No one seems to object to the transcriptions and posting of AK’s comments which are at I’m putting comments and analysis on a separate blog, this one, so that people who don’t want to read such things don’t have to. This blog is set to accept anonymous comments, but I read them all and won’t tolerate flame wars. None have started.

Some of the most interesting and useful feedback on this material is coming in emails, some shared and others not shared, which I don’t want to post with names attached unless I have permission. I’m just going ahead to name the people AK named in her notes -- it’s been half a century since then, after all. Indeed, some of the email comments are arriving from people in that time period as well and those of us who know each other can probably guess who said what.

In good “discussion” mode, I’ll try to separate the issues from the people.

1. It is most moving that after fifty years the memory of personal relationships with AK have the status of love affairs, magical relationships that have inspired people for decades. They do NOT want that interfered with. Who would?

2. Likewise, there were a few people deeply wounded by past misunderstanding and schism and they, too, still hurt. To some this might be a reason to shut down, but to me it’s a reason to continue.

3. One opinion is that AK’s teaching methods are obsolete now. Students will no longer tolerate the confrontive and sometimes invasive tactics she used then. Indeed, some people wouldn’t accept them then, but they quietly went elsewhere. Is it a loss or a gain to give up the auteur model of teaching? Stanislavki was, after all, a Russian like the famously dictatorial ballet masters.

4. Is it true that academic theatre is nothing like professional theatre? You can still be tough on professional actors? (If Equity allows it.)

5. Some feel that theatre is totally different now. Whatever was important then is NOT important now. Or, to the contrary, theatre, esp. repertory theatre, is entering a renaissance that is vital and thriving across the country with new companies still being founded.

6. AK’s life trajectory is not really understandable without considering the time periods, the place, the administrators, sexism, and so on. No different from understanding a character in a play. (I confess -- this is my opinion.) All this happened before the Derrida Deconstruction craze, but we understand that, don’t we?

Mary Strachan Scriver

(Prairie Mary_

Friday, May 2, 2014


February 2, 1960

The program notes for University theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” express surprise that it is not played more often.  After seeing it, one knows why.

In fact, one wonders why University theatre purposefully selected what is notorious for being Shakespeare’s worst comedy, if not the worst of all his plays.

It was probably selected because it was felt the comic and slapstick elements in the play could make a successful light production, if not a memorable one.  But, without a cast of dyed-in-the-wool, hardened professional comics this is impossible no matter who is producing the play.

In other words, “Comedy of Errors” is a lousy play.  It was badly written and poorly constructed and followed through.  The comic scenes are repetitious and dull.  One is never quite sure, of all the twins, who is on the stage, and one is worn out watching the play without having derived any merriment from it.

Shakespeare listed the play from Plautus’ “Menechini,” where he should have left it.  It is one of Shakepeare’s earliest comedies, and it has all the signs, a complicated plot; stiff, unnatural dialogue; and a peculiar, undeveloped mixing of tragic and comic elements.

So, given these preliminary problems, there is little a cast of university players can do but bear with the play and try to get around it by using what little they know and rarely get to practice about low, slapstick comedy.

There is little desire on the reviewer’s part to continue.  The play is a bad one.  the players and director did their best but what resulted was not an entertaining production.  The only production of the “Comedy of Errors” that ever had any potential was Rogers and Hart “The Boys from Syracuse,” a 1930’s musical saved by the music.

To the credit of the play, it was well-paced and never dragged, a decided possibility in the tedious unraveling of the plot in the second act.  The action was good and the players told their story without belaboring it.

In addition, the play looked good.  That is, the groupings and movement on stage was quite effectively done by means of different levels and a variety of entrances off and onto the stage.  There was a studied effort to place the characters where they would look the best in relation to other characters and to the plot.

Set against a most effective background, built to represent a street in early 19th century Europe, the stage pictures were very pleasing.  However, the contortions the actors went through to set up these stage pictures not only wore out the actors but also the audience.  At once point, the abbess walks across the stage, up some stairs, and turns immediately around and comes back down, while reciting a speech.

On the debit side, there is the acting out of the play.  It was dull and rarely humorous.

If there was an outstanding performance, it was certainly that of Paula Ragusa [later Paula Prentiss], as Adriana the shrewish wife to one of the twin brothers.  She was the perfect shrew with the loud voice and the flaying arms.  [sic]

Paul Hardy, as the twin Antipholus of Syracuse, did a competent job.  He gave his lines what life he could, but did his best work in pantomime and silent reaction to situations.  Several of the comic bits he and Larry Smith, as his servant Dromio, were the most effective in the play.

