!!!!!!!! PERFORMANCE OPTION IN LIEU OF THESIS PERFORMING THE ROLE OF JIM CASY IN JOHN STEINBECKS THE GRAPES OF WRATH ADAPTED FOR THE STAGE BY FRANK GALATI By Jason Weiss A PROJECT IN LIEU OF THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA JULY 2011
!!!!!!!! "" TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE ABSTRACT iii INTRODUCTION.. 1 RESEARCH... 5 I. TOM JOAD VERSES JIM CASY. 5 II. JIM CASY ON PAPER. 8 III. EXPLO RING THE PLAY.. 11 REHEARSAL PROCESS... 13 I. DIALECT WORK 13 II. PHYSICALITY 17 III. SOUL 23 SELF EVALUATION: PERFORMANCE AND PROCESS.. 28 I. TECH WEEK AND OPENING NIGHT. 28 II. LESSO NS FROM THE RUN. 37 III. EVALUATI ON OF MY PROCESS... 40 CONCLUSION... 42 BIBLIOGRAPHY.. 44 APPENDI CES.. 45 A. PRODUCTION PROGRAM 45 B. PRODUCTION REVIEW 58 C. PRODUCTION PHOTOGRAPHS.. 60 D. BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.. 62
!!!!!!!! """ Abstract of Performance Option in Lieu of Thesis Presented to the College of Fine Arts of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts PERFORMING THE ROLE OF JIM CASY IN JOHN STEINBECKS THE GRAPES OF WRATH ADAPTED FOR THE STAGE BY FRANK GALATI By Jason Weiss July 2011 Chair: Tim Altmeyer Major: Theatre This paper details the creative and technical processes implemented in developing the role of Jim Casy in John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath adapted by Frank Galati. The performance took place in the Constans Theatre in the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion at the University of Florida from January 28 February 6, 2011. The paper has three sections that are devoted to detailing the development of th e role of Jim Casy which are: initial research, the rehearsal process and a self -evaluation of my performance and acting process. This paper details the amalgamation of internal and external acting approaches used in creating an honest and interesting port rayal of Jim Casy.
!!!!!!!! # INTRODUCTION John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath is a milestone of American literature. It illustrates the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, highlighting one mans vehement reaction to injustice (Tom Joad), anoth er mans quest for peace and equality (Jim Casy), and a womans steadfast strength (Ma Joad). The novel captures the despair of the Great Depression and examines the very nature of equality and justice in America. Although it follows the journey of the Joads, an Oklahoma family who have been driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California, the novel tells the story of thousands of men and women whose plights would transform the nation. Out of the familys many trials and tribulations against the hard realities of a country divided into those who have and those who do not evolves a drama that is intensely human, yet majestic in scale and moral vision; elemental, yet plain spoken; tragic, but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. My own personal journey to John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath, adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, was filled with almost as many twists and turns as the Joads trek to California. It began fifteen years ago in the summer of 1996. I was interning at Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, North Carolina, and was 3 months away from entering my senior year at the University of Miami, where it had been announced that The Grapes of Wrath would be the first show of the season. At this time, I was considered the top actor in the program and the ubiquitous choice to play the central role of Tom Joad. The
!!!!!!!! $ director of the show, Bruce Lecure, was not only my advisor, but I was also his teaching assistant and, in many ways, his friend. In other words, the role was mine. At the time, I was 21 years of age, abound with confidence, and believed that I was a year away from taking Hollywood by storm. Since I had so many factors on my side, I didnt think I had to do too much to prepare for the audition. I did not bother to read the novel, nor did I do any research about the era. My preparation consisted solely of watching the 1940 film version starring Henry Fonda (or at least the first and last twenty minutes of it). When I arrived back in Miami in late August of 1996, I went to the audition with the confidence of Achilles at the gates of Troy. At the callbacks, I ignored all of the training I had received, and conducted myself like a young man with a silver platter in front of him. As a result, I ended up doing a poor imitation of Henry Fonda. There was no hunger, desire or baring of my soul to show the director that I was the man for the job. At the end of the day, I got the impression that something had gone terribly wrong. The following morning, I pushed my way through the crowd at the callboard to check the cast list, and was shocked that I didnt see my name next to Tom Joad. The name on the sheet was foreign to me; a graduate student from the English department. When my initial shock subsided, I scanned down the sheet to find my name, only to discover that I was to play First Narrator and Man with Guitar. I stood there for a moment with my mind racing and then retired to my apartment where I contemplated whether or not I should accept the roles. I felt as if I had been slapped in the face, and that slap stung all the more because the assailant was my mentor. I spoke to Bruce in the coming days to ask him why he had not cast me as Tom Joad. After all, I deserved the
!!!!!!!! % role, and everyone knew it. Why would he cast a graduate student in the English department who had never been in one of our plays before? His reply was very simple and without cushion. He told me that he gave me every chance to earn the role, but that in read after read, I did nothing to show him that I deserved it. I didnt show him any passion, spirit, danger or desire. I had relied on my relationship with him to get the role, rather than showing him via preparation and hard work that I was best suited for it. My young and arrogant ears were not ready to hear such unfiltered truth, and it took me some time to understand that Bruce Lecure had taught me the most valuable lesson I would learn at school. His words ring in my ears to this day and, because of that, I never take any opportunity for granted. Not getting cast as Tom Joad became the first defining moment of my young career. I vowed to myself that I would one day play the role, and I would play it to the best of my ability. Many years have passed since my senior year at the University of Miami. In that time, I earned my way into 3 acting unions, performed professionally in dozens of New York theatres as well as regional theatres and Shakespeare festivals. I appeared in several film and television projects, including a 3 -year stint on a major ABC daytime drama. I shot or provided voice-overs for a dozen national and regional commercials, and I directed for the stage and the camera. I am currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting at the University of Florida. Ive accompl ished many of my goals over the years, and I can look at my career and consider it a success. However, one of my goals has always eluded me. Throughout all my time in New York City and Los Angeles, I never got the opportunity to audition for The Grapes of Wrath, and therefore fulfill my vow to play Tom Joad. I began to think it would never come to fruition, and that I would
!!!!!!!! & have to move on with my life and my career until the opportunity finally presented itself to me. In the fall of 2009, the first semester of my 2nd year at the University of Florida, my class was charged by the Season Planning Committee of the School of Theatre and Dance to suggest plays that offered us potential thesis roles, performance projects that are the culminating event of the three year actor training program. I saw in this an opportunity I could not ignore. Due to the current state of our economy, The Grapes of Wrath was perhaps the most relevant it had been in years, and I was finally at an appropriate age to play the seminal cha racter of American literature at the center of this story. I proposed the play to the committee and wrote a thorough argument for it. To my great satisfaction, The Grapes of Wrath was ultimately chosen for the 2010-2011 season. After years of waiting, wondering and hoping, my ambition to play Tom Joad could finally be realized, and this time I was ready to earn it. RESEARCH I. TOM JOAD VERSES JIM CASY When I had my first meeting with Dr. Charlie Mitchell, the director of The Grapes of Wrath, he asked me whom I wanted to play as my thesis role: Tom Joad or Jim Casy? The question surprised me. Fifteen years of longing had made me intent on playing only the former. I told him that I hadnt even considered playing Jim Casy. He told me to take the summer to think it over because he was of the opinion that Casy was the soul of the play and that, while he was certain I would make a fine Tom Joad, he believed that
!!!!!!!! Casy would be the role into which I could really sink my teeth. Doubtful, I reluctantly agreed to take the summer to think about it. However, it would not be like the summer of 1996 when I prepared by watching part of a film and nothing more. This time, I would do my due diligence and leave nothing to chance. I looked deep into the character of Tom Joad to find his center. I pictured myself as Tom as I read, with all of his actions being performed and all of his lines being spoken by me. This wasnt particularly difficult, seeing as I had been fixated on this character for 15 years. As I read the novel, I paid close attention to all of the descriptions of Tom Joad, and made many margin notes with ideas for character work such as: He is not over 30 His eyes are very dark brown His hands are hard He is tall The physical characteristics were very close to m y own, making the role a good fit. Also, I found his outlook familiar as well. When he returns home from prison and Ma asks him if prison life has made him angry, Tom replies, I was for a little while. But I ainy proud like some fellas. I let stuff run offm me (Steinbeck 76). His time in prison has given him a new perspective and he wants to make a new and honest life for himself. I can understand that point of view because it parallels my choice to leave New York and go back to school. Like Tom, I had to leave my pride behind so that I would be able to grow and start a new life in school. Furthermore, I was also drawn to his transformation in the story. By the end of the novel, Toms outlook has changed drastically and he is
