Performing the role of Martin Vanderhof in the play You Can't Take it With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart

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Performing the role of Martin Vanderhof in the play You Can't Take it With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Costa, Filipe Valle
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla
College of Fine Arts, University of Florida
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Project in lieu of thesis


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Acting ( jstor )
Actors ( jstor )
Alexander technique ( jstor )
Gestures ( jstor )
Head ( jstor )
Literary characters ( jstor )
Love ( jstor )
Rehearsal ( jstor )
Theater ( jstor )
Theater rehearsal ( jstor )


You Can’t Take It With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart was written in 1936. In the Fall of 2011, I performed the title role of the Grandpa, Martin Vanderhof, at the University of Florida, Constans Theatre, directed by Dr. Charlie Mitchell. This document describes the creative process in which I was involved. It is a testimony of my process as an actor, including the stylistic, physical and vocal obstacles I discovered in creating this character as well as the techniques that provided me with solutions. Finally, this document records the experience of performing the role of Martin Vanderhof in front of an audience.
General Note:
Theatre terminal project

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University of Florida Institutional Repository
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University of Florida
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All rights reserved by the submitter.
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889416284 ( OCLC )


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2 201 2 Filipe Valle Costa


3 Socrates Lope de Vega To those who are brave enough to know that they do not know.


4 INDEX ACKNOWLEDGEM ..5 .6 .7 ..7 .7 Casting ..8 .. .10 Grandpa .. ..10 12 14 CHAPTER THREE/PHYSICAL ..15 The Alexander Technique: Coming Home to 15 20 2 2 3 4 Voice and breath .. 5 6 APPENDIC ES A. WORKS CITE D B. C. ...


5 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to acknowledge Charlie Mitchell for the simplicity of his direction, attention to detail and on going trust I would also like to acknowledge Kathy Sarra for opening my eyes to a better and easier world through the Alexander Technique Lauren Caldwell for her teachings on action and Yanci Bukovec for constantly reminding me that I have a voice. I would also like to acknowledge Judith Williams and Mike ll Pinkney for opportunities full of wonder and grandeur Tiza Garland for a sports like appro ach to the work and artis tic attention to the specifics and Tim Altmeyer for his mentorship, friendship and support Above all I want to acknowledge my cast mates, designers, and the crew of for developing a world full of love and joy.


6 Abstract of 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 PERFORMING THE ROLE OF MARTIN VANDERHOF IN THE PLAY BY GEORGE S. KAUFMAN AND MOSS HART By Filipe Valle Costa May 2012 Chair: Michael L. Pinkney Major: Theatre by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart was written in 1936. In the Fall of 2011, I performed the title role of the Grandpa Martin Vanderhof at the University of Florida, Constans Theatre, directed by Dr. Charlie Mitchell. This document describes the creative process in which I was involved It is a testimony of my process as an actor, including the stylistic, physical and vocal obstacles I discovered in creating this character as well as the techniques that provided me with solutions. Finally, this document records the experience of performing the ro le of Martin Vanderhof in front of an audience.


7 INTRODUCTION The exploration of every character is a journey towards oneself, towards home. Through attempting to understand and question oneself, one ends up finding o neself in the story being told. During the process of playing the role of Martin Vanderhof in You I was able to apply some of the techniques I have learned as an MFA degree student at the University of Florida with an easy mind and an open heart. I could have very easily allowed myself to be controlled by these techniques and therefore stifle my own sense of play, but instead, for the first time in my short artistic career, I fully trusted the simplicity of owning a creative process. CHAPTER ONE INITIAL STAGE My Process As It Was and As It Is My role in was the confirmation that m y cre ative process is much more of a practice full of change and struggle rather than a predefined plan. In the past, I have tried to turn it into a step by step procedure where everything would have to happen in a certain order under my absolute control T ruth is that t he more I tried to transform art into sc ience, the more predictable I became. I find indolence to be the artist enemy. Performance is not casual in the same way that life should not be casual. Yet, although the artist must strive for a peaceful life, the artistic struggle must still have moments of tension and agitation. Art is revolution. Art is i those that can look bac