Smith, who played both twins Dromio, was most enjoyed by the audience.  He resorted to low comedy routines, as he should have, rolling on the stage, falling, doing double takes, and acting generally unaware of much that was going on.

If there was any fault in his performance, it was that he over-played his part without working with anyone else on stage, except Hardy.

Bill Pogue, as Antipholus of Ephesus, and Sharon Risk, as Luciana, Adriana’s sister, read their poorly written lines without inspiration, in contrast to Hardy and Ragusa.

And Robin Deck, as the courtesan, looked and acted the part brassily enough but never stopped moving the entire time she was on the stage, although attention was rarely centered on her.

The costumes were the poorest this season.  Although there is no particular objection to doing the comedy in Empire dress, the colors are badly matched (particularly that of Antipholus) and the women’s costumes appeared to have been hastily thrown together, one swatch of material over another.

It is too bad that University theatre had to select a comedy like this one to display its talents.  At least “Endgame” was a conscientious effort to experiment and “Caesar and Cleopatra” was an entertaining extravaganza.

This play was last produced at Northwestern in 1939.  Perhaps it would not be asking too much to wait 40 instead of 20 years before the next production.

[Notes:  Weeks never does name the director, but -- judging from the cast -- I suspect it was Krause.  Perhaps it was also Krause who directed in 1939, maybe to better reviews.  But this is speculation.]

Here's a pre-performance publicity clip from the Daily Northwestern.  There was no story.  Thirkield's name is misspelled. Paula Ragusa is unnamed.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Dave Roberts became Tony Roberts



(D NW Editor’s note:  Since the regular Daily reviewer was out of town last weekend, Norman Mark was assigned to review “Don Juan” for the paper.)

The Northwestern theatre department is currently presenting a delightful evening’s entertainment, an “Introduction to Dave Roberts,” under the name of Moliere’s “Don Juan.”

In the role of Sganarettle, Don Juan’s valet, Mr. Roberts carries or participates in nearly everything that comes off right during the evening.  Facial reactions to other characters’ dialogue, pauses scattered through his own lines, the bits of humorous business -- all produce the desired comic effect without resorting to slapstick.

The play opens with Sganarelle speaking to Gusman (David Cremosnik) about Don Juan’s life and loves.  Gusman speaks his lines so lifelessly, in comparison to Sganarelle, that the reviewer is forced to surmise that he is not really interested in the play.

In the middle of this scene, Don Juan enters, played inadequately by David Zegers.  The seducer of 1,003 women in Spain doesn’t know how to wear his costume or live up to his legend.
Errol Flynn and who cares?

Everything about him tends to enforce this impression -- from the distracting movements of the head and hands to the emaciated bit of peach fuzz under his chin.  Someone playing in the legend of John Barrymore, Doug Fairbanks, and Errol Flynn (all past Don Juans -- in films), should at least look like he has some talent in the bedroom arts, rather than a boy caught in the wrong costume party without his I.D.

As soon as Don Juan enters, Sganarelle goes to his knees and from then on the part could have been played by an amputee.  With the focus being on Mr. Roberts so much of the time, why did the director choose to have him in a position where it is difficult for the audience to see him?
Roberts and Walther

Don Juan announces that he has found a new love and he is going to give up his present one, Donna Elvire.  After she comes in and scolds him, for some unknown reason he has to leave.  Then he almost drowns off the coast of Scotland, makes love to two peasant girls, goes through a forest manhandling, saving Spaniards and inviting statues to dinner on the way to the end of Act I.

Gretchen Walther (Donna Elvire) is much more convincing when she returns in the second act to reform Don Juan than in the first when she gives vent to her anger.  Holding crosses rather than beating her side with riding crops seem to be her forte.

Marcia Rodd

Pierrot (Pat Brubaugh), Charlotte (Susan Shanks), and Mathurine (Marcia Rodd), all portray Scottish peasant folk almost too well -- their accents sometime obscure the dialogue. 

On the technical aspects, the set does not look Spanish.  It looks like a set placed on the stage, rather than giving a feeling of Spain.  There is so little change from the basic platforms that one is led to believe that someone in theatre must have a decided lazy streak.

