRGs in the text depending on the characters nature, intent, or clues found within the textual structure, such as Shakespeares use of alliteration or onomatopoeia This concept goes beyond the mere diction of the character, but asks the actor to kinesthetically explore the language. In the introduc tory paragraph of his book, The Use and Training of the Human Voice, Arthur Lessac states, Someone once wrote: Like all true art, theatre should enhance the desire, and strengthen the capacity to live! (3). What a perfect method to use as Countess Aurelia even exclaims within the play they cant kill me because I have no desire to die (Valency 26). By surrendering to the idea of kinesthetically feeling the words, per Lessacs theory, as if I were playing the music of the text, match ing each consonant to its respective orchestral instrument, I experienced a fuller, richer character. This was perhaps psychophysical symbiosis at its best. If I indulged in the structure of the text (using the external approach first) vocal eccentricitie s informed the intent If I indulged in the intent (using the internal approach first) vocal ecce ntricities developed organically It was a constant shifting much like the psychological gesture. The shifting demands of the character and the Giralducian plot structure also demanded a more diluted approach. The more tender or sobering moments that needed to b e rooted solely in actor truth were the moments I let go of that indulgence. The voice was still fully


! "% supported, but specific NRGs were lightly playe d. It was necessary in those moments to let go of the characters choice or tactic to be eccentric but instead to understand the truth. One of the biggest challenges was the lan guage itself. An adaptation in English by Maurice Valency, written in 1958 fr om the original text in French and then dusted off again for 2011 created some tricky phrasing. It was also a challenge simply due the nature of how Countess Aurelia phrases text. Many statements or arguments were repeated to various characters, but the wording was always slightly varied. I am an actor who prefers to get off book immediately, working towards word -perfect dialogue from the first rehear sal. When experimenting with this new approach, I still managed to get off book early, but I had memorize d the thoughts, the intents of the character, plot, and units of action. This proved to be challenging as we neared technical rehearsals. I had ingrained the paraphrasing so well in my memory it was difficult to become word -perfect. I had even gone to the extent of complaining that there was no rhythm to the language, only to realize that it was my rephrasing that was at fault. Physical Explorations I have often been called an over thinker in my acting. I have a need to intellectualize and overanalyze every moment of the character and the script. This may be another attribute to the aforementioned tightness observed in my acting. I decided that for this role, I would get out of my head and into my body. The first action I utilized was the actor warm -up exercise s from Kelly McEvenues book, The Actor and The Alexander Technique The warm-up is a gentle procedure of connecting breath and movement to engage the actors body into a state of readiness to act. The goal of the warm -up is to open the joints and to free the musculature


! "6 through a series of specific extensions and contractions of the muscles and joints as a way of waking and alerting the body to the possibilities of movement (37 -38). Typically, my warm -ups before rehearsals consist of vocal exercises, a brief meditation, and some physical stretching. Over the course of the last semester, I began to entertain new ideas being introduced into Alexander Technique classes and became interested i n the use of the spine. This led me to realize that t he stretching I did before rehearsals was more athletic in nature and made me feel two -dimensional. Incorporating the spine and the concept of unraveling fro m the core used in stage combat made me feel more like a three -dimensional actor. This new warm-up was approximately twenty minutes of redirectin g the awareness of the use of the body. The sequence began with lying on my back in semi -supine position and executing awareness similar to that achieved in constructive rest. [Constructive rest] releases ten sion and allows the skeleton and the organs to rest, supported by the ground (Olsen 13). The next step was rolling on the floor and connecting to the breath. After taking time to lengthen the spine, I beg an to bring myself to a standing position. Working from the top of my head to the arch of my foot, or sometimes in reverse order, I began to focus on areas of the body. Rather than isolating areas, such as shoulder rolls, I would use an undulating movement so that even though the point of the shoulder joint initiated the movement, the rest of the body followed and the movement became a full body experience. The use of this warm -up and the use of contact improv isational techniques not only helped me to succeed in opening my dynamic field of aware ness and create a greater state of readiness to listen and respond in the moment, but it helped manifest the psychological gesture. I found that by thinking of myself as a three -dimensional being (bot h as the actor and as the character), a fluidity or undulation was created in my movement. In the gesture, it defined where


