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_

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


In David Press’ 1971  thesis, Neal Weaver, now film and theatre critic for the LA Weekly, wrote a vivid description of Alvina Krause entering the auditorium of Annie May Swift Hall.  She generally waited until everyone was likely to be seated, then flung open the double doors at the back of the raked seats and strode down the central aisle.  It was an ENTRANCE.  Often she wore purple and there was a hanky tucked into her left wrist -- in sleeve or watchband, I suppose.

She was not a tall woman, not as plump as Margaret Mead, who had the same trick of taking charge of a space.  Mead had a “thumb staff” which her father had advised her would be a sign of authority to compensate for being short.  AK had her hair in a roll, anchored by a Spanish silver comb, and posture as erect as a military horseman.  This was her “platform,” in today’s jargon when every author must have a “platform,” a kind of shorthand identity.  She was projecting that she was the person in charge, that she knew what she was doing, and that the focus should be on her unless it was on the stage.

But she didn’t always stay in this role.  Sometimes, either to make a point or out of pure devilish mischief, she would become “kittenish” as one former student put it.  She tossed her head, peeked out the sides of her eyes like a bird, laughed softly, flirted her hands as though scattering rose petals at a wedding, maybe even twirled on her toes.  “Isn’t this fun?  Isn’t this just wonderful?  Will you play with me?”  We were eager to do so.

That wasn’t my favorite of her little shticks.  I liked best the one in which she became a little irish pipsqueak who pretended to be a great brawler, one who could not possibly be defeated -- particularly if he had enough whiskey in him.  An accent so thick it was practically unintelligible, he would talk up a terrible rage, while all the time backing up -- he threatened to tear his victim limb from limb, rolling up his sleeves in preparation -- but then saying he regretted having to go home and putting on his coat.  It was a demonstration of how a character could say one thing while conveying the absolute opposite with body language, and even the body language contradicting itself.

The first part of Alvina Krause’s career was about “interpretation” which I suppose we might now call “performance art.”   “ In art, performance art is a performance presented to an audience, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work.”

Some day I’ll sit down with my friend, Brian Rusted, who is a professor of performance arts in Calgary, and get this stuff figured out, but what i understand at the present is that what he studies is the interaction of a performance and an audience on a “meta” level.  One of the important aspects of this is how the performer moves in and out of personas as well as establishing a basic platform.  I will be very interested to see whether he has tried working with the new theories of brain function (Antonio Damasio).

Bob Scriver used to play dumb cowboy artist when he was pitching to a potential customer.  It drove me crazy because he was anything but -- he wasn’t even that much of a cowboy.  But he was very convincing and his ploy did indeed get the people -- who clearly expected a dumb cowboy and never questioned the song and dance -- to believe in him and show their own true selves.  Or maybe not.  Maybe their vibe didn’t ring true, which probably meant their check would bounce.

The counter-context to agonistic theatre, which is often intensely tragic, is trickster drama: shape-shifting, runaway, defensive, full of jokes and even slapstick.  Contradictions, ridiculous juxtapositions, seductions, and general foolery.  The best antidote for the all-in-black terribly serious drama student might be a little old lady skipping around, wafting her hanky and lilting some nonsense.

Somewhere in between tragedy and comedy seems to be irony -- comment through dissonant juxtaposition.  There’s been a lot of talk about that recently.  It gets harder and harder to pull off when every day brings more dissonant juxtaposition.  But fear not:  Robert Wright said this in the Atlantic.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, scientists seem to have located a part of the brain centrally involved in grasping irony.  The French research team that made the latest contribution to this effort presents its findings in the current issue of the journal NeuroImage. Referring to a part of the brain known as the "ToM network," the researchers write. "We demonstrate that the ToM network becomes active while a participant is understanding verbal irony."

“ToM stands for "theory of mind," which in turn refers to the fact that we naturally attribute beliefs and intentions and emotions to people we interact with. That is, we develop a "theory"--though not necessarily a theory we're consciously aware of--about what's going on in their minds. (An inability to do this is thought to play a role in autism.) And this "theory" in turn shapes our interpretation of things people say. The "ToM network" is a brain region--or, really, a network of different brain regions--that seems to play an important role in the construction of these theories.”
In short, you need to know your performer pretty well  before you can really grasp the irony.  And therein lies a deeper irony, because performers are generally invested in hiding their identity -- at least at the moment.  That’s the essence of performing, isn’t it?  Is that why everyone is so obsessively insane about what they call “truth”?   Isn’t insanity defined as the inability to grasp reality?
Alvina Krause was one of the sanest people I’ve ever known.  She taught acting successfully because she was always aware of what was what.  Those students who trusted her broke open their preconceptions and began to live.

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