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, November 26, 2012


As of today, I've posted all the Eagles Mere end-of-season evaluations I have.  If anyone has more, I will be happy to post them.  Now I'm going to double-back (slowly) and add the programs or at least cast of characters with each evaluation.

But mainly I'll begin tomorrow to type in AK's Master's thesis.  She does NOT suddenly switch philosophies after writing this in 1933, nor does she recant anything from her oratory/rhetoric background.  The thesis is not about acting per se, but rather the origins and management of creativity.  Her ideas fit well with contemporary theories of creativity and brain operation.

Though AK was praised as being a "Method" teacher in the Stanislavski tradition, she is clearly not "Strasbergian," as described by Richard Hornby in "The End of Acting: A Radical View."  (I'll post here some remarks on this book, but since I'm reading it for my own purposes rather than as an actor, I urge you to read the book itself if you ARE an actor.)

Maybe for that reason, since she clearly stated again and again that she was not "into" emotion and being a star or even Broadway, she's not much mentioned anywhere.  NU let her go in 1963.  Most of the energy behind her reputation has come from students at NU, though the EM actors have done well, too.  My cohort, Class of 1961, is over seventy now.  I'm finding that the women in particular are not computer savvy.  We were not a very academic or literary bunch, with some exceptions like Kate Pogue.  It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that AK wrote a thesis or that it would be worth reading.

You'll be able to see for yourselves over the next few weeks.  By Christmas you will probably be able to print it out, get it bound, and offer it for a present to someone.

Prairie Mary
Mary Strachan Scriver
Valier, Montana

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


A thesis submitted to the graduate school in partial fulfillment  of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Speech.  Department of Speech.
Evanston, Illinois, August, 1933

CALL NUMBERS:  MAIN MI Diss 378 NU 1933 c. 2

As is traditional, this is hard-bound, plain green, and hand-typed.  There are 78 pages of text, which is small enough that I think I'll just keyboard it onto this blog.  There is also an appendix that includes the sources of ideas for her project: a way of evaluating the creativity of a potential actor.

Her premise is that many people have addressed the creativity of actors, but almost always from the perspective of a critic, looking at the end product.  Few or none have looked at the other end, the creativity of the person becoming an actor.  She hopes to create an instrument that will help to discover levels of creativity so that it can be encouraged.




Chapter one:  Classic and Medieval Theories
Chapter two:  Theories of the Romanticists
Chapter three:  Modern Theories and Investigations


Chapter one:  The Problem
Chapter two:  Analysis of Results
Chapter three:  Summary



It appears that her chief mentor was Lew Sarett, a well-known and much loved poet who specialized in nature and wilderness.  Oddly, he's not in Wikipedia but there is lots of other info about him plus his poetry if you use Google.  He was revered at Meadville-Lombard and I believe Professor Ron Engel may have done his memorial.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Commercial theatre productions that demand large audiences to be profitable are located on both coasts of the US.  The ones on the Atlantic seaboard have their roots in Europe with those in Manhattan esp. strongly influenced by Russian and German Jews with a rich intricate tradition of psychoanalytic concepts.  The ones on the Pacific seaboard are influenced by the Asian theatre traditions, more ceremonial, ancient and symbolic.  In the middle of the US, especially on the early prairies where populations are thin, centering on school and church (which often shared the same buildings), before there was television or even radio, public speaking was a cherished art. Government was participatory, which gave extra emphasis to political speech.  My father and his family depended upon lectures and my mother and her family was deeply influenced by missionary speakers raising money for good works.  Most people thinking about theatre give these patterns little thought.

But this middle rural America of the 1900’s was the sturdy foundation on which Alvina Krause built her understanding of human communication.  Not that she was limited to speech.  The times prescribed “healthy exercise” and regimes of various sorts.  She accepted them, recommended them.  Spoken arts are nothing without breath support and singing was as popular as speaking.  But there was little money for costumes and sets.  As a high school girl, Alvina Krause was a star, winning prizes.  But since she was the youngest of five children, her older siblings, as is the custom in the Middle West, made sure she didn’t get the big head.  At the same time, the family had good books and she was a bit of a showoff to be reading Hamlet at a young age.

The most vital influence on AK’s life was Dean Dennis, a renowned Chautauqua speaker who took a near-ministerial interest in individuals, both students and faculty.  The style was secular humanist, a movement that was strong on the prairies in early days, but the venue was Garrett Seminary where the Comstock School of Oratory operated before moving to the School of Speech at Northwestern University.  Universities tend to operate like the formation of planets, accepting and integrating “asteroids” that had formed elsewhere.  Dennis was a sort of father to the young teacher of oral interpretation, encouraging standards of rectitude, discipline, idealism, and compassion.  With his support she bloomed.

