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_

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Weldon Bleiler

Info from IMDB:

Weldon was a mysterious figure.  The above is about all I can find online.  He was one of the main sources of notes by Alvina Krause for David Press’ thesis.  I now have an informant who claims Weldon explicitly said he was the culprit who removed the cache of exam “blue books” from her office -- those convenient little booklets in which she wrote notes about performances in class as well as rehearsals.  

The informant says that Weldon showed him the box containing the blue books, but doesn’t say where they were at the time or whether he actually saw the booklets.  The two were not people who socialized outside the theatre as far as I know.  The theft happened about the time David was writing his Ph.D. thesis about AK’s methods of teaching, nearly ten years after both Weldon and the informant had been students at NU.   The informant said that Weldon was a known thief and liar, though I don’t know of any other specific incidents, and does not report trying to recapture the booklets or reporting to AK where they had gone.

One version of the heist is that AK’s office was actually broken into, but if I were writing this story for a BBC mystery I would simply have the thief find the door open (It was normally not just closed but also locked.) and the blue books in plain sight.  I would write the plot as though the culprit knew what they were, took them on impulse, possibly intending to smuggle them back, and then never found the right occasion to do it.

Now -- using my little gray cells -- AK generated what must have been stacks and stacks of filled-up blue books.  They were thumb-tacked to the main bulletin board downstairs, available to anyone and often copied by hand, though most people only copied the parts about themselves or maybe the little essays before a play began, the philosophy of what the play was and how it ought to be framed and executed.  So what motive would there have been if they were not secret?  And there must certainly have been far more than an armload of booklets.  They were written in pencil, not so easy to read.  I don’t have a sense that AK considered them valuable or tried to preserve them over time.  They could easily have been mistaken for exam papers, worthless once the grades were awarded.

I had a bit of a crush on Weldon, but I’m not sure quite why.  There was a variety show where he did a sort of Victor Borge bit with a massive grand piano.  The microphone cord wouldn’t reach all the way over to the piano, so he appealed to unseen stagehands to give him more length.  They didn’t.  Finally, with effort, he pushed the piano over to the mike and bowed to the missing stagehands, thanking them with full seriousness.  Then he played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 which for me had intensely blissful childhood associations.  I think that was the trigger.  I hardly knew the man, really.

In 1978 when I was attending seminary on the south side of Chicago, I only went back to check out NU once, but could hardly recognize where things were.  When I did locate Annie May Swift, there was Weldon at the bulletin board, reading everything as if looking for more blue book notes, as though he had not left during the intervening seventeen years.  AK was long gone from NU by then and only a few years from the end.  I didn’t talk to Weldon.

He had been married and divorced by the time of his death.  I don’t know about children. I have the impression that something was irregular about the death.  I haven’t seen a proper obit and maybe I ought to search around a little harder for one.  I’ve made a quick pass through Google.  Maybe this post will jog someone.

But here’s the thought that woke me up.  What if AK were keeping “double books,” and the second set of blue books was near-psychoanalytic notes on the students?  It would be logical to make notes about their backgrounds, what approach to them might work, and what talents she thought they had.  The material might include secrets.  She is known to have taken a near-therapeutic attitude towards students and to evoke what was probably “transference” from them, strong emotional response and attachment.  Some classes and individual sessions were closed and confidential.  

If this second set of blue books were known to exist -- and I don’t know that they did -- they would be powerful, intimate, and worth stealing for a person struggling to understand his or her self, especially in the context of classmate cohorts.  They might be reason for the administration to worry about lawsuits.  There were always accusations of starting a cult or complaints from freaked-out students crying “unfair.”

Maybe someone was afraid that AK would share their story with David Press to put in his thesis or maybe she herself invented the story of the theft in order to keep from sharing them.  I think Press may have been suspected of stealing them himself, but at that point he had been out of school for several years.  There wouldn’t be contemporary notes about him.  He considered it a blow and says he recommended that she contact a lawyer for advice in case someone tried to publish them, though there’s no evidence that anyone ever did anything with the material that went missing.  It was the joint appeal from AK and Press in the Daily Northwestern for information about the loss that I had saved and that recently prompted me to order a copy of the thesis to read.  There is nothing in the thesis that is remotely like psychoanalysis.  

What the heist incident reveals most clearly (and this IS the assumption behind Press’ thesis) is the belief that AK’s “magic” teaching could be reduced to written advice or rules or procedures  -- a “Method” -- that there was a scripture or recipe that could be followed to achieve her results.  It’s an academic “conceit” that implies that there is profit or at least ownership in putting things on paper.  In truth, the “Method” was her whole person as she had developed over a lifetime of devotion to the art and craft of acting out a script on a stage.  As surely as an actor “responding” to the other actors on the stage, she “responded” to each student, as though she were an instrument.  She WAS an instrument.  No wonder her reactions were sudden and occasionally extreme.  I think she was a bit of a mystery even to herself.

In the end the loss of the blue books meant nothing, because they were transient -- the means rather than the end -- and specific to the actual persons.  But the time when they went missing was close to when Nixon was sending his plumbers to rifle the files of shrinks treating his enemies.  The idea was floating around.  Among theatre majors that sort of thing soon leads to plots.  Terrific material:  “The Blue Book Heist”!!  Re-set it at Oxford . . .  Inspector Morse?  Or even Lewis?


The more I think about the Blue Book Heist, the less I think it matters, for a number of reasons:

1.  Probably, as David Press points out, the greater loss was at Eagles Mere where AK had traditionally written a short evaluation of the summer’s productions which was typed up, mimeographed, and sold to the company and crew for the cost -- a dollar or two.  These had been thrown into a box in the Eagles Mere office.  But when it was time to get the box and sort it out, it turned out that it was a hodge-podge -- seasons missing, pages missing.  

Maybe there’s someone out there who has a complete set, but no one was at Eagles Mere for ALL the productions.  The point is that it had not been a high enough priority for the mimeos to be properly filed or bound or otherwise protected.  No one thought in terms of a big compilation.  Things were in ACTION, responding to deadlines.  By the end of the season everyone was staggering exhausted anyway.  (I don’t think Weldon was ever at EM.)

2.  It possible that the notes (not just Blue Books) that were stolen from AK’s office were simply thrown out by mistake and the claim of being the person who stole them or even being the person who knew who stole them was meant for dramatic effect.   There was evidently again no attempt to mark them or secure them.  

Some of us think that AK never really thought about writing a book at all until David Press suggested it.  And he was talking about a Ph.D. thesis, which is different, though many books DO start out as a thesis, and writing a book is a way of validating an academic career.

3.  Much of the material was time-bound, that is, referred to specific actors in particular plays, but the theories and constant reminders were repeated over the years again and again, so I don’t think anything was really lost.  

The material is also time-bound in another sense, which is that plays, audiences, actors and all the rest have changed since AK retired.  i’ve been working this afternoon on a thesis about actor communication in which male and female college-aged actors choreograph a vulgar, invasive, near pornographic event that the script asks for.  I can’t imagine AK even considering a play with a scene like that.  Or can I?  These kids are very clear about boundaries, but also quite casual about intimacy.

The thesis is online.   Check out the bib.   I was stunned by the number of “Method” variations the author lists and discusses.  THE SPACE BETWEEN: UNCOVERING THE LIVED EXPERIENCE OF ACTOR COMMUNICATION

(I’m using this material as a reference for “liminal space” as in Victor Turner’s construct.)

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