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 donnée 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.

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.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012


As I look closely at this thesis and explore the MUCH larger context, a lot of ideas come to mind -- some of which might be fantasies.  Therefore, I will stick to the most obvious condensation of what is on the pages.  



Most of this part comes from testimony of alumni hoping to reverse AK’s forced retirement, which Press says NU was forced to do because of her age of 68. (Much politics around this, but none is addressed.)  

There are quotes from stellar students testifying to AK’s effectiveness.  256 alumns signed a telegram.  The Christian Science Monitor ran a long story.  Others quoted include Neal Weaver (now theatre reviewer and blogger at the LAWeekly), Stuart Hagmann, David Pressman, Gerald Freedman, Charlton Heston.  Louis Hetler wrote a doctoral study of Stanislavsky’s influence on teaching and identified AK as among the “most prominent.”  In 1968 during a casual conversation Press was told by Dean McBurney that AK was worthy of doctoral study.  (Throughout her career he had opposed her.)


NU, Yale and Carnegie-Mellon are identified as primary educators.  AK herself has not written and does not intend to detail her methods.

Though Louis Hetler “proved” that Stanislavsky’s methods -- one way or another -- hugely influenced college acting teachers, no specifics were pursued.  Press asserts that though AK used “Method” concepts, they were only part of her pre-existing and parallel strategies.


1.  Discover the consistent philosophy of theatre underlying AK’s teaching.
2.  Codify her most recent theories about actor training
3.  Record representative curriculum and teaching practices.

The time-frame was 1950 - 1968.  Both the NU classes and the Eagles Mere productions were included.  “Visual” (set design, costumes) and “managerial” (advertising, tickets) were not addressed.  Press had wanted to do “library” work, but it became clear that transcriptions of interviews were the main option.  

AK resisted the whole process, feeling it was all too much like obituary and declaring that she just did what “had to be” without analysis.  Grudgingly, she said, reacting to a draft of Chapter Three,  “Well, I read it.  It’s all true -- I think.”

Two main sources of material were John Van Meter and Weldon Bleiler, both dead now.


Press had been AK’s student.  In the first interview he asked whether she considered herself to have a taught “a variant of the ‘Method,” to have been a “Stanislavsky Method director.”   She was quite definite in saying,  “No, I do not.  . . If I am anything like Stanisslavsky it’s that he was always seeking, and I think I’ve always been seeking and still am, for what is this thing called acting.”


Press used a tape recorder, but it was not always running.  If AK said something that seemed important while it was off, she was asked to say it again.  Once he asked her to prepare a demonstration but doesn’t report the result.  Most of the time he asked questions as they came to mind, but also John Van Meter helped him to prepare questions.  Press valued narrative answers.  

AK wanted to revise what she had said, to take some things back, to restate and so on, but Press sometimes resisted.  She was NOT used to pressure.  But Press concludes:  “Van Meter was sure that an integrated, consistent philosophy of theatre lay behind Krause’s teaching, and that her answers would reveal that philosophy.  He was proved to be correct.”

NOTE:  The post on today (10-28-12) is highly relevant.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

PRESS THESIS: a foreword

Now I’m going to begin to record a brief overview of David Press’ thesis, called “The Acting Teaching of Alvina Krause: Theory and Practise.” (1971)

Let me begin by quoting Press in a recent communication after I explained what I was going to do: take the thesis apart and react without consulting him.

“As for my dissertation, I am grateful for your interest and that you are seriously examining it.  I was just in contact with a friend who earned a doctorate at another university who commented that he doesn't think anyone ever read his dissertation besides his committee.

“I won't be offended by your distancing yourself from me as you parse it. In my own correspondence with Miss Krause. if you remember, I express my own dissatisfaction with what I had accomplished, encouraging her to consider building upon it once it was done and approved by my committee. I was aware that I had approached Miss Krause with the proposal that we could work together to record her teaching methods.  Instead, my committee was forcing me to not just record, but to evaluate and look for sources and influences. That departure from the collaboration we had both hoped for in the beginning had led her to distrust where I was going and limited her willingness to cooperate.

Perhaps the many detailed and urging letters AK wrote to David Downs (see www.DavidGoingOn.blogspot.comwhile he launched his teaching career at NU should be seen as a continuation of the information in the thesis after calm reflection and in a less critical context.

My personal experience of thesis writing gave me a suspicion of the process per se.  Once intended to demonstrate a grasp of a body of academic material, a thesis has come to be a sort of polarization between an earnest student trying to create something worthy of publication (and entry into a professional vocation) and a small panel of mentors trying to maintain the integrity of their own work.  The slang is hoop-jumping.  Gate-keeping.  The percentage of grad students who achieve all but their thesis is high.  So many abandon the effort (I did) that it's called an ABT --"All But Thesis." A thesis may turn out to be a lifework.