In fact the only really Spanish influence in the entire play was Donna Elvire’s brothers, Don Carlos (Laird Williamson) and Don Alonzo (Larry Kamm).  Embodying the “pundonor,” or point of honor that bound Spanish noblemen to revenge a family disgrace with the blood of the debaucher, the two brothers help Don Juan with one of his better scenes, when they try to decide whether or not to make him part of a shish-ka-bob.

The second act goes from the wild to the weird, with fathers scolding, tradesmen being outfoxed, a statue coming to dinner and finally a full company of spectres and demons.  All of these supporting characters are quite believable in their roles.  Unfortunately, they have to deal with Don Juan, who isn’t.

After having dinner with the statue, Don Juan tries a hypocritical reformation and outwardly embraces religion.  This deceit precipitates his final downfall and, in the last scene, hell (located immediately under the stage) opens and gives him a bid.

He accepts with reluctance, while demons leap out and run around in tights for the pledging ceremony.  There is some static, probably unintentional, is followed by Sganarelle’s last words which left Saturday’s [gap] on the public address and at last Don Juan leaves the stage.

The effect of the acting by the two leads is perfectly summed up in the last lines when Don Juan says that hell is burning his feet and the audience is moved to the extent that one wants to get him a Dr. Scholl's foot pad.  This

 . . . [rest is missing].


This is the publicity on February 18, 1960.  I’m surprised to discover I was the assistant director!  


“Don Juan,” Moliere’s comic tale of the legendary Spaniard who was reputed to have had a thousand love affairs, will be the final winter quarter production of the Northwestern University theatre.  The play will be presented Feb. 26, 27, 28, and March 4, 5, 6.

The production will include two scenes generally omitted from printed and performed versions, director John E. Van Meter said.  The scenes were cut out after the initial production because the audience misinterpreted them as blasphemous.

A favorite in France, the play has not received much attention in this country.  The legend is fairly well known in the United States because of the popularity of Mozart’s opera, “Don Giovanni.”  the opera is a more swash-buckling version than Moliere’s play, which concentrates on the comic adventures of the Don.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014




DAILY NORTHWESTERN   Wednesday, February 3, 1960


(Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of three articles devoted to the Northwestern speech school’s workshop theatre.  We chose to publish such an extensive series on workshop because we feel it is probably the most creative and at the same time least known activity on campus.  This first article deals with the organization and development of workshop.  the second article will discuss the problems workshop faces.  And the third article will be a close look at an original scene by Gary Vitale, now in rehearsal.)

by Norman Mack

The room is dingy . . . there are a few wooden chairs around . . . cracks in the ceiling . . . dust generally and a wooden creaking floor.  In the center of the room is a girl, who is ordinarily beautiful, but is now dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt with little make-up and unruly hair.  She is shouting angry words at a boy while her director encourages her.  This is workshop theatre.

The scene shifts.  The same girl, in the same working outfit, is in Centennial hall.  The same director is encouraging her, only her performance is considerably subdued -- the walls in Centennial hall are hard and echoes result.  This, too, is workshop.

Now the applause has died down, most of the non-theatre majors have left the speech auditorium.  Miss Alvina Krause, faculty sponsor of workshop theatre, stands on the audience’s level and praises the girl’s performance.  This workshop bill for the director and the girl has come to a happy conclusion.

Workshop is the first arena where the hopes of novice directors, actors, and actresses get tested at Northwestern.  It adds more students to the to school education than any other activity on campus and it gives the new blood of the theater a change to present themselves to an audience.

And yet this activity, so important to speech majors that as soon as new tryouts are announced every book containing the new plays disappears from Deering, is nearly unknown to the rest of the school.  What is workshop?  What is it for?  When?  Who and why?

According to Dr. Mitchell, head of the theatre department, workshop started out under the  name of Studio Theatre on May 4, 1932, charging 50c admission, paying royalties, running two nights and having publicity.

“However, this allowed less freedom in choice of material because recent plays could not be used.  We then stopped charging admissions but limited ourselves to plays in the public domain,” he said.  “Eventually we drifted into the present way of doing things -- with one performance, little publicity and no admission charge.

“This is the most successful method we’ve had with better performances, larger audiences and a wider choice of material than ten years ago.”

Miss Krause states that workshop was instituted “primarily to give opportunities for acting and directing, under liberal supervision.  A greater number of of people are studying theatre than are in university theatre productions and workshop keeps them acting and working.”

It originally was planned to be a practical application for the techniques learned in directing class.