!!!!!!!! ( more concerned for his fellow man than he is for himself. This is best expressed in his final conversation with Ma: Ill be all aroun in the dark. Ill be everwhere wherever you look. Wherever theres a fight so hungry people can eat, Ill be there. Wherever theres a cop beatin up a guy, Ill be there. If Casy knowed, why, Ill b e in the way guys yell when theyre mad an Ill be in the way kids laugh when theyre hungry an they know suppers ready. An when our folks eat the stuff they raise an live in the houses they build why, Ill be there. See? God, Im talking like Casy (Steinbeck 419). This presented a rich and interesting character arc for the role. When I was through with the novel, I knew that I could play Tom Joad and was convinced that I could play him quite well. However, I told Dr. Mitchell that I would consider both characters, so I picked up the book again and started from the beginning, this time focusing on Jim Casy, the man whom Tom, by his own admission, comes to emulate. Admittedly, this was a much more difficult task. I had already done the groundwork for Tom and was convinced I wanted to play him. It was not easy to get the voice of Tom Joad out of my head. Despite the difficulty, I forged ahead, pencil in hand, on my path to discovering Jim Cas y. Again, I marked all descriptive passages and took notes in the margins. As I read, a clear picture of Casy began to take shape in my head. I could see him and hear him in my minds eye. He was like a homeless drifter I might see on the streets of Gainesville or a subway car in New York City:
!!!!!!!! ) Lean and sinewy Grey haired and road worn Eyes that have seem many things theyd like to forget A man on the edge The character became clearer as I read, and I started to understand what Dr. Mitchell meant when he said Casy is the soul of the play. He is a man who knows that he wants something else, but isnt sure of what it is. He knows there has to be something better, but doesnt know where to find it. He is a simple man full of complexity, and although he is wandering, he certainly is not lost. Casy intrigued me because I could see so much of myself in him. He carries around the pain of his past, but does not pin it to his sleeve for all to see. Like other characters in The Grapes of Wrath Jim Casy is highly symbolic and represents a specific point of view that was held by a certain segment of the migrant population of the Great Depression; one that believes that, at its core, humanity is divine and has the ability to save itself. This was a point of view with which I connected. These would be the qualities that eventually drew me even more strongly to Casy than to Tom Joad. II. JIM CASY ON PAPER Once I embraced the idea of playing the role, I soon realized how loaded Jim Casy is as a dramatic figure. H e is a former preacher and long-time friend of the Joads. He is a latter-day Christ figure who longs to bring religious stability to the migrant families heading west. Steinbeck goes so far as to give Jim Casy the exact initials as the biblical Savior (J.C.), yet Casys relation to Christ goes beyond the superficial, and plays
!!!!!!!! out in their similar plans of action. Much like Christ, Casy is a radical, challenging authority and risking persecution as a union instigator, and like Christ, becomes a martyr for his beliefs. Also, like Christ, he retreated into the forest in order to soul -search and to discover the answers to difficult questions. He actually compares himself to Christ and his actions while saying grace at the Joads breakfast table, ...I been in the hills, thinkin, almost you might say like Jesus went into the wilderness to think His way out of a mess of troublesI got tired like Him...I got mixed up like Him (Steinbeck 81). I realized that Casy offered me a rich, almost mythic character and back -story that could be a rewarding exploration for me as an actor. Furthermore, I discovered that, although his participation in the narrative wanes as they approach California, the first half of the novel rests heavily on Casy as a spiritual guide for the Joads. Even though he has given up his belief in the traditional idea of God, in the eyes of the Joads, Casy is still The Preacher. But he is a disillusioned man of God, in part because of his tendency to sleep with women to whom he preaches: Then you know what Id do? I take one of the girls out in the grass an Id lay with her. I done it evry time (Steinbeck 22). This flaw makes Casy human, and I found him to be easily relatable as a man confused about himself, searching for a greater purpose. I was also intrigued by the early exchanges between Tom and Casy. Casy says, Whats gnawin you? is it the screwin? An I says, No, its the sin. An I says, Why is it that when a fella ought to be just about mule-ass proof against sin, an all full up of Jesus, why is it thats the time a fella gets fingerin his pants buttons?I says, Maybe it aint a sin. Maybe its just the way folks is. Casy continues, explaining his new philosophy, I dont know nobody named Jesus. I know a bunch of stories, but I only
!!!!!!!! +, love people. He says, I figgered about the Holy Sperit and the Jesus road. I figgered, Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe, I figgered, maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit the human sperit the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of. Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a sudden--I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I s till know it (Steinbeck 24). I was attracted to Casys blunt honesty. After Casy dies, Tom, like one of Casys disciples, talks of the preacher, recalling that, One time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an foun he didn have no soul that was hisn. Says he foun he jus got a little piece of a great soul I know now a fella aint no good alone (Steinbeck 403). This great soul becomes one of the main themes in the novel, the seeds of which are planted by Casy. If Casys speech planted the seeds, his actions, and ultimately his death, are what germinate them. This can be seen when Ma replies to Toms statement and comes to acknowledge this interconnectedness: not even so self -contained as a single family but all the destitute as a single soul (Steinbeck 404). And it is perhaps no more stunningly express ed than in the novels climactic moment when Tom Joads sister, Rose of Sharon, allows a starving stranger to drink milk from her breast. Steinbecks writing had made Dr. Mitchells case for him, and the director was quite pleased to hear that I was excited to play the Christfigure Casy in The Grapes of Wrath. Interestingly, the investigation that followed Dr. Mitchells challenge that I consider the role of Casy over Tom prompted some valuable self -discovery. In the process, I realized that I was no longer interested in playing a leading role solely because it is the lead. Instead, Id rather play a character that has a compelling arc, and whose journey has many obstacles in its way. I enjoy playing quirky
!!!!!!!! ++ character types, violent and dangerous characters, anti-heroes and other non-leading man types. I find these characters to be fulfilling, enlightening, and fun. This is perhaps the reason why I have still not played the role of Tom Joad; he may not be the best fit for my tastes and talents. Regardless, I now had a decisive goal, albeit different from the goal I had imagined for 15 years, and could commence with my character research and development of Jim Casy. III. EXPLORING THE PLAY Before rehearsals began, I prepared by reading the play adaptation by Frank Galati. The first thing I noticed was the playwrights description of Casys clothing in the appendix of the play: Distressed summer linen two piece suit, textured vest, distressed canvas shoes, black bowler hat, distressed formal shirt, rope belt, maroon kerchief (Galati 112). This description gave me a sense of the life Casy had lived up until the opening moment of the play. Everything about his wardrobe indicates that he has a rough and worn appearance, suggesting that he has been on the road for quite some time, facing hardship; a man of the land who survives by his own perseverance and by the good will of people he encounters along the way. Therefore, I knew that clothing would be a very important issue for me as an actor, so I emailed the costume designer, Rebecca Joy Wallace, to ask if I could have some input into my wardrobe. I believe that, as an actor, I should play a part in designing my wardrobe because, at the end of the day, its my character. I think it is preposterous for an actor to spend months researching and developing a character only to be given a costume that may or may not be what that actor had been imagining. I told her that finding Casy would be a process for me, and that I
!!!!!!!! +# would like the chance to develop his wardrobe in rehearsals. When she replied in the positive, I was relieved. The two of us met and she showed me her initial renderings of Casys costume. It consisted of a large preachers hat, a blue shirt, and an old worn suit. I was immediately drawn to the suit, though skeptical about the preachers hat. Throughout the play, Casy states that hes not a preacher on 4 separate occasions. This being the case, I did not think that he would wear an article of clothing that would give anyone the impression that he is still a preacher. However, I put my doubts momentarily aside: after all, I had also been skeptical about playing Casy at one time. We happily agreed to let the costume evolve over the course of rehearsal. This accommodation by Ms. Wallace was indicative of how collaborative the entire process would be. As I read the play, I was reminded that, as a former preacher, Casy used to be quite a talker: I did enough talkin when I was a preacher to last me the rest of my life (Galati 41). He was a man who showed people the way and who set them on the right path. I had to ask myself what that meant. When crowds of people hang on ones every word, what does that do to a man? How does it affect his confidence and cadence and his willingness to be the man he strives to be? These questions would ultimately be explored in detail during the rehearsal process. I did not want to make any firm choices prior. One thing was certain, though: Casy was a talker, a talker who spoke with passion and verve. Through his many long, eloquent speeches, the text made it clear that, even though he was no longer a preacher, he certainly held on to his oratory skills. They define him, and as an actor playing Casy, it was my job to keep that in mind as I worked to render a faithful portrayal.