The outline of David Press‘ thesis is in six chapters.







I’ll discuss at least one a day, so that will take a week or so.  Some chapters might be worth two days of discussion.  Feel free to interact, question, make corrections or whatever.  I see us as a community.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I'm beginning to read David Press' thesis again more carefully.  As I go, I'm keeping a list of questions that seem to be implied, whether or not they are answered.  I'll come back and add to this list as I go, but this is what I've got so far.  Some issues are coming out of private emails.


1.  To what extent and in what way did she participate in the field of “Method” acting?

2.  How dependent was her teaching method on having total control of student actors?

3.  What is the difference between an academic teacher/director and a professional/commercial director?

4.  Is it impossible to teach today as Krause taught in the twentieth century?

5.  What is the relationship between teaching acting and providing therapy?

6.  What major academic waves and issues influenced her work?  (Creativity theory; theories of movement, diction, history.)

7.  What is the difference between arts teaching in a conservatory or private school as opposed to arts teaching in a university?

8.  What should administrators consider when managing theatre departments?  (This is a nice way of approaching the reasons AK was given the gate early.)

9.  What is the role of integrity, idealism, inspiration in teaching success?  Can it go out of fashion?

10.  Likewise, what about “grandeur, style, BIGness”?

11.  What did AK know about comedy that made it possible for her to teach it without killing it?

12.  What does it mean in David Pressman’s phrase that she belonged to a “theatre of the playwright?”

13.  In teaching, what is the relationship between terror and love?  Being relentless for the student’s own good versus being destructive or even liable for damage in court?

14.  Is there any value in putting teaching methods on paper when in fact it is the student that is the living document as well as the material acted upon. so that each student evokes a different strategy?  Or as some might say, teaching is an art rather than a formula.  It is a living interaction rather than a formula.  AK’s resistance to analysis and rules interfered with the thesis, but not the CONTENT of the analysis.  She never wrote or expressed a desire to write, though Harper & Row approached her.

15.  How should a teacher and student manage issues of bonding, attachment, transference, and so on?  Particularly in the context of summer repertory away from the campus?

16.  Should theatre address social issues in an activist way?  Did AK ever do that?

17.  How did AK use improvisation?

18.  How did AK understand success?

19.  How did notions of “success” shape the way students related to AK or even the way she thought of herself?

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.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Kate Pogue says,  “Don’t forget Laurie McCants, one of the co-founders of BTE.  So here’s a start.  Do we need a list of dramachicks?  Would AK ever possibly be considered a “dramachick”? 

And I was wanting a list of ensemble theatres (I think that’s what I mean when I say “repertory” and maybe close to what AK meant when she spoke of them.  So McCants’ interview supplies a link.   and that’s how this blogging stuff works.  I call it “lily padding,” like those birds with big feet who walk across ponds on the lily pads.

(I should note that it looks like “Chicago Fire,” the new Dick Wolf  TV series, is going up in flames.  But television series that take hold ARE like ensemble theatre, aren’t they?  This one just, um, misfired.  Maybe.)