8 change, should, indeed, intervene in the present moment, both personally and socially The actor is a vehicle for social challenge. As light hearted as the text I was dealing with seemed to be, I r efused to forget that art is an action, not an emotion The actor exists to act, in the moment. The emotion is merely a consequence of the action. So, although I knew that my process was growing into simple trust, I was still using all my energy, and therefore, my creation was still a draining process full of ups and downs. Although I am learning the importance of trusting and letting go so I can become a healthier and wiser craftsperson, art has a way of disturbing the peace that always makes the ride of creating a character such an adrenaline filled experience, especially when the c haracter is as iconic as Martin Vanderhof. Now I know that the process of creating a piece of art will never stop being a demanding and challenging endeavor. I also learne d that I am a bit alone when it comes to my process. I say alone, not lonely. I have seen the action of carrying elements from my personal life into the theatre as part of my work habit. I am aware that by choosing to become an actor, I ch ose a life of jud gment an d pressure in which the quality of what I do is reviewed by opinions and tastes and not only how hard I work. But still, I have decided to put myself in that position of danger because storytelling is a calling. Casting and Concept Initially, this play was meant to be directed by the former Director of School of Theatre and Dance Paul Favini. I was told I was assigned the role of Grandpa for my final thesis project. My initial reaction was to ask why this particular role was being a ssigned to me. The Director informed me that he had envisioned Grandpa as either a truly large man or very tiny gentleman. Through this concept, the audience would be able to recognize Grandpa as the pillar of the family. I was intrigued The fear of


9 playi ng a seventy five year old man was daunting to me My initial reaction was to decline the role and asked to be assigned to play another char acter in the play. The D irector gave me five minutes to think about it. During that time, I knew I was being given a challenge. I called him back, and embraced it. Still, I remained curious about the reason why I was being asked to embark on this journey. As the rehearsal time approached, a decision was made to transfer the directing duties of the production to Professo r Charlie Mitchell. Having been assigned the role casting choices would change. Later, I learned that the new director of the production also wanted me to play this role. So we began our discussions about the character, the plot and the rel ationships. The new production d irector gave me suggestions as to what I should be thinking about. We discussed Grandpa as a gentleman, Grandpa as a goofball, and Grandpa as the foundati on upon which everyone in the family stood We also came to the conclusion that perhaps Grandpa could be an immigrant from Portugal. I was glad to know the director did not want to deny my inherent nature and roots. Grandpa was to be mine from the very beg inning, as if no one else had played him before. However, because is an American classic, I did feel the responsibility of looking ba ck and observing actors who had played Grandpa in the past. Names such as Lionel Barrymore and Jason Robards could not be ignored. On video recordings, I observed both, not as a means of imit ating their performances, but to capture the sensibility of their approaches. It seemed to me th at while Barrymore focused on Grandpa the goofball, Robard s was a gentleman. I decided my Grandpa was to have moments of both for the true beauty of the character would rely in contrast.


10 Through the director, I was able to breathe easily through the process because I was given trust and room to explore. I was reminded that directors lov e independent and respectful actors. Yet, in situatio ns of artistic stagnation, one must always trust the I kne w there was a sense of honesty between my work and the vision of the director that always allowed the actors in the cast to get back on track when one of us would take a misstep. CHAPTER TWO EMBODYING THE ROLE Over the months leading up to the short rehearsal process, I prepared by reading the play several times. Respecting the fact that English is my second language, I focused primarily on the words in order to be comfortable with the nature of the American cla ssic and its inherent sensibilities. Although I wanted to be as familiar with the story as possible, I did not intend to have my lines fully memorized too so o n I wanted my line readings to grow mostly out of my presence with my fellow actors during the re hearsal process. I value the simplicity of interpretation but my actions were to be developed out of my reactions I wanted to be not only the actor who interprets but the actor who creates. Grandpa and the Teachings of Zeami Once rehearsal s started, I lived on instinct. I mostly thought of rehearsal as a playground and nothing more serious than that. I played with my voice, the words, my physical choices and possible approaches, some ridiculous, others fitting. I made choices, occasionally wrong choices, but I made them. O ne never really starts working until one makes a choice. The ability to play provided me with th e ease I needed to develop this role.