! "< the characters center lies particularly in those dialectic moments. When contracting, my center was in my stomach or gut and when expanding, the point of contact moved to my heart and released from there. Whether heighte ned or softened, this exploration in movement polished and refined the psychological gesture and character essence. At the beginning of the play, Countess Aurelia comes out nearly naked when preparing for the day, has one costume for Act I and a complete costume change for Act II. Chronologically, as the actor, the first challenge for me was to be comfortable in my underwear as it can cause the actor to feel vulnerable at such close proximity to the audience, thinking t hey may be scrutinizing the actors body rather than the characters intent. The next challenge was to make the first costume change. Although there was an interval of approximately twenty minutes, there was great detail to makeup and wig as well. The bigg est technical challenge of all was to do a full costume change into Act II, as there was less than five minutes to transition into hose, dress, jewelry, etc. As an actor in character, some of the challenge was to inhibit a desire to fight the costume becau se of its extravagance, and rather let the costume add to the eccentricity of the madwoman and do the work for me. One of the greatest challenges i n the physical explorations stemmed from the use of highheeled shoes. With the exception of the prologue, I was costumed in four -inch heels. Standing at 5, and adorned with a wig and hat, this added to the statuesque physicality of the character. I may have reached a height of 6, making me the tallest person in the cast. Although I am comfortable working in high heels, there were many physical choices I made that led me to re evaluate my alignment and use o f Al exander Technique in these shoes from moment to moment. The first step I took after the characters shoes were introduced in rehearsals was the use of an exercise called i dentifying landmarks for alignment from BodyStories: A Guide to


! "B Experient ial Anatomy by Andrea Olsen. The exercise asks the participant to visualize lines within the body, much like geometry, starting from the occ ipital joint within the cranium. I was then led through the body heightening the awareness from joint to joint, ending at the second toe. This helped me to experientially understand the natural alignment of the body. The next step was to execute this while wearing the heels. I immediately noticed the shift that needed to occur. The lift through the arch and heels prompted me to review the exercise but noting the new sense of physical alignment in space. This gave me a good physical starting po int on which to base my physical explorations. Physical actions within the play included running, dancing, spin ning, bowing, etc. I found if I did not implement Primary Control from Alexander Technique or an awareness of proper alignment, I c ould be thrown off balance. However, the use of release, as per the Alexander Technique principle of releasing into a movement, helped to make it a character choice and encourage safety. In Alexander Technique we discussed the startle effect and how the body can get locked into a state of m isuse if we do not release ourselves from it. An example would be rising from the bow, a greeting with the character Josephine. I found that I often became off balance and the result would be stepping forward on my right foot. Rather than gettin g locked into a need to counter balance, I would allow this forward step, exhaling, and releasing it so that it became a character choice and I was able to fluidly move into the next action without getting locked into a startled pattern. This concept of release proved to be beneficial throughout much of the production due to the ever-changing moment -to-moment action and response.


! "? CHAPTER 4 THE PRODUCTION Performance Over the course of rehearsals, I made great efforts to focus solely on the role of the Madwoman. I tend to overbook myself in activities and events, as I am eager to create and participate. However for this particular production, I decided not to agree to any side projects so that I co uld dedicate my energies to the character and the experience. I al so made very sure to stay rested, take my vitamins, exercise on a regular basis and constantly wash my ha nds, to avoid getting ill (as many actors did) In the end, these efforts paid off as I stayed healthy and well and my focus never faltered. After four days of relatively smooth technical and dress rehearsals, the night of opening arrived. I planned ahead so that I was well -rested, well -fed, and had a little exercise to ensure a feeling of well -being and preparedness for the evenings performance. Desp ite my best attempts, much of the day, I felt as if I was floating or having an out of body experience. Rather than let the feeling overwhelm me or send me into a state of anxiety, I remembered my Alexander Technique (not ice, inhibit, and redirect) rem inding myself to just keep breathing, trusting myself and trusting that the preparation and the process would pay off in the end. Before curtain, there was much excitement in the hallways and in the dressing room. Instead of getting swept up into the noi se and enthusiasm exuded by my cast mates, I remained calm and focused on my routine physical and vocal warm ups, fight call, checking of props, make up, and wardrobe. I listened to my character playlist I create for every production. This one consiste d of Lady Gagas music, the Beatles, and other various inspirational songs whose lyrics or music inspired me to become emotionally connected to the story. Some other artists on