Through the year as many as 18 plays or scenes or cuttings from plays are presented.  Two bills, containing three plays of forty-five minutes or less are given each quarter.

In the past workshop has presented scenes from “Lysistrata,” “Merchant of Venice,” “Peer Gynt,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Taming of the Shrew.”

Directors are chosen by Miss Krause, usually have attended a directing class, and have had experience in earlier productions.

In turn, the directors choose the play they want to do (ranging from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams to originals) and their actors and actresses.  While the talent be anyone enrolled at Northwestern speech majors make up the bulk of the people on the state.

The rehearsal schedule is three or four hours a night, five days a week for three to four weeks.  This would be an exhausting timetable in any other activity, with accusations of slave-labor being mumbled in the ranks.

The people in these productions are a dedicated lot and it is not usual to hear of Saturday morning, Thanksgiving vacation, and “let’s get together and run through that once more” rehearsals.

The practice sessions take place at 1831 Chicago, Centennial hall and, because of its tight schedule, only twice on the speech school stage.

Currently in rehearsal (to be presented this Wednesday, Feb.10, at 7:30) are an original student written and directed play, “The Love of One Captain” by Gary Vitale and two other scenes directed by Mary Gottlieb and Dan Roth.

In the past workshop has produced such stage stars as Gerald Freedman, who is directing “Taming of the Shrew” in New York and who also directed several workshop production here; Charlton Heston; Jim Olson, once actor-director in workshop, now appearing in “The World of Susie Wong”; Inga Swenson, who has played “Juliet” in Stratford, Conn.

That is the basic outline of workshop theatre -- an activity that’s extra-curricular.  A great amount of time is spent on it with near professional productions being the result.  It is a trainer, a trial by fire and another step on a theatrical ladder.


Workshop theatre can be compared to the proverbial statue with the feet of clay.

The audience sees a well-acted, near professionally directed play.  But if they would look closely at the feet of this statue, the technical end, they would note a paucity of good lighting, little or no scenery, and props that sometimes seem out of place.

As Gary Vitale, present director of a workshop production, said, “Workshop is a proving ground for actors and especially for student directors, and, in the same way, it should give experience to the technicians in theatre -- the lighting, set, and costume designers.”

One of the chief reasons for the above mentioned technical problems seems to be the philosophy that workshop is strictly a classroom exercise in directing and that if anything were added to it, it would tend to become a production.

It is for this reason that directors are allowed no budget for their plays, and, also, why they often provide costumes such as $25 silk pajamas out of their own pockets.

Workshop seems to hold the unenviable position of being just out of the classroom but not quite in the theatre.  It is not allowed to make any props nor to have a budget and yet it is expected to entertain an audience.

But the problem gets more complicated when one realizes that even if money were given for costumes, etc., there would be no room to make them.  The existing costume shop, about the size of a large guest closet, is just too busy making UT apparel to work on workshop.

A suggested solution to this congestion is to expand and consolidate the far-flung speech school.

This new theatre plant would have to include new shops and a replacement for the ancient stage now used.  But this utopia has been planned for the last 15 years. 

Some say the reason for the delay is lack of endowments, or the fact that the present stage is too old to remodel while a new building is too expensive to build, or that all the money taken in by UT productions does not go back to the speech school.

The lack of proper facilities is felt in many areas.  Because of the cramped schedule for the speech auditorium, lighting can only be worked on two days before curtain time.  The scene shop, a damp, coldly inadequate place near the lake, is too small to handle any scenery needed for productions.  The same holds for props.

A certain amount of the crowded condition could be alleviated if UT moved into Cahn and workshop into speech building.  But because of maintenance the the fact that a fireman has to be on duty if the full stage is used, it costs $75 ro rent Cahn per evening.  This, and the fact that it is difficult to take flats from scene shop to Cahn eliminates this as a possible solution.

Another complaint stems from the fact that most of the props used in workshop ceom from the university theatre bins under Kresge.  Only technical assistants an go down there and, because of this, directors are required to give them a list of what they need.

Problems raise their ugly little heads because the bin won’t have exactly what the director calls for and the assistant has to play mind reader for what’s closest to his wishes.

Some of the scarcity of props could be alleviated if basic units, such as windows and doors, were made especially for workshop.

Still, from a technical angle, the technical assistant and not the people in lighting classes design the lighting for the productions.  This lessens the possibility of practical experience for people interested in stage lighting.

To move from behind the scenes, the acting and directing situation seems to be better than the technical end.