11 Then I moved on to evaluating the choices that I made at first. I find that even more important than to make choices is to evaluate them. It keeps the art new, fresh and di scovery. I was reminded of the Noh theatre, a traditional form of Japanese drama In Teachings on Style and the Flowe r 1 Zeami reminds us that t he Flower is the layer of w ork in which the actor develops the power to embrace the moment as is. N ovelty is an advantage, an ef ficient tool to achieve beauty by 2 at any given point within the secrets and life of the character. When one becomes conscious of the power of discovering new life at any given point of the rehearsal then the effor ts are ever evol ving and eventually ephemeral. T hey are never right or wrong. They simply are, the way a flower is, blooming. The character of Grandpa persistently evolved. He was constantly developing in my body, burning brighter through relentless change. Because it took much focus and dedication to keep it alive, I can now look back and see it as a fire I never really let die. That fire is imagination. It is true one can restart the fire, but one loses time, and since we do not have a whole lifetime to create a character, we must keep the flames burning at all times. In other words, there should be no separation between the lif e of the actor and the life of the character. Despite the realistic age we live in, the concept of imagination will never fade. The actor will always need an excuse to physically play, imagine other lives, create fantastical atmospheres so he /she may event ually attempt to encompass and serve humanity in one single gesture. Michael Chekhov, the Russian master actor, theoretician and teacher believed in the power of imagination to uplift the 1 Gerould, Daniel. Theatre/Theory/Theatre: The Major Critical Texts from Aristotle and Zeami to Soyinka and Havel New York: Applause, 2000 2 Gerould, Daniel. Theatre/Theory/Theatre: The Major Critical Texts from Aristotle and Zeami to Soyinka and Havel New York: Applause, 2000 pp. 102


12 character to a universal dimension: make the theatre more noble, more complicated, as it were, because this will serve our human culture more than any thing else, because the atmosphere our bodies create, just as it opens our own hearts if we imagine it around us, it opens the hearts of ever 3 Michael Chekhov and Grandpa Using psychological g esture helped me achieve those larger gesture was a technique developed to help actors embody their characters through exploring their physical life in the extreme. It begins when the soul needs the body in order to convey a message. Often, the actor thinks of his psychological life with the mind, but the reality is that psychology al so has a physical life of its own. Simply put, the psychological gesture is the marriage between a gesture and a feeling or a thought, a physical impulse. It is a consciou s process of physically expressing the will of the character, the super objective. Ch ek hov explains the concept by stating that; objective is something we want to get or accomplish, and the easiest way to experience 4 When I first read the script I was intimidated at the prospects of playing this character w hose life seemed so full of possibilities. The character seemed to be fully alive, as if every breath matter s, every step counts, every word reaches and touches. embracing and far ody should be complete. Then it is what we may call fully and completely 5 3 Chekhov, Michael. Lessons for the Professional Actor. New York: PAJ Publications, 1985. pp. 29. 4 Chekhov, Michael. Lessons for the Professional Actor. New York: PAJ Publications, 1985 pp. 108. 5 Chekhov, Michael. Lessons for the Professional Actor. N ew York: PAJ Publications, 1985 pp. 108.


13 Because according to the script Gr andpa is seventy five years old and I am twenty four years old, it was my task to translate these full of life components into a creative physical world. Starting with an impulse, I found gestures, physical that would express an interior life for the character. This story would in clude, in this specific order: hugging; reaching out; and eventually, resting. This need was driven not only by my knowled ge of the play but also by the feelings that might arise in me at any given moment of the rehearsal process. These gestures were also evolving because they represented the journey of the character First, he embraces his family, then he reaches out to help the family, and finally, after he changes it, he takes a nap and rests peacefully. These gestures change d move d and grew to be a sor t of a ritual based on the life of Martin Vanderhof. His ever growing free spirit then lived through the physical manifestations I envisioned for the character. Chekhov explains that the psychological gesture is imagination. Fo r this conscious work the actor will find himself greatly rewarded by the 6 As soon as that ritual was found in my body as soon as tha t inner voice of inspiration was heard, I exercised it unt il it became one with my body. physical world became one. The psychological gesture was a wonderful start. I used it to explore and master the emotional world of the character. I trusted that three gestures: embrac ing; reaching out; and resting my body grounded in imagination, would live in the hearts of both me and the audience. 6 Chekhov, Michael. On the Technique of Acting New York: Vintage, 1986 pp. 94.