! #D the playlist included Tom Waits and Billie Holiday and song titles such as Rev olution, Wake Up, Shes Electric, and Dont Look Back in Anger. Once I had felt I had done all my preparation, I proceeded to the green room and found that I was beginning to relax as if once I knew that everything was set, I could allow myself to play. When I stepped on stage for the opening moments of the play, I felt I had finally woken up, and I was starting my day not only as the character, but also as the actor. Its as if I had been wandering around all day lookin g for my purpose, and when I opened the door to t he theatre for my entrance, all my senses were awakened by hearing the music, seeing the radio, and smoking the ciga rette, I felt I had returned to my body and mind. As Bad Romance began to play, t he calmness I had focused on in preparing helped me to harness the energy that was building. The opening dance and furniture placement was executed sharply, and we were off and running for what proved to be a highly energetic and entertaining night of play. Towards the middle of th e run, I noticed that some challenges posed in the rehearsal period were becoming evident. My jaw was becoming very tight and my voice very tired from all of the dialogue. I counteracted this by resting my voice during the day and doing extended vocal warm ups before performance. I found exercises such as the Silent Ah from Alexander Technique to relax the jaw. I also found that my torso was becoming tight and my right ankle joint was becoming blocked. I discovered that one particular action in the openin g dance of the performance was causing these problems. I realized that I was isolating areas rather than using full body engagement. After focusing some attention on this in warm -ups, in order to integrate new muscle memory and release the habit of misuse, the issues resolved themselves. The individual performances throughout the run of this production varied from night to night, as is the case with theatre one audience was more vocally responsive than another, one


! #9 night might have had more line delivery troubles than another, actors may have become more alert or lax in timing and backstage manners than others. B ut one aspect was consistent we were a united cast with purpose. It was truly a gift to be a part of an ensemble that uniformly believed in what they were doing And it was because of the direction of a man who believed in us and asked of us to have fun and find the truth in each moment. It was a reminder to us and the audience of why we first fell in love with theatre. Self-Evaluation After t he final curtain of The Madwoman of Chaillot on Sunday, March 27, I left the stage crying. This crying was a release, a kinesthetic response to the joy I felt from the performance, the sadness that I would not be able to perform the role again, and a great amount of prid e for what I had accomplished. The new approach to working and the role of Countess Aurelia had freed me from standing in my own way. I felt that I had owned the characters point of view from moment to moment and that her truths nightly became my truths Even when I had moments of being distracted from the story, becoming aware of Nichole rather than living through the character, they were brief. I did not linger in a lost joke or flubbed line but moved on to the next moment. I no longer had to use as ifs in performance or demonstrate a feeling, but I was truly living them, listening and responding to what was happening. The critical voice that often sits on my shoulder and tells me what I am doing wrong as Im act ing disappeared completely allowing me to do my job. I felt such an ease and presence that on the last performance I often did not know what I the lines going to say until they were coming out of my mouth because I felt so attuned to the truth of the mome nt.