Occasionally one hears grumbling about the “star system,” meaning that certain people tend to get more roles than others.  Opinion seems to be divided on this matter, with some students saying that “some people are just better than others,” while some calim that directors “don’t take enough chances on inexperienced people.”  Most students can justify the latter complaint when they realize that the director himself is usually inexperienced.

Favoritism in casting of directors casting their friends is universally denied.  Theatre majors all say that a director would be a fool to jeopardize a production just to cast a friend and that casting is done “amazingly on the basis of merit.”

After looking into workshop theatre from both the technical and directorial angles, one is struck by the multitude of unanswered questions.

Will there ever be a new speech building?  Why is it that Northwestern, with such a good speech faculty, is stuck with a theatre plant that is disgraceful?

Why is it that while NU has the foremost teacher of lighting in the midwest, Mr. Theodore Fuchs, students graduate with less practical designing experience in this field than can be had in other schools?

Why doesn’t workshop have some basic props?  When scenery is so scarce for workshop productions, why are old flats stored in Dyche stadium, two miles from campus?

Why can’t directors go into the bins under Kresge?

In short, what is workshop, merely an extension of directing classes or a test of the abilities of everything connected with theatre?


“You see there’s a beautiful day, a lovely day, with sun and flowers and there’s a path, a winding path, going right through the middle of this beautiful day.”

“You want me to marry a twelve year old?  Who do you think I am?  Bing Crosby?”

The above lines were spoken, completely extemporaneously, at a rehearsal of “The Love of One Captain,” done in the Comedia de L’Arte manner, directed by Gary Vitale, to be given Wednesday, Feb. 10.

This play serves to illustrate what a usual workshop production is like and also, the way workshop can portray unusual ideas.

Drawn from the 15th century plays in which townfolk sought to portray stereotyped characters in impromptu situations, this play presents seven personalities going through a plot outline given to them by Gary.  The characters, themselves, have to supply the dialogue.

The cast is representative of every grade level on campus from freshman to grad school.  It ranges in experience from appearances in seven school productions to Northwestern audiences and is split 50-50 between independent and affiliated.

The director in addition to appearing in several workshop dramas has been seen as Hamm in “Endgame,” as Henry IV in “Henry IV, Part I,” and in the “Legend of Lovers,” “Sandhog,” and “School for Wives.”  He took a directing class from Dr. Schneideman this summer and, last quarter, applied to Miss Krause to direct this play and was accepted.

Joy Hawkins, playing Isabella a typical sweet young thing, is a direct contrast to Mr. Vitale.  A freshman, with some experience in musical comedy in high school, this is her first appearance at this school.

For her the most impressive thing about workshop is trying out which is an experience in itself, whether you make it or not.  It helps you to get your own interpretation of a part instead of trying to mimic others.”

Gary tried to make most of the character types relevant to our own society.  for instance Isabella was modeled after a southern belle while Columbine, Isabella’s worldly friend played by Marsha Rodd, is modeled after a New Jersey gun chewing waitress.

On the other hand some of the characters have a long history in theatre.  There is Arlecchino, portrayed by Richard Kovara, who is a basic servant type.  In the beginning of this character’s existence  he was a stupid lout, like the Dromios of “Comedy of Errors.”

Through the ages he was transformed into a witty, fast talker, although sometimes given a black mask on stage, Eddie Cantor.  Al Jolsonand Emet Kelly are modern examples of this character.

Along the same line is Pedrolino played by Bud Beyer, who is a deaf mute in this play but whose ancestors and grandchildren can be seen in Pero in “Don Juan.”  Felix Adler and other white faced clowns, andCharlie Chaplin.

Bud, a radio-TV major, claims that this part “develops comedy timing and forces quick thinking.”

Other characters include Dr. Gratiano, played by William Mumms, a learned, philosophical mind who can ponder for hours the proposition that “if a ship is on the high seas it cannot be said to be in port.”  One gets the impression that he is a caricature of a college professor even though he was formulated in the early 15th century in Bologna.

There is also Pantalone, played by Tom Foral, a miserly octogenarian who is always ready to enter into “marriage type situations.”

And finally Captain Spavento, played by Doug Dudley, the bragging coward mentioned in the title.

Universally the actors praise the improvisational play as an excellent vehicle, one which every theatre major should participate in at one time or another.

