Luís Melo, actor and theater researcher

Cathy De Monchaux, Never Forget the Power of Tears, 1997
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By AFRANIO CATANI*

Comment on Lígia Scalise's interview with the artist from Paraná

1.

At the end of last year, after watching a theater show, I picked up a copy of E Magazine, published by SESC São Paulo, and I leafed through it at random. There are always good articles and reports, and the October 2023 edition did not disappoint me: I found an excellent interview with the actor and theater researcher Luís Melo (1957), carried out by Lígia Scalise, entitled “Ser muável”.

It may be strange for the reader to reproduce significant parts of a recently published text. However, I understand that several inflection points in Lígia Scalise's work on an artist who is, perhaps, one of the best of her generation deserve to be highlighted.

The interview begins with a brief summary of Luís Melo's career, in the precise narrative of Lígia Scalise: “For more than four decades, Luís Melo has dedicated his life to theatrical experiments. Body, voice, breathing, speech, balance, imbalance. Silence. Everything is a research and work tool for this renowned actor in theater, television and cinema. The young boy from Curitiba, who dreamed of being an architect, had his career crossed by theater. Since then, he has never deviated from his path, he graduated from the Permanent Theater Course at Fundação Teatro Guaíra, in Curitiba, in 1979, and, since then, he has won Brazil, international critics and the biggest awards such as actor” (p. 17).

For 10 years, from 1985 to 1995, Luís Melo was a student and member of the Theatrical Research Center (CPT) – SESC, where he lived with director Antunes Filho (1929-2019). He was one of the first CPT actors who, playing Macbeth in Throne of Blood (1982), received the most important awards in the category. His popularity took off when, on TV Globo, he made the soap opera Heads & Tails (1995). From then on, he did a lot of television and cinema, but without ever abandoning theater (p. 17).

From 2000 onwards, Mello developed other theatrical research projects, notably the Ateliê de Criação Teatral (ACT) in Curitiba, over the course of eight years. Since 2017, he has been dedicating himself to Campo das Artes, “his life project”, located in Campos Gerais, in the Devonian Escarpment region, 40 km from Curitiba. Developed with the theatrical architect, set and costume designer José Carlos Serroni (who worked with Antunes Filho) and with the architect Renato Santos. “The central idea of ​​Campo das Artes is to be a structure for resident artists, while at the same time housing 12 spaces for experimentation and research. All amidst magnificent nature. It has a library, scenography and costume creation rooms, living space, accommodation, vegetable garden, greenhouse and multipurpose space for rehearsals and presentations” (p. 22). There is still a lot to be done, but the fight continues – which for him is not that difficult…

The interview that Lígia Scalise carried out with Luís Melo took place in the second half of 2023, on the occasion of his return to Teatro Anchieta, at Sesc Consolação, with the play Mutations, directed by André Guerreiro, “inspired by the ancient Chinese work i ching” (p. 17).

2.

Very early on, he enrolled in a theater school, Teatro Guaíra, in Curitiba. He praises his teacher, with whom he learned classical body language, modern dance, fencing, French and makeup. Upon graduating in 1979, he embarked on a career as a professional actor and theater teacher. However, before becoming well known in Curitiba, he declared that “the theater did not accept him straight away”. He explained that the teachers loved him, “…but they didn’t know what to do with me, because I was always very chubby. At that time, this was an issue. So much so that I spent a lot of time as an assistant – voice, body and direction. My colleagues, who graduated from the same class, received job offers easily. Until the invitation to act in a children's play came and, from then on, the game changed. My body was no longer a problem, because my name was popular with directors. They realized I had talent. It was 'Melinho here', 'Melinho there'. That’s how Ademar Guerra (1933-1993) (…) chose me to participate in the show Colonia Cecilia (1984), a text that portrays the history of Italian anarchists in Paraná” (p. 18).

And Lígia extracts a precious thing from Melo, when he reveals that Ademar Guerra taught him how to face one of his biggest challenges in his career: 'learning to act with your eyes”. Ademar gave him very few lines, but he taught him “how to direct the scenes with just my eyes. It was the first time I had contact with experimental theater” (p. 18) The director made him leave his comfort zone, while actress Lala Schneider encouraged him to leave Curitiba and try to conquer the world.

It was Ademar Guerra, also, who recommended him to Antunes Filho, who gave him tests. The CPT master needed a “center actor”, an expression to designate “actors who play different roles and support the protagonist” (p. 18). And, in an unpretentious way, it reveals part of Antunes Filho's working methods, when conducting the tests: he gave Luís Melo a week to rehearse four scenes with one of his assistants and, when he went to perform, Antunes Filho practically wouldn't let him speak practically nothing. “I discovered that for Antunes Filho, all that mattered was my determination, the way I entered the scene” (p. 18). Luckily for him (and for us too), he passed the test and worked at CPT for 10 years.

Antunes Filho taught him how to play supporting roles, he made him work for a long time until he became the protagonist. He said: “Melo’s time will come”. It took a while, but it arrived: Paradise North Zone (1989) was his first leading role; then they came Our Old History (1991) Throne of Blood (1992) Path of Salvation (1993) and Gilgamesh (1995). She received several awards for her portrayal of Macbeth.

Provoked by Lígia Scalise about the lessons learned from Antunes Filho, the actor highlights that his career was built around experimentation, and for him the actor has to have open pores to perceive and receive, attentive to solving any surprise problem – “ be it a technical error, a memory failure, or an out-of-mark light. I learned a lot at CPT and with Antunes” (p. 19). He taught me to show my precariousness; He said: “If you want to seduce the public, show that you have cavities, that you sweat, that you have an odor, that you spit saliva when you speak. Show that you sometimes have doubts and that you are not superman. It is your truth as an actor that will seduce and win over the audience” (p. 19).

Luís Melo left CPT and went to Globo to make the soap opera Heads & Tails. At 38, she lived in constant financial instability and had already turned down invitations to work on TV. It was impossible to reconcile the work carried out with Antunes Filho with any other activity. It doesn't take much imagination to deduce that the master was very upset with his pupil's decision.

The actor confesses that, for him, the adaptation to television was “a shock” and that, “honestly, I don't know if I've adapted to this day (laughs)” (p. 20). He highlights the support he received from Wolf Maya and, over time and with more experiences on TV, he learned “about camera positioning and how to play with it” (p. 20).

The set of artistic activities of Luís Melo, over more than 40 years of career, presents numbers that are impressive: more than 20 theatrical plays, around a dozen and a half films and around 30 works on TV (soap operas and series ), having received approximately 20 awards. But, between films and TV appearances, he always found time to be on stage.

The excellent interview carried out by Lígia Scalise, and which I tried to draw attention to several relevant passages here, reveals an artist who was generous with his teachers and colleagues who contributed to him becoming the reference he is in his profession: Halina Marcinowski, Eva Schul, Lala Schneider, Ademar Guerra, Antunes Filho, Wolf Maya, Rosi Campos, Christiane Torloni, Laura Cardoso, André Guerreiro, Artur Ribeiro, André Curti are remembered affectionately.

Upon returning to the stage in 2023, with Mutations, after long isolation due to the pandemic, Luís Melo confesses that he felt a kind of panic, because “nobody returns from where they left off. It is necessary to recover the body, voice, sensitivity. I had to make up for the loss” (p. 21). And, doing joke, adds: “theatre is exercise, and I joke that it takes revenge on those who abandon it” (p. 21).

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..

Reference


Lígia Scalise. “Being changeable – actor and theater researcher Luís Melo makes his career on stage his own experimentation”. E Magazine. SESC São Paulo, year 30, no. 4, p. 16-22, October 2023.


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