! #" The success I felt from this different approach and from applying new sensibilities to a role was validated by the overwhelming response I received from professors and peers. Complete strangers were coming up to me with respect and admiration in thei r eyes to congratulate me. Some phrases I heard were tour de force, and beast. My acting students who had seen the production before delivering their final monologues added so much specificity to their work. I can only presume it was because they were able to watch what I was t eaching and were able to apply it. One undergraduate acting student exclaimed that it was a very talk y play but at no moment did he ever get bored with my performance, being entertained by Countess Aurelia and impressed that I never broke character. The difference of receiving the accolades for this performance was that in the past, at times, I sought the approval of peers and of the audience. When approaching this process and production I had done this for my personal growth, my work, not for someon e else. This shift in perspective allowed me to join in the celebration of h ow much fun the experience was both for myself the actor and for the audience member s. I think some of this may have been an echo of how I have treated au dience response in the past seeking th eir approval as the character. Although I was aware of them in this performance, and understood the need to adjust my timing because they provide d new information and insights through their responses, I did not seek their approval because I was focused on the characters intent, not the act ors. I think that is why it may have been so successful in their eyes.


! ## CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION I could not have asked for better timing with the role of Countess Aurelia. My thesis project felt like the perfect ending to my graduate work at the University of Florida. Because of working with Tim Altmeyer as the director in conjunction with work in Acting for the Camera class which provides new sensibilities for the actor (the value of finding myself in the role ), and because of applying Alexander and Lessac Techniques that have be en processed over three years, and because of the nature and context of the story, I was able to let go of myself and play. Post-production, I was concerned about becoming morose because I was sad to see the play end, worried about losing this new approach to my work and afraid of forgetting the person al growth from the experience. B ut I believe because of its profundity, the role and the project ha s had such a strong influence on me, that I will carry it into my work for years to come.


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! "# Appendix D Criticism April 8, 2011 Dear Nichole, I thought your poise and glamour were used well by the director. The part required strength, crazy comedy and the ability to drive the play forward and bring it to its very serious conclusion. It's a major role, and considering the difficult and wild style that the director chose, I thought you pulled it off magnificently. Best regards, David Young, Ph.D. Graduate Research Professor April 5, 2011 "As noted above, the cast ranged from young actors with little experience to a third -year MFA student with Equity standing. Consequently, the execution of the parts also varied. Nicole Hamilton (Equity actor and MFA student) excelled as Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot. She created a thoroughly eccentric physicalization for the role, one that developed organically from her. Every move she made emanated from within and nev er seemed a choice the result, clearly, of a hard -working talent. Another actor who found a truthful ground for the caricature -approach to the play was Colin Hudson, both as the Baron and the Sewer Man. In part, the truthfulness in his performance came from his understanding that something was at stake, and, as with Hamilton, he created a physical and vocal mask that in a Brechtian sort of way commented on the character without losing a moment -to-moment believability." David Frankel University of South Florida Kennedy Center Theatre Festival Respondent April 3, 2011 I am please to provide feedback to you reg arding your performance as the lead character in Madwoman of Challiot at the University of Florida's School of Theatre and Dance in the spring of 2011. I must qualify my perspective as I am not formally trained as a performer, but I am a thirty -year veteran of theatre as a professional designer and academic. I have played a direct or indirect part on over 500 productions from coast to coast in academia and the profession. I cannot offer you a critique on technical points of acting and specific elements that


! "$ others more skilled in the craft could, however I feel qualified to offer your a perspective as a knowledgeable audience member and theatr e professional and hope you will find my comments useful. First, this seems to be a role that requires a delicate balance between a serious look at the human condition and the moral behavior of humans while being wrapped in a comic facade within a ps eudo-carnival atmosphere. How an actor is to achieve believability in such a context is quite frankly a mystery to me, its some kind of magical alchemy that must be manifest. I must tell you that in my imagination I had an image of what this character would look like and how she might behave. I can say that not only did your performance match with the character I had imagined but you brought her to life in the most vibrant and believable way. It's often said that casting in 90% of it, in this case I do think you were miraculously a perfect fit for this role, but you also gave it such life, vitality and variation. Two of the things that I often find lacking in performance are emotion, and a modulated performance from moment to moment. On the first point, fo r a audience to be invested in the character the actor has to develop an emotional landscape for the audience to invest in, you did this for me, without being precious, or pretentious, never over done, but never weak either. I just wanted to enjoy your engagement, you entertained me, but when you wanted to make me feel, and care you did, in a most natural way. On the second point, often I find performances that are what I call a "flat line" no peaks and valleys in emotion, intellect of character transform ation. While this character does not appear to go through major transformations, your energy level did vary, high to low like a good symphony with its emotional high and low points, you made music with your character and I was carried away by it. You were able to transform yourself physically, vocally and made excellent use of your costume and makeup. Your voice seemed to be derived directly from a character, and matched with your eyes, eye make -up and facial control it was hard to take my eyes off of y ou, when you were speaking you could not be ignored. You presence demanded attention and kept me transfixed, which helped me comprehend the story. What more could we expect from a performance! BRAVO! Stan Kaye March 31, 2011 Nichole, Congratulations!!! As per your request I think you are an actor with stellar power, magnitude and insight. I trust you will do very well if you persist! I look forward to your continued blessings and success! P. S. I wish we had done a musical together. Fondly, Tony Mata