I don’t pretend to have really been one of AK’s students, having transferred into Interp early on, but my dearest friends were, and I did attend some classes, so I think I felt and understood the mystique. Perhaps in some way her example helped motivate me toward my fifty-year career as an acting teacher, and having had the chance to experiment in setting up three professional programs, I have strong feelings about the role of acting teachers and of our profession in general, and as I am right now teaching beginning acting here (at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design) I have a sense of the condition in which kids are coming into our training programs today.
I am sure we all taught because we saw teaching as a way of helping to make a better American theatre through the resonance of our teaching in the lives of our students. Like Marshall, I am most proud of my students who went out and started theatres of their own. And I am also proud of those students who went on to significant acting careers and who maintained their dignity, and their sense of purpose.
I am least proud of the fact that we support our programs, including the 3700 drama departments in this country, by recruiting and retaining thousands of students who are condemned to frustration and disappointment. I am also least proud that we often fail to prepare the best of our students for the realities of life as an actor today – including our systemic failure to prepare people for the camera. I learned in my years as a producer that acting for the camera can, at its best, be the most demanding and purest test of the spiritual capacity of an actor, and it’s a shame that we don’t teach it in that spirit but instead continue to treat it as if it were mere vocationalism.
I am not optimistic about the future. The current crop of kids suffer terribly from a lifetime of TV watching and video gaming. Most of our training institutions are woefully inadequate in voice and speech training at a time when they are most needed. Our kids have had little opportunity and less passion to see live theatre. Their role models are almost all on TV. What would be best would be to consolidate our energies for actor training in a few programs of high quality (that was the motive behind our formation of the old League of Professional Theatre Training Programs.) Such programs should have free tuition, and a stipend for living costs. I taught in just such a system in Australia and it was a revelation. There the three major training programs are federally subsidized, and graduates have immediate entry into the profession. Of course, Australia is a small country compared to  us and it is easier for them to do this, but what they do is rooted in a genuine respect and liking of theatre in the broader culture as reflected in government policy. I never got over that the guy at the gas station was impressed when he found out I was an acting teacher and director! Our political and cultural climate wouldn’t permit us to even dream of such a system.
As to the personal relationship of the acting teacher and his or her students, I agree with Stu (was it him?) who said that AK was of her time and that it is no longer possible to be “a walking myth” (perfect phrase!)  In fact, I was always much put off by that aspect of the AK phenomenon, though I didn’t entirely blame her for it. Acting students are often masochistic and I have found that many come into acting out of a sense of unworthiness for attention and love in their lives, and I have always been appalled by the acting teachers who exploit this, of whom we have had too many in our country. I did see instances in which I thought AK was a bit guilty of this.
Marshall is also right about the tension between respecting the varying talents of our students and trying to maintain high standards – the problem is, I think, that our profession today offers no dominant model – in the forties and fifties it was still possible to say what constituted a “good” actor in the most general sense, but we have lived since the sixties in a state of stylistic pluralism that makes that impossible. As acting teachers, we have to first of all decide what KIND of actor we believe in and be honest about our values and recognize that we will not be able to serve the general run of students. If we are serious about training actors, then we have to select those students best suited to our personal esthetic – that’s really what AK did – but the American educational system makes that utterly impossible today.
I look forward to more of this discourse!
Beny Benedetti


Director Gerald Freedman Stricken by Strokes

Director Gerald Freedman, who last fall stage "The Diary of Anne Frank" at theWestport Country Playhouse, suffered a major stroke in late February followng a milder one three weeks earlier.
Freedman, 83, has been the drama dean at UNC School of the Arts since 1991.
According to the Winston Salem (N.C.) Journal.
Friends and family members said that Freedman is improving but that it is too early to make a prognosis. "We are grateful that he is now in rehabilitation, and we are encouraged by his progress," John Mauceri, UNCSA's chancellor, said in an e-mail to the school's alumni.
According to the newspaper report, Robert Beseda, an assistant drama dean, said that while there is "still a lot to do" in the rehabilitation, there are many reasons to feel encouraged about Freedman's progress over the last week: He is motivated to recover, recognizes everyone and can swallow food. He has asked several questions about production and class matters.

Freedman was artistic director of the American Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. in the '70s. Freedman's work as an artistic director or co-artistic director includes stints at the New York Shakespeare Festival, the John Houseman Acting Company and  theGreat Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland for 13 years before coming to UNCSA. He has also taught at Yale University and the Juilliard School.
He highly regarded internationally for his direction of classic dramas, musicals, operas and new plays. He was the first American to direct at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. 
He has numerous Broadway and off Broadway credits, including the off-Broadway premiere of "Hair," the landmark rock musical, and the Broadway revival of "West Side Story" in 1980.
E-mails be sent to and that letters and cards be sent to School of Drama, UNC School of the Arts, 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem, NC 27127

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.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Robert Benedetti is a particularly useful compass for me, as he’s a witness who is not a close friend.  I never was really in the theatre but avidly observed Alvina Krause’s acting classes and plays for four years.  Half a century later, I try to understand her methods.  The issue of what is or is not Stanislavsky’s “Method” has dominated a lot of discussion about acting.  Benedetti sensibly points out that the man changed his ideas over his lifetime and basing one’s Method on the early ideas will yield quite different theories than those from his later life. To quote directly, “They essentially froze his work at moments of his development and failed to take the essential arc of his search into account.”  I’ll try not to do the same to Alvina Krause.  

I have three acting books by Benedetti:  two editions of “The Actor at Work’ (1970, the first, and 2005, the ninth) and “The Actor in You: Sixteen Steps to Understanding the Art of Acting.” (2012, the fifth).  The latter is a little simpler, an excellent beginning text  I will say this: these books are as useful for a writer of narrative as for an actor.

What distinguishes Benedetti’s work is the stunning amount of it and his attention to personal ethics and social consciousness.  Also, the simple fact that he has continued on for many decades after this “Method” was seen circa 1970.  David Press’ Ph.D. thesis about AK’s version was submitted in 1971.  Downs continued her teaching on beyond her, with her guidance, so remains pretty much in her context.  Mason is talking about directing as much or more than acting.  

