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_

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


This chapter seems to deal with matters that are very deeply rooted (18th century studies in elocution, 19th century Romancism, the group of “Stanislavskian methods” and an approach that owed a great deal to Dean Dennis: the idea that each student should be taught as an individual, while searching for the means to bring them “alive” and competent.  Personal values, near-religious convictions, passion for life achievement were taught parallel to the discovery of theatre literature and technical presentation.  A reaction to this approach was forming (Grotowski) but did not interest her.  She felt acting was done by a whole person and enriching the person was the way to create a better actor and ultimately a better world.



AK used lectures and extemporaneous comments, journals when students were beginning, individual conferences. and a steady stream of notes.  Other people, John Van Meter and Robert Schneideman used what seemed to be the same or similar methods, but because the interaction was rooted in the person, they didn’t have the same effect with a different instructor or even with a different student.  (It was nearly like psychotherapy, though Press never mentions that.)

In spite of the uniqueness of this interaction, when it came to the actual script, AK was almost tyrannical (she used the word) in insisting on what she believed to be the core donnĂ©e of the playwright. The “framing” (Goffman) of the playwright’s mind, the assumptions of the times, and the message of the play were the goal.  The rest was simply preparation and means.

It is important that AK included the AUDIENCE in the work of understanding and engaging with a play.


One important consideration was style.  For instance, in a tragedy like “Long Day’s Journey into Night” the audience must feel the suffering, but in a light farce, the suffering is that of Wily E. Coyote -- easily shrugged off.


Developing an “author’s sense,” which is necessary for actors, means understanding the structure, the language (sounds, rhythms, imagery and line length) whether or not the rhetoric is meant to be prose or poetry.  Symbolism, irony, sequence, and so on must be mastered to properly convey the meaning of the play.  This is literary but also connotative.  (Press does not suggest that it comes from her background in literary interpretation.)


Collisions happened between the Krause interpretation of a play and the student actors’ desire to experiment or even a sincere belief that she was wrong.  Her position was that she was glad they questioned or even rebelled but that she was the boss or she would not bother to direct the play.  The counter-argument was that this attitude was not appropriate for a teacher.


She feels that the actor reaches a balance between the art and craft of acting on a stage and the true human experience of the character so that one serves the other.  This should be in the context of the playwright’s and character’s world.

One of her key mantra’s was “acting is responding.”  [The best explanation of this that I know is the thesis called “The Space Between Us”  by Kenty/Carroll  I blogged about it on on Oct 24, 2012.]  An actor who is able to create that “space between us” -- not only with other actors but also with the audience -- has charisma, showmanship.  [This is being explored in terms of “spindle cells” or “mirror cells” among the brain neurotheorists.]  The actors responding to each other with attention to timing, tension, release and so on, create a kind of liminal space (Turner) that the audience can enter in the way they might “enter” music.

In the beginning she was surprised by the assignment to teach acting and didn’t know how to proceed until she hit on the idea of improvisations.  Her first success with this technique was in directing Chekhov, which has remained her reference point.  It is the PLAYWRIGHT that is the key, not any acting technique from a book.  “. . . Finally and wonderfully the thing I had been searching for: the orchestrations, the music, the phrasings, the playing of theme against theme -- I was almost beside myself when I discovered this.”  There is an element -- to continue the music image -- that is almost like jazz in letting the “inevitable happen.”


The actor should experience in some form any experiences pertinent to understanding a role.  Knowing the ethos of the time, wearing period underwear, remembering one’s own life -- all resources.  She included the kind of stage, as in Greek or Elizabethan times.

In this section Press mentions AK’s ability to persuade, creating word images and music.  Someone claimed she had delivered a speech on Shakespeare in iambic pentameter.


AK used a number of exercises to raise the consciousness of the actors.  Press lists:
1.  The actors play their parts as written, but paraphrase the dialogue in their own words.
2.  The actors mix their own language with what is scripted.
3.  One or more of the actors speaks his or her subtext aloud though no one acknowledges that they hear it.
4.  Actors act out scenes from their character’s early lives, not idly but to realize the impact on that character.
5.  A scene that is analogical to the scene in the play but different -- the structure is preserved, but not the specifics.
6.  The actor plays the character’s part as though it were the real-life actor who was the character.

Press interrupts to say that sometimes AK would invent a character for herself and introduce some surprise element into the scene.

7.  Improvise the character as an animal or an object.
8.  Play a scene in character but using a totally contrasting style, particularly when an actor seemed only able to play realism.
9.  Play the scene in grunts and groans, an invented language, or as though a deaf-mute.
10.  Find a symbolic gesture or pose.
11.  Devise an outside-of-rehearsal improvisation that emphasizes the relationship of characters.  Press describes Anya teaching Trofimov to dance.
12,  Acting out metaphorical improvisations like ones often used in counseling, like arranging people in “sculptures” of family relationships.  She used thrown balls or jabs with fingers or squirt guns to get concepts into muscle understanding.

The above list would do you no good at all.  It is the skill and appropriateness of the devices that makes them effective, and that depends upon one’s sensitivity, skill and experience.

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