!!!!!!!! +$ REHEARSAL PROCESS I. DIALECT WORK On Saturday, November 6th, 2010, the rehearsal process began with a reading of the script out loud by the full cast. The director chose to have us actors on our feet and move around rather than sit at a table. The idea behind this was to allow us to find the characters in both our mouths and bodies. Up until this point, I had not made any firm choices for Casy; however, before I knew it, a strong choice emerged on its own. By the time I was through the first page of dialog, I found myself almost instinctively speaking with a Southern drawl; a Georgia dialect to be exact. This was not planned at all, but as I read further, and the scenes rolled on, the dialect slowed my speech pattern, and gave my voice a gravelly depth and a certain gravitas that truly served Casy. I found that it separated him vocally from the others in the play, namely the Joads, underlining his role as outsider; and the Joads acceptance of an outsider like Casy into their close -knit family would only add to his mystique. I decided to explore this instinctual choice for the remainder of the read, and found it nothing but useful. By the end of that first rehearsal, I was certain that I was going in the right direction. The problem was that nowhere in the script does it indicate that Casy is from Georgia. This was a major concern for me because I dont believe that an actor should simply adopt a dialect for the purposes of making his character more interesting. I spoke to the director after t he read, and we agreed that the dialect was interesting, but that we had to find a way to justify it. The justification came rather quickly when we both recognized that Steinbeck never reveals Casys home in the novel. This gave us the freedom to make crea tive choices
!!!!!!!! +% regarding Casys past that still honored the logic of the story and the intent of the writer. My invention of Casys Georgia upbringing seemed capable of doing both. I spent the next week of rehearsals continuing my exploration of this dialec t and found that it not only aided in establishing a speech pattern, but that it affected my movement and internal rhythms as well. The starting point for any dialect is to isolate the sounds that are specific to that dialect. For a Georgia accent, I start ed with its distinctive R sound. There are a lot of variations on what is commonly called a Southern accent. One variation typically doesn't have an R sound after vowels, like one often used in the plays of Tennessee Williams or found in Gone with the Wind. For this dialect, unless it is written before a vowel, the R is silent. For example, in the phrase, A green bird is brighter, one striving to achieve the dialect would pronounce the R sounds in the words green and brighter, but not in the word bird or the second syllable of the word brighter. Phonetically, the phrase would sound out as: A green bahd is brightah. This altered sound is what Arthur Lessac, voice and speech theorist, would call #3 vowel structure, A round lip opening[with] optimal space between the teeth, complete cheek-muscle-yawn extension, and a lip opening just large enough to permit easy passage of the vertically positioned thumb (Lessac 165). By allowing the aperture of the lips to be relaxed and rounded, rather than tight and pulled back, I was able to achieve the sound I wanted on a regular basis without causing any vocal discomfort or strain, creating an authentic dialect for the former Georgia preacher whom I was portraying. With this adjustment as a base, it became quite easy to find the rest of the vowel and consonant substitutions that the dialect requires. The oi sound as in joyful, which is known as #3y in the Lessac system, opens up and becomes more rounded and
!!!!!!!! +& abbreviated. If done correctly, it w ill sound more like the #3 vowel sound, as in the word law. The long I sound in words such as sign, and dry, noted as #6y in the Lessac system, becomes a #6, like the vowel sound in ask, with the tongue tip pressed gently against the lower teeth as the tongue widens a bit and the lips widen just enough to accommodate the widened tongue while maintaining a relaxed forward facial posture (Lessac 166). Also, the ng sound in words like waiting becomes n, sounding more like waitin. However, to do the dialect properly, the t before the second syllable must be modulated as well, by swallowing the t sound and putting it in the back of the throat with a slight guttural burst. I am lucky to have a very good ear for dialects, and can pick them up quite easily. However, the vowel and consonant changes are not enough to produce an authentic dialect. I also had to find the speech pattern and cadence of the regionalism. My own speech pattern is very different from the Georgia dialect. Growing up i n and around New York City, I tend to speak quickly and relatively loudly. Neither qualities serve the Southern dialect, so I had to find a way to slow my natural rhythms down and discover more variety in volume and pace. In order to do this, I listened to as many authentic sources as possible. I was able to search for and listen to native speakers from specific regions of Georgia at YouTube.com, accent.gmu.edu, and myaccent.info. By listening to recordings of these people, I could more fully understand and emulate the nuanced pitch changes and stress patterns of their colloquial speech. In order to further define and particularize Casys speech pattern, I also listened to Southern preachers. My neighbor is a member of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville, FL. She was kind enough to take me to Sunday services with her. While I was there, I
!!!!!!!! +' heard Pastors Phil Young and Gary Crawford speak. While neither of them is from Georgia, both possessed a Southern musicality in their manner of speaking. I listened to the way they shaped their words and sentences, both during the service and afterwards as they were talking individually to parishioners, and I noticed a certainty in their delivery. I noted that their pitch, tone and volume changed often as they str essed particular points. While many orators use these shifts to get their points across, these gentlemen had an inviting, soothing tone; they did not lecture the crowd, but spoke to them in such an eloquent way that I was subdued as if by a lullaby. I dis covered that language is important for these menwhat they say and how they say itbecause it is what they use to spread the word of God, and each word must be cherished and given the opportunity to ring out like the bells of Saint Sebastian. In watching t hese men at work, I came to realize that there are no inconsequential words to a Southern preacher. When I infused my portrayal of Casy with what I observed at the church that day, I came away with a more complete idea of who this man is. Casy understands the value of language. He is not seeking adulation, nor is he seeking fame and fortune. He is a man on a spiritual path of discovery who is more interested in the safety of his fellow man than for himself. His tools for that end are his words because, in many ways, words are all he has. He is in a unique position to understand the power of those words, as he has abused them in the past to seduce young women. However, he has learned from the mistakes of his youth and now brandishes his words with care. He knows that whether he likes it or not, people are going to listen to what he has to say due to the fact that he was once a preacher. This is a hard responsibility. This realization cemented in me the notion
!!!!!!!! +( that Casy spoke slowly and with great intent; Casy is not a man of few words, but he is a man who carefully chooses when to speak. II. PHYSICALITY As I explored in rehearsal how he might speak, I also began to discover how Casy might move as well. The speech patterns of rural Georgia have a slower rhyt hm than my own speech, and I found that when I employed them in the rehearsal room, they also slowed my movements. The slower rhythms gave Casy a pensive quality that did not allow for sharp and sudden movement. My interpretation of Casy was a contemplativ e man who would not act without thinking. Also, it was important for my physical character work to acknowledge that Casy is much older than me. Tom is described as not being over thirty (Steinbeck 6), which implies that he is in his late twenties. In th eir first meeting, Casy says to Tom, You wouldnt remember me, I guess. Baptized you in the irrigation ditch (Galati 10). If he baptized Tom when he was a young child, then Casy must be at least 25 years older than Tom, making him a man in his mid-fifties. If I were to move with the alacrity of my 35 years, the illusion of this elder character would quickly be destroyed. If I wanted to stay true to Steinbeck, it was vital that my movements match my manner, and I found that if I led with speech choices, my movement choices would follow. I didnt want to fall into the trap of playing age in the production. Often times when younger actors play older characters, they play the stereotype of age. They walk hunched over and shuffle their feet to give the impression of being old. This approach prevents them from finding authenticity in their work. My approach to finding Casys age