AK turned 21 just as WWI began.  A whole generation of young men was eliminated at the same time that the qualities of successful soldiers were elevated.  Emotional bonds formed with England, including the Masterpiece Theatre sort of ambivalence about social class: admiration of elegance while defending the sturdy middle-class and supporting the upward mobility of the lowest classes through education.  Sexuality was not addressed: marriage was.  Many women ended in female/female alliances, what is sometimes called a “Boston marriage,” not based on sexuality so much as being practical helpmates.  This does not exclude love.

For the long period until AK’s forced resignation she taught in the same place in the same way, building by trial and error, a sensibility and insight based on the practical interaction with the students at that moment.  When in 1963 over Christmas vacation someone who evidently had a key to her office removed a filing cabinet of materials, the paper record of what she had done from the beginning in the Thirties.  Twice the culprit mailed back parts of that theft, evidently wanting to gloat and tease.  But it was useless, because what mattered was very much in her head and heart.  It was a skill -- not a lesson plan.

So when in 1970 David Press approached AK to collaborate on a Ph.D. thesis that would explore her methods, she was ambivalent.  On the one hand, it would replace the missing record, but on the other hand she had found that people had a hard time understanding what she did to evoke good work from students.  She was working out of her Evanston home tutoring individuals.  There was a strong need for vindication.  Judging by my reading, which includes some pretty malicious online stuff from a graduate teacher in debate who was a friend of Dean McBurney, and from AK’s own private report of McBurney’s style, very much like that of a high school principal, there was a struggle within the School of Speech, partly over lifestyle issues.  Dean McBurney was the opposite of Dean Dennis and his own tenure was not long.  He was one of those marcelled, corpulent Chamber of Commerce types one runs across in small towns, a dominator.

The evidence preserved in Press’ thesis suggests that when she was suddenly assigned to teach acting, with no particular training in that field, she went directly to the books about the Stanislavky “Method” which was the gold standard at the time.  She was particularly impressed by the “sense memory” material and added it to her resources.  Three other particularly useful books were “Modern Acting: A Manual,” (1936), “Acting: the First Six Lessons” (1933) and “Improvisation for the Theatre” (1963).  (This last is by Viola Spolin, who was a Chicago person with a background in community youth work.)  These prompted her use of improvisations to trigger and clarify concepts.   They also legitimated her interest in individuals.

About the time the “Method” was electrifying Manhattan, the film industry on the opposite coast was expanding the realism and psychological depth of their dramas.  The Method fit into this with excellent results and was hailed as the magic answer to acting, endorsed by specific actors.  Mostly taught in conservatories rather than universities, the Method melded with ideas about individualism, genius, madness, and other preoccupations that had been associated with writing, but now without the writing.  AK, however, remained committed to the script and its faithful expression to audiences.  At her summer theatre, Eagles Mere, she was able to protect this definition and practice it in a passionate way to a high level of skill.  Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble continued on after Eagles Mere ended.

At the time the “community theatre” movement swept the country, AK was listening and part of her own “method” was believing in the development of ensemble repertory acting companies where the actors could learn from each other and form a kind of tribe.  When Meyerhold, leaving Stanislavsky and Russia, triggered “encounter theatre” and a host of experiments coming out of all sorts of social and national movements -- not least WWII -- AK knew it was happening but was not moved by it.  A rural midwestern girl with basically middle-class values could appreciate the need to protect the non-conforming student but was not interested in changing the culture in that way.  She and Lucy drove a Cadillac and shopped at Marshal Field.  A silver comb for her upswept hair was about as exotic as she was prepared to be.  What counted was the mind and heart as instruments of communication and registers of astonishment.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Robert Benedetti moved to the Oral Interpretation Department but socialized with the theatre people and eventually became a professor of acting.  I have his NU Ph.D. thesis  ("Encounter Theatre, 1971) and will post a synopsis later, but today I posted a first sketch of a kind of genome of theatre movements on  Nov. 6, 2012.  I'm trying to limit this blog to things that are more directly relevant, though I hope that eventually it will show that Alvina Krause both WAS and WAS NOT a "Method" acting teacher.  Since she was technically a teacher of "interpretation" until the later years, it seems important to consider that.

Sunday, November 4, 2012



At this point the thesis becomes more difficult to simply condense.  The focus is that “Krause’s most significant contribution to the theatre lies in her teaching a systematic way of approaching a role so that acting style springs from circumstances integral to the play.”  But what she does is not very systematic.  I would describe it as “principled,” that is, it is not a check list but a response to what is there.  The work is cumulative: she is always building on what was done before but earlier work that has been “realized” is meant to be internalized, so that it doesn’t have to be repeated or extended.  And it is “emergent” meaning that it comes from the dynamics of the elements, not something imposed.  But I’m imposing this on Press.