14 Grandpa and My Personal Challenges The idea of remaining true to myself onstage at any given point of rehearsed or unrehearsed life is not an easy task. During the process of creating the character I was able to access a different side of Gr andpa; his sense of melancholy and longing for things that once were and no longer are. There needed to be a reas on why Grandpa became who he is; a carefree, strong, and full of life individual, a man who others look at as an example of a life worth living, not merely an old man whose life is nothing but a longing for the past. In my mind, there needed to be a reason for his way of seeing life. I qui ckly learned that his joy was only precious if the audience had a clue about his past suffering. During several rehearsals, I could not shake the thought of how much the character was talking directly to me as if he was teaching me a life lesson. This was the first time I had the feeling of having a dialogue with the character I was playing Consequently, I was able to find Although Grandpa is seventy f ive years old, he is also an authentic kid on the inside. Realizing this directly helpe d me discover where in my body Grandpa lived and reacted. The connection between my spine, neck and head became my main source of energy, as if every thought wa s a light bulb, a brilliant n ew idea. Every witty thing I had to s ay became a moment to moment thought pattern, as if I was constantly discovering things for the very first time. To find that Grandpa is a young soul inside an old body, while I am an old soul inside a young body, was a magical experience. That was the eureka moment of my process. Somehow, it was as if Gran dpa was telling me inside my core. They were holding hands before I even knew it.


15 CHAPTER THREE PHYSICAL APPRO ACH Approaching a role from a physical perspective has always helped me. I know I am a kinesthetic person. The closer I bring the role to my body, the more life it carries, the brighter the flame burns, the faster the flower blooms and the longer it stays aliv e. I used the Alexander Technique and stage combat as means of exploring the physical world. The Alexander Technique: Coming Home to Myself During the process of rehearsing one of the most enlightening lesson s was that if I wa s to learn ease, there were also things that I had to unlearn first. The Alexander Technique became my journey to embrace the unknown as the ultimate lesson. Realizing how Grandpa is a mixture of both action and relaxation, especially when novelty arises, allowed me to breathe wh en I was faced with obstacles. With Grandpa, t he process of accepting failure as part of the journey, learning how to learn through unlearning, and travelling from the known to the unknown all encompass the de whereby 7 I began to comprehend the value of focusing on the process as opposed to the result. In Body Learning according to 8 and when one realizes how little control one has over that thing, one will begin enjoying th e process instead of stubbornly wanting so much. This is the main reason became my culminating learning experience at the University of Florida. I ca ught myself focusing on the day by day, on the fellow actor holding my hand, on the 7 action Gelb, Michael. Body Learning New York: Holt, 1996 pp. 164 8 Gelb, Michael. Body Learning New York: Holt, 1996 pp. 59.


16 experience of creating for the sake of telling a story as opposed to wanting des perately towards the process and willingness to be present with m y fellow actors translated into Through thinking that I was the character and the character was merely hanging about inside me, I started asking questions such as: Why should I even use my shou lders if I simply need my fingers, hands and forearms to commit to this specific action? Why do I not find a way to balance and compensate for it? What is the specific habit ssence showed up in the economy of my movements. To be still while remaining present might be the hardest thing one can do onstage. But, at the same time, I also found that to onstage as well. I believe that the core of good art lies in simplicity, or I should say, in the beauty of simplicity. When a piece of art tries too hard to be too much, there is an automatic disconnection between the artist and the work. Grandpa is a calm and st ill human being. But he is never absent. An animal metaphor I found helpful was that of a huge caged gorilla. He is q uiet and almost does nothing. However, he remains alert, alive, ready to react at any given moment. In several moments in the performance I was able to merely sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as if I myself was an enthusiastic audience member. And because I was quietly observing as opposed to pretending that I was listening, I myself became interesting the same way a gorilla may be intere sting. There is no pretence. These moments of stillness echoed in eternity for me and as a consequence, they brought me close to the story, the audience and myself.


