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_

Monday, October 29, 2012

CHAPTER TWO: Press Thesis

This is the chapter that really explains Alvina Krause as a person, as a teacher, and as an actor/director.  She believes to her very core that theatre is the most human of activities, not as much therapeutic for the individual as crucial for human culture.  Many times she sounds more like a religious minister than a university teacher in a cynical time.  I would guess her to be very similar in her thought to Spinoza or to the secular humanism of the rural Midwest, but she doesn’t address religion per se.  


Press transcribes wonderfully evocative statements from AK, including her reaction to the assassination of JFK.  She affirms a belief in art as vital to life, saying technology is less important.  She praises laughter but not trivial fluff and says that every community needs a theatre of its own.

She identifies the Olivier production of “Oedipus” as her benchmark:  not a play that gives answers but one that unites us in aesthetic response.  She uses her most intense word:  “astonishment.”  She says,  “The bedrock of drama is human experience.”  She claims that achieving “truth” will bring even the uneducated into the experience of theatre.

Press keeps trying to get an evaluation of “discursive” knowledge -- what we might call today “discourse” or “analysis” or “theory”, which was a movement just barely beginning at the time.  She discounts it every time.  Not to exclude it, but to emphasize the evocative, the depth understanding that underlies words.  Her examples are from Eages Mere where the patrons were not part of an elite intellectual crowd as at NU but rather are ordinary citizens who really “got it” because they saw around them the forces illustrated in the play. 
She expresses no resentment of the cultured elitists; given her origins, she may have felt it.

AK gave a very high value to music in particular.  She says,  “The picture itself, the sculpture itself, has an intangible meaning” that finally can’t be pulled out by analysis.  She says that the high value of theatre rests on “the living actor” who offers access to the vicarious and empathetic.

Press returns to the question from other angles but get increasingly impatient versions of the same answer:  “I am talking about connotation, implication, a total something that happens to you, a TOTAL something, not just with your head.”  And yet,  “The more deeply the director and actor come to understand how other arts operate and what they do, the better their directing and acting will be.”

They shift to talking about movement and again AK emphasizes the WHOLE BODY and recommends a book that was crucial for her:  “The Thinking Body”
by Mabel Todd, a system still in use and not only available on Amazon but also on YouTube.
AK asserts what most of us know if we think about it:  as you watch other human beings do something, your body subtly registers the same movement.

AK says, “The beauty is in the truth of human character, in the revelation, the illumination of meaning.  In art only lies are ugly -- the passion for truth is the basis of good acting.”  She uses the word ‘revelation.”

Krause feels that (Press’ words) “Our commercial theatre in effect discourages relevant playwrighting and meaningful acting.”  She feels it is appealing only to a certain set of people who value stars and being “in.”  There is a long transcribed dialogue as Press tries to understand the limits of what she means.  There’s a tendency to think that “serious” means grim and gloomy, but AK says, “I don’t want to crowd out anything that is sheer joy in the theatre.”

The two anchors of truthful theatre are the living actor and the meaningful script, which she feels is rooted in the era when it was written.  She feels nothing worthwhile has been written recently.  Press asks whether actors might simply improvise a script.  She says yes and then is silent.

The breakup of the USSR is just beginning and she points out how relevant Antigone is to that struggle.  Press wants to know whether farce can be “truthful” and meaningful.  Her answer is yes, with “timing, pointing, just the right touches of characterization, and no more.”  “That’s not Stanislavsky!” protests Press.  (Maybe it is.)

Press moves on to experimental theatre.  She accepts the necessity of experiments but claims that most of them are not theatre.  Surprisingly, she admits some early fascination with German Expressionism and “early O’Neill” but says it was mostly good because “it was an awakening.  Actually it was a crystallization.”  But then she goes back to Antigone as contemporary.

“Acting is not a lecture course, acting is not teaching of a subject, not the teaching of a class, but the teaching of individuals to become artist-actors. . . As I discovered a need, I directed study to supply that need.”  “Each student might need to have a different awareness kindled.”  (She expresses something like what religious educators call “formation.”)

Press says,  “She used two main approaches to teaching  through trial and error.  One was meant to prove, the second was meant to lead to discovery.”
First she designed a challenge assignment that would give the actor an occasion of struggle to understand and achieve.  Second she would work through the problems that were revealed to see what would fix them.  She called it “directing a search.”  She said, “I taught individuals, expecting all to discover basic principles, but to leave the course as individual artists.”

This approach had been very much encouraged by her beloved (and formative) Dean Dennis who wanted every teacher to find out what every student was about and to address it.  Press remarks that some people felt that this was invasive.  (This was a time that was emphasizing individuality, self-determination, and the freedom to do whatever, without rules and supervision.)   Her defense is that she is educating the whole person and therefore everything is on point.

The next issue Press raises is whether AK is unreasonably requiring professional standards from students.  Her response comes down to the belief that all theatre is professional theatre and that even the commercial professional theatre requires directors to teach.  She suggests that anything less would be treating actors like robots, which is unethical.

This section is almost entirely a dramatic and (to my memory) accurate reconstruction of AK’s usual lecture on the first day of B43 acting.  “All art is difficult, and it takes time.  but I will not tolerate stupidity and laziness.”  And, “Each of us has his own special problems.  If we are to work freely we must not be afraid; there will be no room here for jealousy, back-biting, and intrigue -- three things the theatre abounds in.”  (Also, academic departments of theatre.)

Weaver says,  “She talked on: didactic, visionary, sometimes unreasonable, but demanding, demanding, demanding.  Her effect was hypnotic.  For a group of young men and women of whom perhaps little had been required save tolerable manners and good grades in school, she presented a challenge that was irresistible.”

Press suggests that “Her contribution has not been of new ideas.  Part of her contribution to the hundreds who have studied with her has been that she has been able to stimulate commitment to these same [classic] values.”

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