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_

Thursday, November 1, 2012



This chapter deals with the basic steps of first year acting class, called B43 at NU.  In terms of the quarter system, the fall quarter deals with increasing sensory awareness, the winter quarter concentrates on developing imagination, and the third quarter is about putting those abilities to work by developing a role with which the student strongly identifies.  [These steps are very much in accord with recent brain theory which posts that all thinking is based on the senses, then upon opening up the ability to perceive on many levels at once, and finally to intensifying empathy with others.]

This is one of the places that misunderstanding the “Method” can go wrong.  It is not necessary to walk the streets in order to play a prostitute nor to do surgery in order to play a doctor.  Just pay attention and use your senses.

Exercises might be designed to increase awareness of the character’s inner life and motives, or they might be meant to tap into the actor’s past.  [ Here are two examples not in the thesis.   When I was giving a shallow and wooden version of the messenger who brings Medea an account of the poisoned gown that sets the rival princess on fire, I was asked to imagine that I was reporting about a forest fire.  In labs taught by the assistant, Larry Smith, asked us to play “What’s your price?” to consider in advance what might make us ditch a rehearsal on a blizzard night.  A cup of hot coffee?  A lover?]

The task at hand is always to embody the playwright’s intentions.  AK was eloquent about this.  Van Meter took notes in class as a teacher/observer and provided them to Dave Press.  They are the main content of this chapter.

Van Meter’s list included:  views on acting and the theatre, training of the actor’s senses including kinethesia, the nature of responses in human beings, training in observation, sense memory, memory for experience, insights into the reasons for human behavior, insights into the nature of what Krause believes is properly “dramatic” and “theatrical,” the use of the body and voice in acting, improvisational techniques, discipline and ethics required of theatre workers, insights into play construction, the feeling of truth in acting, the influence of the environment on people, artistic reality as opposed to reality, communication or communion with audiences, “control of one’s work”, how to analyze a role so it leads into action, theatre and acting terminology.

Another list from the winter quarter included:  sub-text, multi-level awareness and response, interplay, transfer of thought and emotion, playing from moment to moment, recognizing climaxes or the moment of transfer or change, realizations, the use of metaphors in acting.  

In the spring quarter students chose exercises from “Modern Acting: A Manual” or enacted a character from a novel or biography. The section included an intro to playing comedy, about “created” worlds, and about conventions demanded by the nature of theatre.

Criticisms arise because AK’s methods do not necessarily conform to the conventions of the academic context.  For instance, she does not use lesson plans because the content of the day’s work arises from the situation of the specific student and interactions necessary to address them.  Contradictorily, she is criticized for using the exercises in “Modern Acting: a Manual” and therefore not being original.  

Most of the criticism arises from trying to understand “sense memories”, mostly because some insist on going for a specific emotion they presume the character must feel, while AK put emphasis on the ACTION of the character and thought the sense memory should be one that accounted for the action.
Van Meter’s notes record her as saying:  “If the stimulus is real (i.e. if you respond to the right thing in the stage situation with your senses and make the appropriate associations out of what you know about your character and about life) the emotion you want will follow automatically.  You can’t create emotion -- it follows by itself on the heels of the stimulus.”

AK is reacting to the cultural confusion of intense emotion with acting.  This stirs up much reaction, both positive and negative.


Emotion is circular to some extent: that is, if one imitates the action of an emotion (anger or fear, for instance) one will begin to feel it.  Emotional discovery should be done in rehearsal and through exercises.  Then during the play it can be recreated, possibly just by imitating moves.


These included close examination of small objects, remembering them, maybe imagining something about them later.  Or the assignment might be to follow a person, watch them, and imagine why they moved and interacted the way they did.   The student might be asked to imitate the person as they saw them and then maybe to invent a different setting and see how they might act there.  The next step would be to account for these behaviors by considering class, education, income, ethnicity, and so on.

Much of this formed the content of the journals which AK read and annotated weekly.  The journal was in part a way of handling class sizes of forty or more.  Sometimes she would post a message to the whole class at once, addressing something the journals were pointing at.

These exercises included awareness of voice and music.  Pretending to be blind helped focus and so did pretended to be deaf and imagining what impact it would have on character if that person were deaf.  How do different people listen in different ways?

AK considered these to be relatively dull, though they include food!  She doesn’t address evocative smells in isolation.  In fact, she rarely encourages accurate memory of some specific stimulus, always wanting them to be related to action and situation.

This is major, not least because it is almost always a response to something.  She uses much metaphor and the exercises include imitating animals.  Famously, we were assigned to visit Malvina Hoffman’s Hall of Man to assume the postures of the portraits in order to discover how the model’s lives had affected their bodies.

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