!!!!!!!! +) in my performance was quite different. I looked to the given circumstances of the story to find clues by which to discover Jim Casys walk. Casy is twenty years older than I am. He has been roaming and wandering around the Plains for years, where he has suffered from the harsh realities of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. He feels the unforgiving wrath of the road. What this meant to me was that Casy is not a decrepit man, but a tired man. He has aches and pains that come from a life on his feet. This realization gave me another clue by which to find a physicality that would bring Casy to life. In rehearsal, I focused on my feet. I thought that perhaps Casys shoes might be a little too small for him, as he is poor and must make do with what he gets. So I went to the local Goodwill store, purchased a pair of shoes that were one half size too small for me, and started wearing them in rehearsal. I wanted to know what it felt like to have uncomfortable shoes, and to wear them for long periods of time. What I found was that they not only made my feet ache, but that they affected other parts of my body as well. I started holding tension in my legs in an effort to muscle through the pain in my feet. This led to calf and thigh pains that tended to linger. I also experienced tension in my shoulders from bearing the pain in my lower body. All in all, my whole body was tense and tight as a result of the size 9 leather shoes. Out of that discomfort, I found a specific way of moving. I moved slowly, but with intent. I discovered that I did not focus on the fact that my feet hurt, but rather on finding a way to do what I had to do, despite my aching feet. For example, if I had to stand up and walk over to somebody, I didnt play the pain. Instead, I would do everything I could to ignore and overcome the pain to get to my destination. This exemplifies two fundamental aspects of contemporary acting theory as defined by the preeminent acting theorist of the 20th Century, Constantin
!!!!!!!! +* Stanislavski: objective and obstacle. In the above instance, my immediate objective is to cross to speak with someone, but my obstaclewhat stands in the way of me accomplishing my goalis that it hurts to walk. The question becomes: how do I overcome my obstacle in order to achieve my objective? There are a few ways to do this, and these ways, in acting theory, are commonly called tactics. One tactic might be to cross intently and soldier through the pain. Another tactic might be to take off my offending shoes and walk barefoot. Regardless of the tactic, I must always actively pursue my objective as an actor, just was we do in real life. This distinction made the difference between an honest depiction and something closer to caricature. By focusing on accomplishing my tasks at hand, and not the obstacles in my way, I was able to create a more specific, truthful characterization of a man who lives by tireless endurance. Rather than putting my hand on the small of my back and grimacing as I sat to show age or show pain, I simply chose to sit slowly as the pain and tension demanded. I would look for something to lean on if it was available; if not, I would place my hand on a chair, crate or the floor so that I could ease myself down. An integral aspect in my physical development of the role was the Alexander Technique (AT). Developed by F. M. Alexander, AT is an education and guidance system to improve posture and movement, and to use muscles more efficiently. The use and understanding of Primary Control was essential for me in this process: Human beings can use their minds and engage their thinking to change their movement. Unlike most animals, we do not have to rely on our instincts to survive. Certainly we use our instincts, yet we go further and use our thinking to survive. In Alexander work, we can direct our thinking
!!!!!!!! #, to mobilize primary control. The consciousness of a habit is the first step, followed by inhibition, pausing a moment to undo the habit. Now the actor can proceed with a constructive thought process and choose to redirect his body (McEvenue 20). Once I became aware of my own natural way of moving, I was able to deliberately adjust it for my portrayal of Casy, allowing me to further transform in my performance. To do so, it was important for me to be cognizant of the differences between Casy and myself in regards to how we operate in the world, as those differences would separate Casys unique physical life from my own. It was important to note that Steinbeck paints Casy as a much stronger man than me. He never complains. He is going to sit, stand, walk, eat, and wash without making a whole production out of it; his pride wont let him. Despite the infirmit y, Casy would attempt to move with grace. This understanding gave a dignity to Casy that helped me further define his physical life. Although he is getting older and age is winning the battle over his body, he is still a man of inner strength. By choosing to hide his pain, my portrayal became ultimately more layered and uniquely separate from the actor playing him. Whenever we had a five-minute break in rehearsal, I would take my shoes off and rub my feet in an effort to get a moments respite of soothing relief. One day, it occurred to me that Casy might do the same thing, so I chose to start doing it in scene work. The director immediately loved it and asked me to keep exploring it in other scenes. It would turn out to be an ongoing activity for me in the production, adding another real life detail to a production built on authenticity. It also led to another unscripted, real life
!!!!!!!! #+ moment in the production. I chose to have a hole in my right sock, which was revealed every time I took off my right shoe, until finally I decided to mend the hole with a needle and thread. This allowed an audience to see Casy in a private moment, doing a simple task. One of my goals as an actor is to allow myself to live privately on stage. My belief is that it enhances my performance, rooting it in a sense of daily life. My hope is that an audience is so piqued by it as to wonder about the story behind the moment. Was the hole starting to irritate him to the point of taking action? Had he recently traded for the needle and thread? This small detail added depth to Casys individual story, revealing him as a self -reliant man who could take care of his own needs, and further bolstered the authenticity of my stage life. It was a simple bit of action, but it had the potential to specify the world of the play and speak volumes about the character. In time, finding Casys physical center became a major focus for me in rehearsal. A characters physical center or, as Michael Chekhov called it, Imaginary Center is the part of the body from which all movements and ideas emanate. This physical center may be obvious to a viewer and be quite literal. For example, an actor playing Einstein might lead with his head. It may also be something that the audience recognizes subconsciously, like an actor playing Einstein and leading with his groin. Physical centers are closely linked to cultural archetypes from which much information about a character is implied. I believe that if an actor can find a physical center that suits the role he is playing, an audience will empathize with him because they feel as if they already know him; there will be an instant connection that comes through recognition. To find a characters center, one must determine the motivations behind the characters behavior; why this individual does what he does and for what purpose. One must ask:
!!!!!!!! ## what leads him? To find Casys center, I re-examined what Casy wants (his objectives) and leads him throughout The Grapes of Wrath. Casy remarks, I gotta see them folks thats gone out on the road. I gotta feelin I got to see them. They gonna need help no preachin can give em. Hope of heaven when their lives aint lived. Holy Sperit when their own sperit is downcast an sad (Steinbeck 94). Casy wishes to reach out to others in spite of his own troubles. He wants to give them hope and rejuvenate their souls. He believes that everyone is created equal. He never utters a hurtful word to anyone, sacrificing his own welfare by picketing to raise the wages of other workers, and not faltering when he or his comrades are called derogatory names. Casy is forever grateful to the Joads for travelling with him and talks of paying them back several times. He says, I wanna do whats bes for you folks. You took me in, carried me along. Ill do whatever (Steinbeck 144). As Tom reminds us after his passing, Casy believes that we all have a small part of a larger universal soul, and everybody is holy. Throughout the story, Casy seems to want peace: for his loved ones; for the American people; for the land; and for himself. This selflessness emanates from his compassionate heart, the center from which his longing and actions spring. Using that image as inspiration, I played Casy with my upper chest thrust forward ever so slightly, as if leading from my heart. This discovery echoed a key element of Chekhovs imaginary center, The imaginary center gives the whole body a harmonious appearance because, being in the middle of the chest, it draws the character near to the ideal body (Chekhov 100). It was almost imperceptible, but it was enough to slow down my movements and prevent my arms from swinging too much when I walked, giving me a strong, but quiet presence. It enabled me to move with a light physical ease through a