17 I then realized that the Alexander Technique is a choice, a choice to accept the fact that willing to admit. And the choice ready for a change and to recognize our bodies as part of nature. According to Gelb, the actor is lost until he/she dares to make a choice; 9 In developing this role I came to continue my understanding of the true value of primary control as the dynamic relationship betwe en the head, neck and torso. The first primary control definition in our bodies and our whole being. Barbara Conable, in How to Learn the Alexander Technique, defines primary control as the intrinsic mechanism dynamic relationship 10 W hile in Body Learning, nship that functions all the time, for better or wors 11 Grandpa is seventy five years old but his sense of balance and support i n the body is still impeccable. T he relationship between his head and spine is still very much alive becau se his free spir it must translate into youthful practice and control I knew that if my primary control was that of a baby, then I would be able to observe everything as if it was for the first time. I knew that in order for me I had to constantly remind myself of the most important law of human movement: re leasing the tension in the neck, head leading and body following as Conable reminds us in How to Learn the 9 Gelb, Michael. Body Learning New York: Holt, 1996 pp. 10 Conable, Barbara. How to Learn the Alexander Technique Port land, OR: Andover, 1995. pp 1 11 Gelb, Michael. Body Learning New York: Holt, 1996 pp. 44.


18 Alexander Technique 12 This concept help ed me immensely as I wished Grandpa to be a relaxed gentleman and a free spirited goofball. Another Alexander Technique concept that helped me in creating Grandpa was that one do es not need to reproduce the f eeling but the mental process. In other words, thinking the thought and not the feeling wa s a major change in my process. I realized that Grandpa, being seventy five years old, not only speaks as he thinks b ut he also thinks as he speaks. Everything said is simultaneously free and calculated, as if honesty does not need care or precaution. Honest people do not put their thoughts before their actions. They think quickly, on their feet. They are ready and aware at all times. The ability to be alive in the present moment allowed my body to become fr ee in such a way that I began to forget my body, especially when for so long I was blocked by my director to sit on a chair. y, one begins to breathe, no ticing what might actu ally be happening in the moment and eventually, letting go. I was still fully aware of my physical life, but somehow, thinking the thought permitted the uncertai nties about what the character wa s feeling to fly away. I was then devoid of preoccupation and negative tension. The discover y The next question I asked myself was: how then, does one change a habit? I knew that one possible answer is by overpowering it with another habit, a better one. This happens when practice and repetition exceed s and reach es the unexpected. This discovery allowed my body to change for the better. The habitual tensions were destroyed by the deep self knowledge of the body I had developed over my two and a half years of training as a graduate acting student 12 Conable, Barbara. How to Learn the Alexander Technique Portland, OR: Andover, 1995 pp. 2.


19 While playing Grandpa, I was able to understand one of my habits that may have been hindering my presence on stage for many years. I noticed that when I listen, I tend to open my mouth more than I need to caus ing my neck to hurt. By opening my mouth too far, my head reacts by going back, causing a constant downward pull of my energy. The downward pull is according to Gelb, the very opposite of thinking up, when gravity beats us. 13 14 I had previously noticed that at the end of each rehearsal the very point where my s pine and skull met hurt. Also, most of my headaches were situated in that same location. The pain was often unbearable and I knew it was because of my poor use of my own body. For a long time my major focus was on my locked knees my hips and my tense s houlders A s a consequence, along the way I had forgotten a bout my primary control. By thinking up I was then reminded of the difference between list ening and pretending to listen. Because for such a long time listening was my first concern, it had become a habit instead of an action. I was demonstrating the listening instead of actually actively doing the listening. I recall this moment as a reminder that I was alive. My energy shif ted and my role finally came to life. ability to change is an intellectual capacity. The recognition of the force of habit is essential for the performer so he can stop the grow th of damaging habits of movement and embody other physical lives as effortlessly as possible. The impact that this concept because one begins to appreciate the body as a precious tool. No artist can strive witho ut deep awareness, responsibility and willingness to evolve because when one finally comes home to oneself, one is simply 13 Gelb, Michael. Body Learning New York: Holt, 1996 pp. 71 14 Conable, Barbara. How to Learn the Alexander Technique Portland, OR: Andover, 1995 pp. 13