! "# Works Cited Cohen, Robert. Giraudoux: Three Faces of Destiny. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968. Print. Chekhov, Michael. On The Technique of Acting New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1991. Print. Giraudoux, Jean. The Madwoman of Chaillot. Adapted by Maurice Valency. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1974. Print. Lemaitre, Georges. Jean Giraudoux: The Writer and His Work. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co, 1971. Print. Lessac, Arthur. The Use and Training of the Human Voice Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, 1997. Print. Luckhurst, Mary and Chloe Veltman. On Acting. New York: Faber and Faber Limited, 2001. Print. McEvenue, Kelly. The Actor and the Alexander Technique. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2002. Print. Olsen, Andrea. BodyStories; A Guide to Experiential Anatomy Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 1998. Print.


! "$ Works Consulted Grossvogel, David. 20th Century French Drama. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958. Print. LeSage, Laurent. Giradoux: His Life and Works. Pennsylvania: The Himes Printing Company, State College, Pennsylvania, 1959. Print.


! %& Biographical Sketch Nichole Hamilton earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at the University of Montevallo in Birmingham Alabama. She went on to work in Atlanta Georgia for various community theatres and independent film companies. After attending Unified Professional Theatre Auditions in Memphis Tennessee in 2000, Nichole was given the opportunity to work in the Bay Area of California for The California Theatre Center performing locally and touring regionally in childrens productions. After fulfilling her contract, Nichole st ayed in the Bay Area and continued to freelance as an actor, director, stage manager, and theatre instructor for numerous companies. Some of her favorite roles include Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest at Calaveras Repertory Theatre, Lieuten ant Commander JoAnne Galloway in A Few Good Men at City Lights Theatre Company, and Pam in Santos y Santos written and directed by award winning Octavio Solis. Some other memorable opportunities include directing Humble Boy for Dragon Productions and Sideways Stories from Wayside School (both recipients of WAVE Magazines Outstanding Production awards), stage managing for Festival Opera productions of Carmen, Tosca, Don Giovanni, scenic and properties design for Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Enchanted April at Bus Barn Theatre and serving as Director of Educational Outreach at Peninsula Youth Theatre. While at the University of Florida, Nichole played Sylvia (The Women), Female Greek Chorus (How I Learned to Drive), Lady de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice ), Betty/Ellen ( Cloud Nine). While in Gainesville, Nichole worked extensively with The Hippodrome Theatre: Jean (Dead Mans Cellphone), Gabriella ( Boeing Boeing ), Lucy (Dracula), Mrs. Bob Cratchit (A Christmas Carol). To further her desire for community ou treach, Nichole worked with Playback Theatre (an improvisational troupe that visits patients at Shands hospital) co -founded Fight Club


! %' (a current UF club for stage combat) worked on the devised piece Where Can We Run? (based on an Arts in Healthcare trip t o Rwanda) and directed Caryl Churchills Seven Jewish Children (independently performed at local venues). She also had the pleasure of teaching numerous undergraduate students in courses of Theatre Appreciation, Oral Interpretation, Acting for Non Majors, and Acting I. Nichole is a proud member of Actors Equity Association. ! !