!!!!!!!! #$ world heavy with pain and suffering, making my Casy open-hearted and approachable, fitting qualities for a man whom the director called the soul of the play. III. SOUL One of the most important steps in my development in the role of Jim Casy was finding his soul. I had discovered how Casy walks and talks. I even determined what he wants out of his life. But it was not enough. I had to find the inner motivation behind what he wantswhy he wants what he wantsto truly find who Casy is. I refer to this as soul. I believe that actors must make their characters come to life, and to do this, they must find the souls of the characters they play. Unlike my more intellectual methods of working in the early weeks of rehearsal, this exploration is more instinctual and personal. It takes place outside of the rehearsal hall, in the privacy of an empty studio. It is a technique I started to develop in 2001 at the Terry Schreiber Stud io in New York City. I call it the Mirror Exercise. The Mirror Exercise consists of three main part s. The first part is self -discovery. The second part is character discovery. The third part is an amalgamation of the first two. To begin my self -discovery, I stood alone in a room facing a full-length mirror. I was wearing my rehearsal clothes that cons isted of a worn pair of grey slacks, a button down white shirt, a slightly tattered blazer and old lace -up leather shoes. I stood five feet from the mirror and looked at myself. I observed what I looked like. I spent many minutes simply looking at myself, and allowing myself to get comfortable with the image in front of me. I looked at the way my clothes hung on my body. I looked at the way my body was positioned. I looked at myself from head to toe and just took in what I saw. I
!!!!!!!! #% made no judgments, just observations. When I was done taking inventory on my body, I examined my face more closely. I tried to see what was familiar and what was different from the image I saw of myself in my minds eye. When I finished this exploration of my face, I looked deep into my own eyes and sought recognition of the man staring back at me. As my comfort level grew, I approached the mirror so I was nose to nose with myself. I strove to really see me, not the idea of me, but the real me; to see what I look like and to understand that the person looking back from the mirror was me. Once this was done, I went back to standing five feet from the mirror and closed my eyes. While my eyes were closed, I thought of some of Casys lines. Eventually, I started to repeat one of them again and again in my head, A man got to do what he got to do (Galati 45). I then opened my eyes and looked in the mirror again. I said the line out loud with Casys voice and repeated it in many different ways. I changed my pitch, my stresses and my pace. I played different intentions with the line and searched for all of its possible meanings. As I did this, I looked myself up and down again, and slowly I started to see Jim Casy. The clothes I was wearing were Casys. The stance was Casys, and the face staring back at me was Casys. I began to accept that Casy looks exactly like Jason Weiss. As I approached the mirror and looked deep into the eyes of my reflection, I could see the weariness in Casy. There was no actual physical change in me, nor was there an attempt to make myself look different. There was simply a new understanding. I was beginning to understand Casy by looking him directly in the eye. I was no longer Jason looking at my idea of Casy, but Casy looking at himself. I dont mean to suggest that I literally believed that I was Jim Casy, but I accepted the man in front of me as him. This is what I call character discovery.
!!!!!!!! #& After immersing myself in that for some time, I started the amalgamation process by walking about the room, all the time checking back in with the mirror. As I moved about the room, I explored the objects in it as Casy might explore them. I paused at objects that were of interest, like a large black upright piano. While the piano was an everyday object for me, it was an object of distinction for Casy. The touch and feel of it, the way it sounded when played, and even the smell of it conjured up images of childhood in the church. Were they my memories or imagined ones? The line between Casy and me was beginning to blur. The more I saw through Casys eyes, the more I realized they were also my eyes. I began to embrace the possibility that Casy and I could be one and the same. When one reads The Grapes of Wrath, Jim Casy is only in the imagination of the reader; words on the page. But when I play the role, he becomes a living, breathing person because I am a living, breathing person. While I may not have faced certain situations that Casy does in the story (i.e., poverty, famine, isolation), I still have the capacity to intellectually understand them and to empathize with Jim. These, combined with my healthy imagination and willingness to be vulnerable, allow Casys soul to evolve from my own. The character comes into being from both my inner emotional understanding of Casys point of view and the physical form revealed in my vocal and physical explorations. Doing the Mirror Exercise is my way of developing a character from the inside out and outside in simultaneously. I continued to do my mirror exercise for the remainder of the rehearsal process. It eventually became part of my daily warm up, and I discovered new details weekly.
!!!!!!!! #' I decided that we both like Delta Blues artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and Son House; their music is highly evocative, and I found it useful as an imaginative bridge to the world of the play, where people worked hard, suffered through the lean times, and gave thanks for what little they had. This kind of music would ultimately find its way into the opening of the pla y with me singing to the tune of Yes, Sir, Thats My Baby written in 1925 by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn: Yes, sir, thats my Savior Je-sus is my savior Je-sus is my savior now. On the level S not the devil Jesus is my Savior now (Galati 9). By adding a blues flavor to the scripted moment, I was able to incorporate one of my personal discoveries about Casy (his love of blues music) to make the moment more specif ic to my particular portrayal. While continuing my private work in front of the mirror and the script, I also discovered that we are similarly spiritual, and that, while we have conviction about our beliefs, we are both reluctant to make a public show of them. This reluctance fueled the scene when Casy is asked to say the blessing for t he Joads, and replies, If me jus bein glad to be here an bein thankful for people thats kind and generous, if thats enough why, Ill say that kinda grace (Galati 21). The Mirror Exercise usually lasts for 2 hours, and I did it 2 to 3 times a wee k. Each time, I delved further and further into my own emotional and psychological depths in order to find more depth in Casy. This can be quite taxing, but also extremely
!!!!!!!! #( rewarding. By bringing that outside work to rehearsal, my portrayal grew on a daily basis. It gave me the opportunity to present many character -driven choices to the director. For example, the script indicates that Casy sits on the running board of the truck and plays Amazing Grace on the harmonica (Galati 24). I spent hours learni ng how to play the song on the harmonica, and the director liked the way it sounded. Then one day I was working on my own, and I was reminded of Harmonica Blues by Sonny Boy Williamson. I thought the song gave a better reflection of what was happening to the Joads at that moment. I spent a couple days learning the song, and then presented it to the director, who agreed with me, and we replaced the hymn with the lesser known, more appropriate blues song. This individual choice would not have been possible if I had not been doing character explorations outside of scheduled rehearsals. (On a side note, we ended up eliminating the harmonica in the final production because the director found that it pulled focus from the scene it was meant to merely underscore .) My thorough preparation also allowed me to be in the moment with my fellow actors and to react specifically to what they did, because I was not using rehearsal time to learn my lines or do research, which plagued our rehearsal process. Many cast memb ers relied on the repetition of rehearsals to learn their lines, and used our director as a living encyclopedia of the 1930s. By not doing work outside of rehearsal, they limited the amount of exploration they could do in rehearsal. In many ways, great acting is only possible by allowing oneself to react. In his book True and False David Mamet states, On the stageit is the progress of the outward-directed actor, who believes with no regard to his personal state, but with all regard for the responses of his antagonists, which thrills the viewers (Mamet 13). In my efforts to create a living, compelling