20 not denying oneself. One is reminded that one not only has oneself to use but also, one is oneself Stage Combat: Simplicity of Action O ne of the most important physical lesson s I immediately applied in my thesis project role was the value of the proce ss driven work in stage combat. The importance of taking things slowly reminded me of what it means to honor the step by step, moment by moment nature of the rehearsal process. I told myself this would be the experience in which I would not jump ten steps ahead I would not end gain. Because end gaining is the mechanism by which one prevents development and gro wing from happening Denying the means whereby the moment by moment experience is the same as not applying underwater speed to a fight or not separating each action before one jumps into a full speed fight. So, this time around, I decided I would stay with the script for as long as possible, even when I th ought I had my lines memorized. This allowed me to live wi th the words longer than usual. As a consequence, impulses b egan to have a close and intimate connection with the words. In the past, I have often thought of the text as a separate element from my body. But now, I allowed the truth of the action to lie first and foremost in the word itself. The words became the means of transportation and not obstacles to get through. In stage combat, committing to an action in underwater speed not only allows every move to be clearer in terms of distance and precision, but also brings e ase to the sequence of actions. Consequen tly, thoughts find connections through actions. Indeed, keeping my script in hand for as long as I could was the same as going through a fight in underwater speed.


21 Repetition was another conc ept that my body responded to. T hrough the short three week re hearsal process, I could not be more grateful attention to repetition in action. The fact that the cast was able to repeat not only certain portions of text but also physical actions allowed me to make the adjustments not only quicker a nd with more attention to detail. With constant repetition, one is allowed to explore immediately after the previous exploration is over and invited to discover what works and what does not work in the present moment. As a result of this kind of approach to the work, my discoveries became more immediate. In stage combat, repeating a fight over and over again helps the actor forget oneself and capture the actions, the in between actions and where the breath lives. Another concept I found helpful was that exhaustion often helps with flow. and the mind begins to give up. I recall one particular rehearsal night when I was physically exhausted T hat was perhaps my most relaxed and active rehearsal. Because I was tired from exercising in the morning, my body sort of gave up on trying so hard and my motions were easier. Listening became effortless Because I was not working so hard, there were times I caught myself living truthfully under the imaginary circumstances more than ever before. I felt somew hat lost while maintaining my field of awareness. Suddenly, my chest was also softer and my movements freer. My physical consciousness was in somewhat of a soft focus as if my body belonged in that spa ce at that exact moment and nowhere els e. I was final ly taping into what it truly means to relax the way Grandpa does. Being seventy years old is nothing more than being tired and content and being tired allows for more slowness and stillness. One may not know


22 what to do but if one does not relax into th e process t he energy in the air may become tight and the audience will have no room to breathe. The last concept that I used from stage combat was that learning with the body is just as valuable as learn ing with the mind, if not more. During the rehearsal process, I noticed how immens physical and imaginative life through touching gav e the story so much more depth. In other words, every single time I was close to another actor, I made sure I established physical contact wi th them in some sort of manner. This way, they knew that the feeling of home comes from warmth, touch and comfort, not just a house and good food. This also made me think of our cast and how much of our bonding grew out of that same touch. The simplest of physical connections can transform cold into warmth, negative into positi ve, and indifference into love. L ove is always the best choice, especially when the target at hand is to get a family to love each other. C HAPTER FOUR PERFORMANCE Every working actor has, at some point, asked himself what acting is supposed to be, or even if it is supposed to be anything at all other than what the literal meaning of the word implies which is to act! The more questions one asks, the more one seems to come to terms with the fact that when one feels as if one is not trying, that is precisely the moment when one has got it right. With the role of Martin Vanderhof, I came to learn the relevance of letting go and forge t about working so hard I found the joy of In Acting in Film Michael