On the other hand the particular part of the workshop theatre that they would pick out as worthy of note raises a multitude of opinions.  “The experimental angle is best”; “you see every rehearsal is a performance”; “the close relationship with actor and director -- the freedom to criticize without fear of hurting someone”; or that it “gives a lot of people a chance to do different roles than they are used to.  It’s a good training ground.”

While there were several comments about the fact that the audience for these productions is probably one of the more difficult to please.  Richard Kovara claimed, perhaps rightly, that this is a good thing.

“I usually enjoy going to workshop more than UT because the plays are more for a college audience.  The three presentations are on the same wave length with people who come to see and discuss theatre.  The specialized audience is a good thing.”

Summing up, “The Love of One Captain” will, according to Gary Vitale, be “completely spontaneous the night of performance.”  For the director, that night will culminate a successful college career, while for the younger members of the cast it may very well start one. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


There’s nothing in this radio interview that would shock anyone or surprise anyone who has heard AK speak before.  A Krause KUSD 1971 on Vimeo.

She takes her usual shot at the star system that distorts the craft of acting by so celebrating one person that it amounts to congratulating the piano for a gorgeous concerto.  I mean, there are a lot of elements involved in theatre and not all of them are garlands around the neck of the player.  But I also think that she falls into something like the same trap by speaking of people with “gifts.”  It’s certainly true that some people have capacities that others don’t have and that capacities are more easily developed in some people than others and even that some people have no capacity to learn acting in the hard, long-term, sometimes painful ways that are necessary for "high" standards.  But maybe it’s as much a matter of desire as of giftedness and AK has always had a firm grip on that.  Is desire a gift?  It can drive you crazy.

Following her thought, I’ve gone ahead into other art forms and the contemporary research on brain function (which is more properly seen as a function of the whole body, which is another thing she fully grasps) to define any art as the management of consciousness.  First one learns one’s own “connectome,” which is the system of nodes of understanding and interpretation connected to each other in the brain in something like the way chords can be played on a piano keyboard.  These are composed of neurons “who” play memories together to create empathy and evocation, first in the artist and then in the audience.

Some people learn this urgently and early.  Consider the abused child who must first protect him or her self enough to record what happens and then try to find the pattern in it.  When is dad beginning to move towards a drinking binge?  When is mom about to run away again, only to return bruised and exhausted?  By googling one can find lists of ways to control a child about to have or beginning a tantrum.  Some of the same strategies work on adults when practiced by kids or other adults.  Check it out.  Children don't have to google to find out how to control adults: it is instinctive and learning combined.

The difference is that a child cannot consciously control her or his own connectome: not until there's enough brain power to connect.  Otherwise a neuron filament reaches out for a skill or interpretation that’s not there yet or that meets a contradiction.  An adult, particularly one teaching acting methods that influence the connectome of others, supplies or evokes what’s missing from one's own brain connects -- maybe by supplying information, maybe by expressing confidence that makes enough space and time to figure it out, maybe by being a role model.  AK did all those things.  She had a powerful need to shift your consciousness into effectiveness.

If everything she tried met a stone wall, for whatever reason, she told you to get out -- that there was nothing she could do for you, and that was true, though most people took it as an insult and the thought didn’t get to them for a while that maybe someone else COULD shift your consciousness to a new place.  Or maybe over the passage of time, the needed node would grow in, the nerve axon would reach out and find AHA!!  If the desire was there, the person would find a way to learn somewhere somehow.

When AK failed, her attempts to "wake an actor" could be cruel out of her frustration with her limits.  She was conscious enough of herself to know it and probably repented quietly alone at night, but she was a very self-disciplined person who could not easily be governed by others.  She knew it was collateral damage but felt it had to be done to get to the goal.

The interviewer and AK agree that some people have a desire so strong that it amounts to a constant driving need to create forms.  Schilpp’s “expression of the relationship between a person and the universe.”  But then AK goes on to the necessity of knowing where that desire, that need, comes from in the first place.  Is it because of trying to avert attacks, feeling that is a way of evading danger?   Is it a conviction that it will confer status and that status is a kind of safety?  Is it trying to fill an emptiness?  Is it trying to justify oneself to a harsh judge remembered from early in life?  Is it boredom?  This is the playwright level of need.  The level of need at the actor's level had better be invested in the needs of the character portrayed.  “How can I show what drives this character?”