!!!!!!!! #) performance, I freed myself of preconceived notions and line deliveries. Instead, I directed my focus on fellow actors to discover Casys behavior in r elation to them. Being well -prepared, I was able to listen and react from moment to moment, creating a performance that was specific and spontaneous. Finding Casys soul in private work outside of rehearsal allowed me to act and react instinctually and confidently with my fellow actors, as my particular Casy would, rather than doubt or second -guess my choices. By the time we entered our technical rehearsals, with opening night just days away, I was ready to perform in front of an audience. SELF EVALUATION: PERFORMANCE AND PROCESS I. TECH WEEK AND OPENING NIGHT Technical rehearsals, also called tech week, occur in the week prior to the opening night of a play in which all of the technical elements, such as sets, costumes, makeup, lights, and sound, are introduced to the rehearsal process. The purpose of tech week is to rehearse the show with all technical elements in place, allowing the actors to become familiar with the set and costumes, the technical production designers and crew to iron out unforeseen problems, and the director to see how everything works together as an artistic whole. My experience with this phase of rehearsals got off to a rocky start. We began our tech week on Saturday, January 22, 2011 with two out of 14 rehearsal days, meaning that on Saturday and Sunday, we were at the theatre for 14 hours, 10:00AM to 12:00AM, rehearsing for 12 of those hours with a two hour break. At first, I was upset with the schedule because my previous five shows at UF utilized the
!!!!!!!! #* professional theatre industry standard of out of 12 rehearsal days during tech weekend; a schedule to which I was accustomed as a member of Actors Equity Association. This new and previously unannounced schedule was not something for which I was prepared. I tried in vain to get the schedule amended; professional theatre strictures do not apply to university theatre. So, I acquiesced and put my best foot forward. Sometimes an actor believes that the show is about him, and when this happens, tensions can run high, and morale can suffer. I did not want this to happen to me, so I took it as an opportunity to lead by example. The vast majority of the cast was grumbling about the long hours, and I was afraid that the repercussions of those grumblings could have catastrophic ef fects on the progress of the weekend. I took it upon myself to go in with a positive attitude with hopes that it would rub off on others. I spoke with some other senior members of the cast, and we all led by example. We arrived early, did our work, and maintained a sense of levity through the weekend. Tech week is essentially rehearsal for the designers and the back stage crew; we actors had 2 months to rehearse, but the designers and crew were given only a few days. When I looked at it from that point of view, the long hours became very easy to swallow and gave me a perspective that allowed for a productive rehearsal. Our tech process was difficult because the set involved a lot of moving scenery, all of which had to be moved by actors. There were also many light and sound cues to coordinate within the production. On top of this, there was live music and special effects to incorporate as well. The culmination of which was a rainstorm on stage with actual water, which posed its own set of problems and slowed our progress through these final
!!!!!!!! $, days of rehearsal. Needless to say, we were all feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the challenges of that weekend. Strength and focus were in short supply. About an hour before our dinner break on Sunday January 23, one of the back wall units of the set, which weighed well over a ton, went out of alignment, and the cast and crew were asked to help re-align it. As we were pushing it back, my left hand slipped into one of the hinge points and was pinned there. Before I knew it, the wall was pushed back and the hinge closed on my hand. I called for everyone to stop pushing and to pull it back. When they did, I was able to remove my hand, but the damage had already been done. I could see a long indented line going across the back of my hand, and the pain was intense. At that point, I was taken outside and it was decided that I should go to the emergency room. After several x-rays and a thorough exam by a doctor, it was concluded that I had fractured two bones in my hand and had deep bruises on the muscles and tendons. The doctor gave me a removable splint that had to be worn at all times and released me with a prescription for pain medication. I returned to rehearsal on Monday January 24, where I met with the director for about an hour to discuss what would have to be modified in the production due to my injury. I knew I would not be able to shovel dirt on Grampas grave, nor whittle (which was an activity I adopted for times of reflection for Casy). Interestingly, the absen ce of these two mundane activities would affect not only my stage life, but also the stage lives of other actors in this detailed production. The director had blocked (staged) Grampas funeral scene so that Casy relieves Pa from the burden of digging his own fathers grave. This enabled Pa to talk to Ma and Tom across the stage and further the action of the play. The gestur e also
!!!!!!!! $+ demonstrated how Casy has become a solid fixture in the family circle, and allowed me to become physically tired so that when I was asked to pray over the grave, I would be weary, both spiritually and physically, which helped me play the rest of the scene. The actor playing Pa and I restaged the scene so that Casy offers to help dig, but Pa politely refuses and keeps digging with even greater fervor. This changed the story somewhat and affected the moments that followed for not only me but the others as well. However, this change gave birth to an equally compelling new moment that revealed the resilience of a man forced to bury his father alongside a road, far from home. The trade-off satisfied the director, and it became part of the production. I used whittling on stage in times of reflection for Casy. The activity seemed right for this soul searcher, leading me to a q uiet private place conducive for deep thought. When I could no longer physically do this, I was at a loss as to how to get to that place. I chose to simply sit and contemplate as Casy, looking off into the distance above the audiences heads, using my imaginary surroundings to fuel my thinking. This provided me the same tranquility I found whittling. It also gave the audience a chance to see my eyes in a way that whittling did not, allowing them an opportunity to read Casys thoughts and learn a little more about this enigmatic man, quietly sitting, pondering the universe. The simplicity spoke volumes through its silence. My injury reinforced a valuable acting lesson. Just as a character must overcome an obstacle in pursuit of an objective, so must actors. Things go wrong on stage and actors must think quickly and improvise to cover the gaffe. Other times, things happen prior to performance, like my injury, and the cast must come together as an ensemble to
!!!!!!!! $# discover a way to fix the problem. This was especially true when restaging the choreographed violence in the production of which I was a part. In addition to my duties as an actor, I was also production fight director for The Grapes of Wrath. I, with the consultation of Dr. Mitchell and Professor Tiza Garland, designed and choreographed all of the violence on stage. Most of this violence was not affected by my injury; however, there was a staged moment toward the end of the play that had to be modified. In the story, a blow to the head kills Cas y. His death is pivotal. It is the trigger that spurs Tom to kill Casys assailant, forcing him to flee as a fugitive. Therefore, it was imperative that Casys death remain brutal and dramatic. As staged, I was to fall to the ground with the illusion of dead weight. This involved a quick turn of the head from left to right, followed by an incremental collapse of my body. In order to fall safely without my injured hand hitting the ground while maintaining the integrity of the violence, I chose to collapse o nto my right side with my right calf hitting the floor first, followed by my right thigh, right Gluteus Maximus, and right Latissimus Dorsi, finally rolling onto the flat of my back. All of this was done rather quickly to feed the illusion of dead weight. Then, to sell the collapse, as my right arm was about to land, I slapped the stage with the lower side of my closed right fist to make a sound like my head hitting the ground. I took care to keep my injured left arm elevated when I fell and made certain that it landed across my chest rather than the stage. This modification made the fall both safe and effective; a solution that came out of 16 years of stage combat experience behind me and a willingness on the part of cast and consultants to help solve a problem.