23 Caine advises the actor to ; ll take care of itself. A cting today is much more a matter rather 15 Action versus e motion As one gains experience, one realizes that the truth of reaching an audience is achieved merely through pure listening and reacting. There lies the potential for authentic spontaneity. Then, the actor must practice not only the doing but also the quality of the doing, the listening and the quality of the listening. Caine states : reaction that gives every moment its potency. That is why listening is so important. 16 I ndeed, less is more. One begins to understand the value of merely saying the words given by the playwright, committing to the action as opposed to demonstrating the action, and last but not least, of fighting the emotion instead of desperately pushing for it. At the same time, it also has much to do with being willing to observe the world, Indeed, if one focuses on the other, one automatically becomes present with the o ther. The external world charges the internal life. The reacting boosts the quality of the acting As Bruder reminds us in A Practical Handbook for the Actor 17 By placing my full nurturing and protection for his family. The challenge became to find a way to bring meaning and intensity to the specific scene without overact ing. How does one prevent that? How does one achieve the depth of intenti on required in certain scenes? T his is where the Practica l Handbook for the Actor reminded me of ho w vital it wa 15 Caine, Michael. Acting in Film. New York: Applause, 1997 pp. 7 16 Caine, Michael. Acting in Film. New York: Applause, 1997 pp. 11. 17 Bruder, Melissa et al. A Practical Handbook for the Actor New York: Vintage, 1986 pp 18.


24 you must always have 18 For one to find that action, one must first analyze the play, scene by scene three steps the actor must ask and answer oneself. First, what is the character literally doing? Gran dpa is literally living in his household. Second, what is the essential action of what the ch aracter is doing ? Grandpa is getting his family to love each other. And third, what is the actio n like to the actor, the as if? It was as if I was getting my own fam ily to stop fighting each other for the sake of money and material gains This last one must be a fantasy, preferably not a past expe rience. These three steps helped me realize the importance of having an a ction as a tool to play. An action allowed me to get something out of others. Grandpa is an active human being, eager to get his famil y to love each other. Finally when Grandpa was not being able to keep his family together, his emotional depth became apparent. The jo urney to being a successful actor is the same journey as getting to kn ow oneself as well as possible. Once one deeply understands oneself and stays true to it, one can afford to sit down and simply be prese nt. Only then will the actor be naked of worries and full of confidence to sh are. Towards the end of my journey with Grandpa I knew I had succeeded in living in the moment using myself to create. Novelty Once the performance time started I learned the importance of taking care of myself. I asked myself if repetition kills or enhances truth. However, b y staying both focused and free, I was able not to t hink about it. Focus did not mean stiffn ess or exaggerated seriousness. F ocus meant easy concentration. Focus was freedom. I continued to develop Grandpa as a kind of alert freedom, an almost f ocused carelessness which allowed me to burn brigh ter, play and often explode with joy at a different 18 Bruder, Melissa et al. A Practical Handbook for the Actor New York: Vintage, 1986 pp 13.


25 moment in the show each night. All my efforts were focused primarily on my surroundings, the pe ople around me and what they were saying, and not only pretending to listen but actually listen with my whole self. It sounds simple, b ut simplicity is often the most unattainable of all human qualities. Voice and b reath Breath is life. Grandpa knows how to breathe the same way he knows how to live. There is a breathing exercise that helped me setting my vocal instrument free. It allowed the air to move through not only my diaphragm, which actors often confuse with their bellies but also through my back ribs. This functioned as a clean s ing exercise with the purpose to relax the body through setting the voice free. I was no longer hurt ing it. I was no longer misus ing it. Subconsciously, I have come to terms with my v oice. s wisdom and sense of calm, I found my voice Vocally my three objectives for this production of were : first, to allow my vocal work to be smooth and clear as opposed to harsh and blurred. I allowed my voice to sit on my body so I could free the instrument. I was then able to touch the audience without unnecessary tension. I knew Grandpa require d a free voice because his persona was not oppressed by any means. I wanted my voice to soothe my fe ear s mind s and heart s Second, I start ed with simply saying the words as organically as possible. I wanted to understand each word in depth before I jumped into an interpretation. I played with the sounds, textures, tones and structures of the words T he n, the ease that came with simply saying the lines stayed in my physical memory. Nothing was then put on Words had strong reasons. Words had an organic exi stence before a technical one. During the performing of the role of Martin Vanderhof in front of an audience I learned


