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, October 17, 2012


Working on the Alvina Krause materials, especially the background material on the development of theatre in the 20th century, has been a bit of a revelation. I wish she were alive to discuss these things but her remembered voice is still strong in my mind.  Here are some of the issues, not all of them theoretical but rather realizations.

1.  Taking acting classes from AK was hugely emotional for most people.  I was coming in sideways from speech ed, aimed at high school dramatics -- or so I thought.  But most people were passionately, whole-heartedly committed to the idea of being actors in the same way as seminarians are devoted to becoming ministers.  It was a leap of faith that they COULD do it and all parties were sharply aware that the price would be high.

2.  At the same time, many people go into acting because are trying to figure out who they are, which meant that there were people there examining their identities, often their sexuality.  The kind of acting training that AK provided came out of a Euro-American cultural surge of thought about how identity is formed, maintained and changed.  Stream of consciousness writing, psychoanalysis, renewed theological reflection, abstract expressionist painting, all came out of this turn to inner examination and drew enormous energy and enlightenment from it.

3.  This turn to examining one’s own “brain” and “heart” included the work of playwrights like Ibsen and Chekhov, who began to reflect on their culture and what it did to their inner life.  They were beginning a movement which has grown stronger into overtly political protest and demand for change.  I would say this movement probably went as far as it could go in the post-structuralist, post-modern, post-colonial work of people like Beckett and Brecht.  Some of the Theatre people, esp. those who chose the Interp department as an alternative base, have become strong participants in that approach.  Eventually they began to break the fourth wall, abandon scripts, cast the audience as participants, and other innovations.  Now I’m thinking Grotowski, of whom I had not heard until recently.

4.  Politically, after the enlightened leadership of Dean Dennis, the administration of the “School of Speech” have been men who were threatened by the enormous popularity of AK and who felt they had to contain her.  They used the sea change in contemporary theatre against her.  AK, who was the youngest of five children in a rural family, had learned to stand up for herself and was not inclined to bow her head.  Her strongest ally might gave been Theodore Fuchs, who was equally challenged and unbowed.

5.  “The Method” is not really one method, but a group of various methods with a strong component of “sense memory,” which means finding the key to character by pulling up and re-experiencing one’s own life, including the imprint of the senses at those times.  This is now scientifically endorsed, as it appears that the way nerve cells constitute a brain is based on their ability to store sensory information.  Not only does this hold memory, but also meaning, gathered into neuron nodes of connection.  Even psychological identity comes down in large part to this.  Until the development of ever more accurate and sensitive instruments and methods, the only way the interior life of the actor and the imaginary character could be summoned and matched was through introspection.  

6.  An aura gathered around “The Method,” an almost mystical belief in its power and importance.  When major movie stars were promoted as being “Method” actors and their results (which were in film) were admired, the success was attributed to “the Method.”  This meant neglect of the importance of movement and voice training (thus the accusation of mumbling) and structural importance in scripted live stage work which demands a through line and collaborative interaction with the rest of the cast.  AK NEVER neglected any of this.

7.  But I do not think that AK could say,  “This is “MY” Method” in a way that was accessible to analysis or marketable in a book, which I think was one of her hopes.  (The great mystique of having written or been the subject of a book is almost as grandiose as that of the stage.)  When questioned, she would say it just has to be like that.  I think she herself was frustrated.  When she asked some of her star pupils to explain what she was doing, they couldn’t put it into words either.  She had been teaching acting and directing all her life.  It was embedded in her in a wholistic way, neither analytical nor academic.  She was not a writer.  Her notes were one thing (free association), but her formal articles (like “Forever Beginning”) were essentially orations.

8.  What I saw, sitting there in the back of Annie May Swift watching day after day, was that she would provoke, cajole, flatter, threaten the students until she somehow got them to “do it right.”   She could FEEL this.  Then she would pounce and mark whatever they did, so they could repeat it.  Don’t forget that early in her life she coached the Seaside High School girls’ basketball team to being the state champions.  But she hated the word “coach” because of its connotations.  (On the other hand, she liked me in part because I was from Oregon and knew Seaside.)

9.  Working in the context of educational training is different from the professional theatre.  I’m unable to say much about it.  Others will need to chime in.

10.  At the time AK was crowded out (and there’s no question she was sand-bagged) she could not see how to go on.  She had never taught anywhere else, she had rarely known much of any other kind of life except the one based there in Annie May Swift or at Eagles Mere.  But pretty soon she found a new way, with the help of “sons.”  Interestingly, no daughters stepped in.  But maybe that was a consequence of the times.  In THESE times (AK was always so conscious of the importance of culture, context, even ecology) we are braver (maybe reckless) and my cohort is over seventy.  If anyone is going to create a legacy record, it will probably have to be us and now.  The true home of that record is NOT NU but BTE, on-going repertory scripted live stage..  In the end AK was no so much an individual as a community.

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