!!!!!!!! $$ The only other problem my injury caused, aside from putting me in a considerable amount of pain, was that my splint was bright blue and wouldnt fit under my costume. To combat this, the costume designer, Rebecca Wallace, designed a sleeve to put over the splint that looked like a cast from the 1930s. Our idea was to incorporate the injury into the characters life rather than try to hide it from the audience. As an actor, I had to ask myself: what would Casy do if he had two fractured bones in his left hand? The answer was simple; as he does with all his hardships, he would deal with it and forge ahead. After the artificial cast was built, it was a simple matter of letting out the seam on the left cuff of my jacket so that my bandaged arm could fit through the sleeve. With that, another problem was solved, and the show went on. Warming up is an important step in my preparation to go on stage each night. During dress rehearsals, I solidified my warm up routine. I started my warm up one hour before the call for places (start of the performance). Wearing my costume and stage make up, I went into a large dance studio adjacent to the theatre. It had a wall of mirrors and a sound system with which to play music. I began my warm up by stretching an d relaxing my body, starting from the top of my head and working my way down to my waist. Then I started from my feet and worked my way back up to my waist. When I finished my physical warm up, which usually lasted about 20 minutes, I began a vocal warm up. My vocal warm up primarily consisted of Lessac vocal technique exercises. I started by vocalizing the EE sound, exploring the depths and heights of my range, attempting to keep the sound full and rich at both ends of my vocal range. From the EE sound I went into an AY, followed by OH. I explored these vowels the same way I explored EE, focusing on vocal fullness and richness. After that, I drilled all of the
!!!!!!!! $% consonants in the alphabet, one after the other: BaBaBaBaBa, CaCaCaCaCa, DaDaDaDaD a and so on. The purpose was to loosen my facial and throat muscles and to prime and activate my vocal instrument for the performance. This usually lasted another 20 minutes. When I finished, I headed to the stage for fight call. Fight call is when al l of the actors involved in stage violence meet prior to performance to run through the fights to keep them in good performance shape and maintain safety. As fight director, I led the calls. My fight calls were a three-step process, where the actor combatants first literally walked through their fights while saying their actions aloud, e.g., I walk up to the sheriff and I kick him in the stomach. This step is commonly called a Tech Talk. This assured that their physical movements and intellectual und erstanding were in tune. They then ran their fights at half -speed, to ensure proper form, control and intention. Finally, they ran their fights at speed, which was performance speed. I avoided using the term full speed as I found it detrimental to th e fights and the combatants. If a fight happens too quickly, the audience cannot follow it closely and is distanced from it. Also, actors adrenaline in performance has a tendency to add speed to fights. A fight running faster than full speed runs the great risk of becoming unsafe. Running fights at speed seemed to safeguard against such missteps. When it was my turn to fight, I assigned three fighters to watch, telling them exactly what to look for. They watched me from the right, center and left of the house (audience) and reported from their vantage points. I used their observations to adjust any of my moves. By the end of each fight call, all of the actor combatants had reviewed their fights and knew that they were safe. Once
!!!!!!!! $& fight call was over, I dismissed the actors and returned to the dance studio to continue my warm up. The remaining 20 minutes of my warm up consisted of listening to music and doing an abbreviated version of the Mirror Exercise. The music was the same every night. The first two songs were Come on Up to the House and Bottom of the World by Tom Waits, followed by Badlands by Bruce Springsteen. The final song was Goin Out West also by Tom Waits. I create a music list for every show I do, songs that somehow speak to me as both actor and character and prepare me for my performance. These four particular songs spoke in some way about Casys life and plight. The first song is a call to come back to the church (Gods house), while the second is about a man who is stuck at the bottom of the world. These are both part of Casys story. Badlands speaks of the hardships of people who work the land, which are at the heart of The Grapes of Wrath. The final song is full of bravado and anger with a driving beat that pumped up my adrenaline and filled me with verve for the journey west I took each night. I looked into the mirror as the music played, and as Casy began to appear before me, I would start to walk about the room. I would allow the music to move me. If I felt like singing, I would sing. If I felt like saying some of Casys lines, I would say them. Sometimes, I danced. Other times, I would improvise as Casy and deliver a sermon or give advice or ask questions to others in my imagination. When I was in high school, I heard an interview with Jimi Hendrix. In it, he said, It would be incredible if you could produce music so perfect that it would filter through like rays and ultimately cure. That is what I set out to do with this warm-up. I allowed the music to infiltrate me, and
!!!!!!!! $' penetrate the places that I hide from public view. This sometimes brought emotions to the surface, and I welcomed them. I strove to release control and simply react to the music. The inevitable outcome of this was movement, and the movement invigorated me. I danced like nobody was watching me; without thought or judgment. This enabled me to be free physically. The music and the movement were the catalysts, opening me up and reconnecting me with Casy. I did this every day from our first dress rehearsal until closing night; and each night, when the final song was over, I would turn off the sound system, gather my personal props and head to my place backstage for the top of the play, ready to begin my journey. On the night of our opening, Friday, January 28, 2011, I was in good spirits and excited to perform the role. I knew that the play was going to be a tough sell to some of the younger students in attendance due to its length and theme, but I was confident that the subject matter would hit home for many. In the end, I believe our opening night was successful. We did not have any technical difficulties, and the audience was quite responsive. My injury was not a distraction, and in some ways, helped my portrayal. It became easier to play the weariness and pain of being on the open road for so many years because I was in actual pain myself. I had to slow down some of my actions and be quite deliberate with others in order to prevent myself from further injuring my hand. I found that performing with all of the design aspects in play deepened my work. The colors and textures of the set pieces and props stirred a feeling inside of me that slowed my internal rhythms. I dont quite know how to describe it, but I found inspiration from the color scheme. The earthiness of the set made me want to return to it; to come home to the it,
!!!!!!!! $( to feel the hard, dry dirt under my feet, to smell the rot of old wood. My whole senses were engaged by the set and the suggestions it made to me. Opening night was the first time we had an audience and I found them to be a comfort for me; I was able to feed off of them. I found myself moving with a great amount of ease on the stage despite the fact that I was in a certain amount of physical discomfort. It always amazes to me how an audience can bring out my truest acting. I always feel safer in a theatre full of strangers than I do in a room with close friends. It is easier for me to take risks in that environment. I used this audience as a type of flock for my speeches. I did not speak directly to them, but, at times, gave them the impression that I was. Casys message is not just a message for the Joads, its a message for the masses. The audience, in effect, served as the masses. By keeping the audience in my mind as I counseled and led those within the story, it added a depth and gravity to Casy and his greater function in the play that could not have been there without them. II. LESSONS FROM THE RUN During the 10-performance run of The Grapes of Wrath, I practiced what I preach. I have strong opinions about what it is to be an actor and the acting craft, and I maintained my performance standards throughout. I was older than the vast majority of the actors in the production, and had more professional acting ex perience than all of them combined; therefore, I felt that I needed to lead by example. Whether I liked it or not, I was a role model for many of the actors in that show, both graduate and undergraduate, and I accepted that mantle and understood the great responsibility it held. I conducted myself in a professional manner both on and off the stage and did everything I could to
!!!!!!!! $) support the production, its cast, crew, and design staff. There were a few actors in the production that did not share my enthusiasm, and I was determined to keep any dissention from rising to the surface. Keeping it light with an air of seriousness became my goal. On Tuesday January 25, 2011, we were informed by management that we had lost our green room privileges. The green ro om is a courtesy space in a theatre that accommodates performers who are not on stage at a given time, much like a waiting room. Many of the cast members ate and drank in the room (which was prohibited) and left the remains of their garbage in the room f or management to clean up. We received several warnings about the violations, but the behavior continued throughout tech weekend. When we were informed that privileges had been revoked, many of the cast were up in arms and argued that this action was not f air. Sensing a potential morale issue, I took it upon myself to call a meeting of the entire cast and told them in no uncertain terms that what we had done was unprofessional and disgraceful. Although it seemed like a case of some bad apples spoiling the bunch, I explained that we were an ensemble and only as strong as our weakest link. I urged us to collectively make amends with management, with whom we then met. As spokesman, I apologized for our behavior. I assured them that we would police ourselves an d that I would take personal responsibility to make certain the green room was clean before I left the theatre each night. At this, the decision was reversed and we were allowed back in the green room. My willingness to lead professionally and with good will brought the dispute quickly and harmlessly to an end, maintaining the good morale necessary for a successful run.
!!!!!!!! $* By the 4th performance, which was on Tuesday, January 31st, I decided to perform without my splint. I spoke to my doctor and director, and I was confident that I would not further injure myself, nor impede my performance. Removing the splint allowed me to go back to some of my original stage business. I could shovel dirt on Grampas grave again, as well as whittle. I could also dip both hands in the river to wash my face, instead of just one. When reintroduced, these actions became even richer as I got to experience them anew. Also, these activities were informed by discoveries I had made in their absence. They infused new life in me as Casy and the role became all the more fun to play. We rehearsed The Grapes of Wrath from November 6th, 2010 until January 27th, 2011, but only performed the play 10 times, which was a bit anticlimactic for me. Coming from the professional theatre world, I am more accustomed to a rehearsal-toperformance ratio that is more heavily weighted on the performance end, allowing more time for a productions growth in front of an audience. Rehearsing for 2 months was strenuous for me, and at times I was at my wits end. The frustration stemmed not from the length of the rehearsal period per se, but from erratic scheduling and the lack of concentration and focus of some of my fellow cast members throughout the process. Nevertheless, the show must go on, and even though circumstances were not ideal, we still managed to get the work done. I learned the value of taking a deep breath and using patience to combat my frustration. By doing so, I was able to maintain my nerves and not allow challenges to cause me stress, and, in some instances, I was even able to use that frustration in my acting work.