26 that my voice is not a separate element from my body, my voice belongs with my body. The voice is the body. CHAPTER FIVE A PERSONAL CONCLUSION Through the short rehearsal proce ss of two and half weeks I discovered that artistic growth will always remain a major concern for me. I do not consider myself an actor quite yet. Today, the word actor deserves more respect than what it is given. It seems to me that too many people call themselves actors I beli eve everyone can act but not everyone can be an actor. Meryl Streep is an actor Mark Rylance is an actor They both earned the title. Someday in the future, I want to become an actor. For now, I think of myse lf as an acting apprentice. The deeper I know myself, the clearer the world will know me, the closer I will live to not only be called an actor, but to be respected as one, the same way Grandpa is respected by everyone who knows him well. Yet, I am aware that this experience of perf orming the role of Grandpa was a large step forward. I believe the mechanism of devising both historica l and contemporary performances often calls for a performer who constantly reinvents life and explores T he artist ought to know oneself in order to free oneself. I look at the work of the artist as the work of a c reator, not a mere interpreter. Although it is important for the actor to utilize the character and stay true to the given circumstances of the play while honoring the interest of the playwright, in this specific case George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, one must not mer ely interpret, one must create upon the creation given. I am proud to say tha t I made Martin Vanderhof mine. The one who constantly creates also plays a more active role in society. In Europe where I first began acting, the actor is mostly seen as a poet a dreamer a player,


27 not a scientist or literary critic The actor is very rarely a simple mirror to the truth of the world he is more H e exceeds life itself Performance should be more of a metaphor in which life itself transforms and the characters are imagination grounde d in truth My goal has been to simply play the truth of my own imagination not always necessarily the truth of the world, as it is (although that is important) but the truth of my own imagination as I have learned life, as I have lived life. I still remember the day I decided to take the most important step of my short life. I can still feel the deep grasping breath I had to take. I am still able to recall all the goodbyes. And yes, I can still glimpse the tearing eyes of those who I loved the most. I remember this, not as someone who regrets or misses it. I simply evoke it as the very moment I knew my life was changing. I was changing. I decided to leave my Portugal, my family, my friends, almost everything that ever mattered to me, and all the sensations, smells, feelings and possibilities that I knew I was going to love to sh are with them. However, I had no idea why I decided to go ahead and do it. I was still oblivious to my nature. It was not until I was lucky enough to be offered to play the title role of Grandpa in at the early age of twenty four that I truly understood why I decided to leave. I had to leave home in order to finally come home to myself.


28 APPENDIC ES WORKS CITED Gelb, Michael. Body Learning New York: Holt, 1996. Gerould, Daniel. Theatre/Theory/Theatre: The Major Critical Texts from Aristotle and Zeami to Soyinka and Havel New York: Applause, 2000. Conable, Barbara. How to Learn the Alexander Technique Portland, OR: Andover, 1995. Caine, Michael. Acting in Film. New York: Appla use, 1997. Chekhov, Michael. On the Technique of Acting New York: Vintage, 1986. Chekhov, Michael. Lessons for the Professional Actor. New York: PAJ Publications, 1985. Stanislavsky, Constantin. An Actor Prepares London: Methuen Drama, 1980. Bruder Melissa et al. A Practical Handbook for the Actor New York: Vintage, 1986.


29 PRODUCTION PHOTOGRAPHS End of Act II Beginning of Act II Gay Wellington is invited over.




31 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Filipe Valle Costa is originally from Lisbon, Portugal where he began his career as an actor as a member of the Theatre Group of Letters He graduated with Honors from Graceland University with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre, with focus on Acting and Directing. While at the University of Florida, Filipe performed in You Can't Take It With You (Martin Vanderhof), In the Blood (Baby), Damn Yankees (Bryant), The Mousetrap (Mr. Paravicini) Oedipus the King ( Sheperd ) and Romeo and Juliet (Romeo.) He expand ed his passion and appreciation for the Theatre by taking both Oedipus, the King and Romeo and Juliet on an international tour to Greece. Signs of Life. With Signs of Life, he was part of shows dealing with themes such as identity, fear, time and revolution. Also, while in Gainesville, Florida, Filipe had the privilege of working wit h the Hippodrome State Theatre the local regional theatre, where he performed in Dracula (Simmons), End Days (Nelson), A Christmas Carol (Ghost of Christmas Past), Sirens (Richard Miller), Over the Tavern (Eddie) and A Midsummer (Lysander/Flute.) Along with these performance credits, Filipe also had the privilege of teaching several undergraduate courses at UF, including Theatre Appreciation (THE 2000), Oral Performance of Literature (ORI 2000), and Ac ting for Non Majors (TPP 2100).