The two women agree that the need to touch other people’s lives and make them complete propels art forms, but particularly the art form of teaching.  AK uses a phrase, “touching off,” which is like lighting a flame, touching off a fire, somehow kindling the person’s ability to operate their own feeling system.  She speaks of blindfolding people to get them to understand what it is to be unable to see.  In class and rehearsals we watched her as she experimented, maybe going onto the stage in the middle of the play, prowling around the actors, whispering in their ears, slapping them on the shoulder, tugging at them, all to get them to shift out of being stuck playing chopsticks instead of the melody.

The interviewer mentions the work of group therapy and recalls interviewing Virginia Satir.  She feels this work, which is just beginning in this time period, is very much the same sort of thing -- working at “touching off” the right awareness to free a person’s stuck brain.  These groups often use movement.  Satir’s speciality was family dynamics (nodes and connections) and the paradoxical impact of clumsy efforts at “helping” (secrecy, forcing behavior) becoming greater damage.  I think that AK was very much in tune with this sort of work and that her teaching and acting Method were as much informed by it as Stanislavsky’s sense memory.  There was a secret, closed, advanced class for only a few invited people.  Even now no one will tell me, but I think it was for the exploration of the actor's own inner life.  

Hedda Gabler

But the interviewer focuses on acting and not on how this applies to the play as literature performed to demonstrate something about human beings.  AK asserts,  “no man [sic] is alien to me” but her examples are nationalities, cultures.  As always she goes back to Hedda Gabler.  These are well-trodden paths.  One wonders what would “touch off” a post-Edwardian consciousness, knock her out of her comfort zone.  One had the feeling that it had happened to her at least once when she was young.

I suspect the sudden realization of danger as in her last years at NU "touched off" insecurity and a desire to go underground.  She was always circumspect, diplomatic, with authority figures, but I don’t think she had ever really felt vulnerable even after various challenges.  Her life had been a continuum of considerable depth and reward but she had mostly played it safe.  Even at forced retirement she had a second house, a reliable partner, a body of defenders and other resources, and soon she found her feet again.  But just as we are tempted to speculate on the inner life of actors, we are curious about the inner life of teachers.

Alvina Krause was a small woman who stood tall, the youngest of sibs, trained as a speaker more than as an actor, and at first protected by powerful people, particularly Dean Dennis of the School of Speech.  I think there was always a little edge where she was not that confident of what she might call her “gifts,” (I would call “capacities”), where some things could touch off core vulnerability.  Lack of control, for instance.  The effects of modernity and surrealism, existentialism.  She was essentially American, thus rejected despair and could not get her mind around concentration camps or African heart of darkness --horrific things that are not censored these days.  But she doesn’t SAY “nothing human is alien to me.”  She says, “An actor must always work on the premise that nothing human SHOULD be alien to me.”  In short, she was a universalist, a progressive, a person of her time and place.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Alvina Krause giving a speech at NU.
This one is on YouTube.

Vimeo” is like “YouTube” with slightly different advantages that aren’t relevant here.  Vimeo has two videos of interest to students who want to know more about the philosophy of Alvina Krause, a remarkable teacher of acting.  You can call it “Method” if you like, but there are many acting “methods,” all rooted in the reality of human beings and the art forms that explore that reality.  There are art forms that challenge or ignore reality, contradict it, explode it, and so on.  They still begin with human reality since the only way to leave that is through some form of unconsciousness or death.  Of course, most art forms can preserve a particular view of reality beyond the death of the creator of it.

This video is AK teaching a class in South Dakota after her retirement from the NU School of Speech.  If you lose the address, type "Alvina Krause" into the search strip.

This video is really a sound recording of a radio interview, but it is augmented with photos.  The color photo of AK holding a bouquet was taken by Tom Foral on her front porch.

(Title): AK KUSD 1
Alvina Krause (1893-1980) was the legendary acting teacher at Northwestern University (1930-63) and in retirement was the Founding Artistic Director of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. Here, she is interviewed by Marjorie Weeks on KUSD’s program “Concern”,on April 5, 1968. Uploaded with permission of KUSD. 
-- Vimeo notes
Alvina Krause in childhood.

What IS the reality of human beings?  It is in the sensorium of the body, which is our only access to the world outside our skin but far more intense and extensive than just “five senses” and all of which is sorted and “felt” in the brain.  But then, once “felt,” the reality is acted out in reaction, so that it can be seen by others.  Sometimes the brain needs a moment to process -- sometimes honoring that pause while the connectome rings and flashes like a pinball machine, but only in the person’s head, is the truest clue to a person’s reality.  It will show what matters to the person, why they act as they do.  After the pause, the person will be infinitesimally different.  Once in a long time, transformed.