Benedetti departed from the AK circle early, transferring from the Department of Theatre to the Department of interpretation between his freshman and sophomore years.  About the same time AK turned away from her origins in Oral Interpretation, not acting.  In practical terms, as AK became more famous and sought-after as a “Method” teacher in the period I was taking notes, she began to have to do triage with her time and energy.  She was aging.  One way to keep class size down was to reject Interp students in the C11 acting class, which they had previously been required to take.  That line had not been drawn so harshly before.  She was throwing her weight around.

Benedetti scared me.  He was very big, very smart and since those days he has become a very big success.  The Department of Interpretation in what was then the School of Speech is now something very different: "Performance Studies."  After fifty years I visit the website and find that some of the classes I valued most highly are missing: notably Dean Barnlund’s “Language and Thought” and “Discussion.”  But then I see that today’s Performance Studies classes are about the interpretation and reconciliation of ethnic cultures, close to the same thing.  Benedetti’s work, esp. the two prize-winning movies (“Miss Evers' Boys” & “A Lesson Before Dying”), has been about the anguished problems of African-Americans and other social justice issues.  Dean Barnlund would have recognized and supported this work as uses of his principles and even some of his methods.  Think what Performance Studies could do with “Miss Evers” dancing!

Many of the Discussion class methods I was taught were the kind used now in Organizational Design and Leadership Training -- bird-caging discussions, brain-storming (before it became a cliché), repeating back what someone said to check meaning, identifying the strategies of individuals.  Most of all, we had the constant awareness that one culture is framed differently than the next.  Benedetti has since met Gestalt Therapy at Esalen.  He describes his approach as “a mix of Buddhist and Reichian principles and processes of discovery and personal growth.”  One might say that AK was teaching Stanislavsky the way Cecchetti taught Russian ballet, while Benedetti was exploring Pilobolus.  The result is that his acting books are packed with self-exploration and partner interaction exercises that support “consciousness raising.”

Every good teacher or therapist is eclectic, searching for what works.  To an outsider the subtle variations in Manhattan Broadway ideas about Method seem to leak in from the psychoanalytic background of that culture.  In my time there were several students who were from high schools and conservatories there, who brought their awe and esteem for it with them.  But as I work with these notes I begin to realize how much AK is based in post-War (both I and II) “American” values which may be projected on Greek and Elizabethan ideals.  The time period was the late Fifties post-Korean War -- an undeclared “brain-wash” war, the Cold War.  The Kennedy Years had not quite begun.  The Demonization of Communism still gripped Hollywood.

The contrast between reading Benedetti and the other writers is rooted in the fact that he went on after those early times.  He accepts those but adds Asian concepts, experimental ideas.   Esalen stands as a kind of Pacific Ocean idea-bank, sort of like the Concord, Massachusetts, Atlantic Ocean idea-bank, reconciling the “we are the greatest” Americanism with “the world is interwoven” of Asian and New Age thinking.  Both accepted the twinship of religion and theatre.  Very powerful stuff and crucial in the “twenty-tens.”

Going in and out of academics, Benedetti has entered the world of professional production, as has Mason, but I don’t know enough to comment on them.  I haven’t read his books about film and television, those variations on the theme of theatre.   They’re on my list.  They would have been beyond AK, not least because they weren’t really developed yet.  Neither do I have ANY idea what Benedetti would think of Cinematheque, the group I work with (sort of -- and from a distance), which is based on edited and computer-altered photography, almost entirely and ambiguously connotative.  Think music vid.  AK would have given it no time.

Yesterday I happily spent reading Benedetti’s first novel:  “The Long Italian Goodbye” which is a gracefully fictionalized memoir of the West Side Chicago neighborhood where he grew up.  Think Francis Ford Coppola.  Very Italian, complete with recipes, curiously echoing Jewish ways (Studs Terkel, Saul Bellow) in the salute to Socialism, the insistence on justice, the awareness of mortality, the valuing of ordinary people.  

In his acting books Benedetti comes back now and then to the ethics of the actual theatre company -- how the cast and crew treat each other.  His advice rings true for Life, period.  This is from the “Afterword” chapter called “Transformation”:

Your sense of purpose grows from your respect for your own talent, your love for the specific material you are performing, and your desire to use both to serve your audience.  It is this drive to be at service through your art that finally overcomes the self-consciousness of your ego and carries you beyond yourself, giving you a transcendent purpose from which come dignity, fulfillment, and ongoing artistic vitality.