!!!!!!!! %, There is an old saying in the theatre that goes, If you cant lose it, use it. I was working on a scene where Tom and Casy get into a small dispute about what is wai ting for them in California. The director kept asking me to be more confrontational, but not aggressively so. Initially, I had a difficult time making the distinction between the two. What I would eventually realize is that Casy is not angry at Tom, nor is he attacking Tom, but merely frustrated over a situation that is beyond his control. This is very similar to how I was feeling about our rehearsals; I also was frustrated by so many factors out of my control. Finally, I understood the scene and was able to use that frustration from my own life in the scene with the actor playing Tom. It was a strong reminder to the actor that art reflects life. Our truncated performance schedule notwithstanding, the experience was still fruitful. I enjoyed the time I spent with the cast, both on stage and off, and found that living in Casys shoes for three hours a night, while painful, was inspiring at the same time. He is a man who says and does things that I often think of saying and doing, but never actually do. My hope is that having played that conviction on stage, I can emulate it in my daily life. III. EVALUATION OF MY PROCESS I felt a distinct and satisfying sense of accomplishment after playing Jim Casy. My acting work is an extension of myself, and in my endeavor to entertain an audience, I allow my innermost self to become public. As Jim Casy, I was able to access parts of myself on stage, in front of family, friends and strangers, that Im not comfortable
!!!!!!!! %+ sharing in my everyday life. The sense of fulfillment that comes from this is enormous, and when it is augmented by the accolades, it becomes immeasurable. I received a favorable review in The Gainesville Sun: A notable performance is also obtained by Jason Weiss as Jim Casy, who is relied upon to provide spiritual comfort to the family despite his status as a lapsed preacher (Maxwell 20). I also received high praise from Sybil St. Clair, an adjudicator from the American College Theatre Festival, who singled me out as the most dynamic and interesting character in the production. However, the most appreciated feedback I got was from my parents, Dr. & Mrs. Alan and Marie Weiss. Their sense of parental pride in my performance warmed my heart. They have supported my career choices since I was 18 years old. Seeing them in the lobby after the opening night show and hearing their praise was the icing on the cake. Looking at the performance from my own point of view, I can honestly say that I accomplished everything I set out to do. I created a three dimensional character who was both interesting and believable. I explored the inner and outer life of Casy, and I successfully brought him to life on stage. But perhaps more surprisingly, I found a way to enjoy and learn from the process every step of the way. While there were some pitfalls, each provided me with a learning experience. There are times when learning what not to do can be just as valuable as learning what to do; such were the lessons in The Grapes of Wrath. By swallowing my pride and finding patience, I was able to best serve the production. I can say without hesitation that I put the productions success above my own; I cannot say that is true for every experience Ive had in my career. The many hours I worked outside of the rehearsal room w ere not intended to raise my performance above all others, but to add to the richness of the production. I put an enormous amount of effort
!!!!!!!! %# into this role because that is what the role called for and deserved. Anything less would have been a disservice to me, the play, the novel, and the School of Theatre and Dance. I took this role knowing that it would be difficult and time consuming. I knew I would have to give it 100%. It pleases me to look back on the process and see that I did just that, as both a leader and a team player. CONCLUSION During my time at The University of Florida, a few of my professors have urged me to take more risks in my work, saying that I too often play characters that resemble me. Playing Jim Casy gave me an opportunity to address that challenge. While I might agree with some of his ideas, Casy and I are distinctly different from one another. In speaking to those same professors post-show, I was encouraged to hear that they saw a different Jason as Casy and that I had fulfilled their expectations. Such approval affirms my way of working. Perhaps the most important thing I learned throughout the process of The Grapes of Wrath is that the acting technique I have been developing for the past 10 years (and solidifying over the last 3 years at The University of Florida) is not only useful for me, but has the potential of becoming a system that I can teach to others My interests do not lie in acting alone, but also in teaching. I would like to formally devise an explicit system of acting that can be applied to both stage and film work. In my view, good acting is good acting; if one is a great stage actor, he has the ability to be a great screen actor as well. I believe that my performance in The Grapes of Wrath was solid and, from the feedback I received, it was decipherable to the back row of the theatre. I also believe that my choices were detailed enough that, with a small amount
!!!!!!!! %$ of modification, could easily suit the minute demands of film acting. This resulting confidence inspires me to put some of my ideas on paper to see where they may lead. As they say, It is not the destination, but the journey. And while it was a long journey for me to The Grapes of Wrath, it was a rewarding one. I encountered many obstacles and detours, some good days and some bad along the way, but the journey was well worth it. It helped prepare me for the journey that awaits me. Like Casy and the Joads, I am about to pack my belongings in a truck and move to the promised land of California in search of my own dreams. While I have stars in my eyes, I am well aware that the odds are heavily stacked against me. Yet despite them, I am compelled to go. Just like Casy says, I knew it. I knew it so deep down in my soul that it was true, and I still know it. (Galati 12). If I can take anything from my time playing Casy, it must be to trust and follow the feelings that lie deep down in my soul.
!!!!!!!! %% BIBLIOGRAPHY Chekhov, Michael. On the Technique of Acting. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. 1991. Print Galati, Frank. John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Dramatists Play Service Inc., 1991. Print. Lessac, Arthur. The Use and Training of the Human Voice: A Bio-Dynamic Approach to Vocal Life. New York: McGraw Hill. 1997. Print Mamet, David. True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. New York: Vintage Books. 1997. Print Maxwell, Dick. Grapes of Wrath a Moving, Theatrical Experience. The Gainesville Sun 3. Feb. 2-11, Scene Magazine sec: 6+. Print McEvenue, Kelly. The Actor and the Alexander Technique. New York: Palgrave Macmillian. 2002. Print Myaccent.info Accent Identifier. Novatech Network. 2011. Website Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath New York: Penguin Books. 2002. Print
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!!!!!!!! '# APPENDIX D BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Jason Weiss is a Master of Fine Arts Candidate at the University of Florida, with a concentration in Acting. Jason received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Miami in 1997. Jason was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and grew up in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Upon graduation from UM, he moved to New York City to pursue a professional acting career. Highlights from his professional career include working with Harold Pinter on The Homecoming in the role of Lenny, as well as working with John Patrick Shanley on The Big Funk in the role of Austin. He played The Voice in Francis Ford Coppolas The Conversation at 29th Street Rep, Haemon in The Burial at Thebes at La MaMa etc., and the title role in the original musical Tim by Neil Berg and Nick Meglin. Jason also played Harry Houdinis stunt double in the original Broadway cast of Ragtime: The Musical. Some of Jasons favorite regional theatre roles have been Iago in Othello (Virginia Shakespeare Festival); Edmund in King Lear; Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet; Touchstone in As You Like it; Autolycus in The Winters Tale (Princeton Rep); and Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps, Jonathan Harker in Dracula, and Bernard in Boeing Boeing (Hippodrome Theatre). Other University of Florida credits include Cloud Nine, How I Learned to Drive, Pride and Prejudice, The Clean House and Oedipus the King. Jason spent 3 years on ABCs One Life to Live playing EMT Evan Nander, with additional roles on ABCs All My Children, Oxygens Trackers, MTVs Crib Crashers, and the Discovery Channel film, Shipwreck: USS Squalas. He has done over a dozen national and regional commercials and is a proud member of AEA, SAG and AFTRA.
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