The totality of the person’s actions will be driven by a kind of morality, a code.  It may be quite individual.  This is the pattern that is truly the subject of drama:  Antigone’s rule says that family requires honoring kin; Creon’s rule says that a kingdom must be kept in order even if it requires the dishonor of kin.  Flash forward and we’ve got “Game of Thrones.”  Maybe Russia seizing Crimea.  

A performance shows us these patterns.  To act as a character in the performance means accepting and believing in the character on the character’s terms, which may or may not be in agreement with family, nation, religion, membership in a group, or any other system outside the person.  This is not a matter of judging the person, but understanding the why of who that person is.  And letting it show through the person’s body.

Persons may not understand their own “why.”  Some kinds of acting only require the expression of the actor’s own personal “why.”  The kind of acting AK taught requires that the person DOES know their internal patterns and can enact those of others without destroying themselves.  Still, it may be painful and the actor must accept the necessity of that pain.  Consider what goes on in Peter Dinklage as he portrays Tyrion Lannister, saying those bitter self-mocking lines about being a dwarf, enacting the restrictions and losses of his real-life physical form.

What does he find in himself that allows him to somehow project compassion and generosity, a certain nobility?  Why couldn’t HervĂ© Villechaize find these aspects of his own self?  There is risk in acting.  Which is why some students of AK, exposed to the stripping and reality of self-search, claimed they had been abused.  They simply didn’t have the courage and toughness necessary to do it.  Dinklage does; Villechaize did not.

Any art form is a combination of seeking, hiding, and finding some pattern in whole or in part.  How that is done, and to what extent it is controlled by others outside the actor, varies a great deal.  We do know that one human interior brain connectome is capable of creating parallel personalities with quite different structures and assumptions about the world.  The actor is capable of separating them and “running” them alongside stage directions that say “keep your face in the light,” “stand right here,” “be more angry.”  The morality or overarching pattern of all this has to be found in the play.  The actor must concentrate to keep the pattern of the character the most dominant while onstage.

On a stage the patterns are generally found in rehearsal, following the guidance and feedback of the director who should not take on the project without some concept.  In fact, when AK could not form this concept, she said would not (indeed, probably could not have) directed a specific play.   In a film the alternative footage of the actors plus other elements are used by the editor and director to form the pattern, the meaning.  If there is none, then the work is aimless and trivial.  

A director, like a writer or a psychotherapist, needs to find the deep pattern that drives the work into intensity.  Why present something pale, trivial and transient -- to be forgotten tomorrow?  And why find a meaning vivid, memorable, and central in order to promote breakfast cereal?  But it would be legitimate to produce something as striking and baffling as “Endgame” if it asked a vital question, and so the meaning must be in the questioning.

Jonathan Reynolds, Eagles Mere Actor -- just an example.

The question of audience is not one that AK particularly addressed or could resolve.  She did value repertory theatre where the community is the home of a theatre and therefore can learn to understand in a different way than a “one-off” audience.  At Eagles Mere where the continuity was the summer people and AK herself, through the productions, the season became a dance in which one partner matched the other.  If a specific play crashed, and some did, then clearly something had gone very wrong, but not due to one person who was out of step so much as the basic concept of how to interpret the play.  Still, sometimes it seemed that one small element was messing up everything, so once the stage crew had to stay up all night to repaint the set for “Auntie Mame” in a different shade of red, because the first one suggested tomato soup instead of rubies.

Alvina Krause at Eagles Mere in the center.
Nancy Killmer, who played Auntie Mame, in front of her.

Arts of all kind are a terrifying trade-off between one’s deepest truest self -- which could be destroyed by revelations -- and one’s constructed surrogate -- which can turn into a trap that won’t let the actor out.  AK tried to teach how to bravely go where you have never gone before without drowning in your space suit.

These days the NU School of Communication is a space-age sort of outfit.  Very corporation, very international, very theory, very technical.  BUT the theatre department remains a humanities place with emphasis on movement, story, and actual performance.  If you want more of a feel, go to and watch the faculty vids :

Sometimes when I hear about the way it is now -- so MUCH money, so many more resources, so much younger -- I think about what it was like to work with AK, at eighty full of grace and gravitas, driven and called.  Nothing like that at NU now.  But maybe there shouldn’t be.  Maybe that was armature and today’s work is flesh.