This part of the thesis attempts to compare the Krause “method” with the Stanislavsky “method” more than earlier chapters.  There are questions of definition and procedure.  Of course, no one involved had ever seen Stanislavsky direct actors.  His books are translations.  (Press’ advisor was a playwright, which might account for some of the curiosity about structure of plot.)

Krause wants the meaning of the play to emerge through the developing of the actor’s sense of the author’s intent and the style to come from what is pared away from the reality in order to make the point. Thus she would devise challenges, improvs, gimmicks, to get actors to feel what was necessary for the play to work.  

She speaks of finding ways of calling out the gifts of quite different actors, and suggests Dick Benjamin and Paula Prentiss as examples of VERY different people who had to be treated in quite different ways, though they were and continue to be lifelong partners.  (I witnessed her working with them and what she says is true.)

Rehearsal of a specific play had four phases.
I.  Forming ideas about the play and their roles in it.  This is in conformity to the director and is very much the sort of work described in “Literature as Experience” by Breen and Bacon.  (AK assumes that her students have this kind of background -- that they are literate.  This is, after all, a university!)

II.  Scenes are performed, analyzed, experimented with while the characters “gel.”  AK wants the understanding to come from within the actors, while staying in the parameters the director has set.

III.  This is the moment to moment interaction of characters in which a “space forms between them” -- relationships.  To use the concept of liminality -- a virtual reality forms.

IV.  Now this virtual reality can be extended to the audience and the actors can vary their performances to include audience participation without losing their own grasp of the stage world.  Meaning can be nonverbal, but it will emerge now.

I’ve reworded this somewhat.  It seems to me that some of these concepts were only just forming and being named in the academic world:  centering (Gendlin), flow (Csikszentmihalyi), liminality (Turner), structuralism (Piaget), felt concepts (Langer).  They’ve been greatly extended now through counseling, brain function study, and clever experiments.  I feel as though going into these ideas too much would not do justice to what Press was attempting, since he didn’t have this knowledge.  Nothing he says contradicts these ideas, AK becomes very elusive at this point, hard to pin down.  She sees what’s on the stage, she responds to it, and then it works.

From from being confined to modern psychological realism, AK is particularly fond of Shakespeare, Chekhov and the Greeks.  She is eloquent on the subject of their cultures as she conceives of them and tells how she finds the right “style” of presenting the plays, always justifying the sources in the play, esp the language.  Part of the reason she enjoys these eras is because she feels they are strongly physical.  Acting, she insists, is in the muscles -- not in the head.  She recognizes genres like tragedy, melodrama, farce, comedy of wit, but sees them as coming out of the playwright’s understanding of the particular era and subject matter.  She is close to religion when she talks about “the nature of man.”

There is a passage on clowning but it is very short.  Her demonstrations of clowning in class were memorable -- not Clarabelle but the porter in “Macbeth” or often Irish self-contradicting drunks.  I wish she had talked about  putting “a spider in Mr. Applebaum’s tea,” an intention expressed by a nice little old lady.  Much of AK’s success as a teacher and director was the charm and energy of her self.

Instead of trying to condense the rest of the chapter, I think it would be more helpful to speak of what is hidden just under it.  If I were writing this, I would set it up as a comparison between the psychological realism that the sophisticated Manhattan Jewish intellectual community had promoted as Stanislavsky’s “Method”, rather in the spirit of Freud’s rules and assumptions, and which had acquired much mystique and orthodoxy  -- as opposed to AK’s “method” which came out of the American midwest Chatauqua tradition of public speaking, both political and expressive, which had roots in England, especially working class England.  The media has been over-impressed with the stars AK produced (though she despised the star system) and not even aware of the directors who grasped this way of working.  Often they were tent-makers, organizing small repertory and ensemble theatres like those that were such proving grounds for actors in Britain.

Press’ final paragraph is worth repeating:   “Krause conceived of acting as a ‘poetic’ art.  Through acting one could go beyond the pedestrian communication of plot and theme or idea behind a play.  Acting had to create the ‘dramatic experience’ which lies for her in the audience’s sharing the electricity of a play; and acting had to create an experience of the play as a poem, arousing connotational meanings that cannot be fully articulated.  Acting becomes poetically connotational when it has its roots in the vision of the world within which the playwright created.”

Friday, November 2, 2012



This chapter moves towards the integration of what has been learned so far.  The actor “creates from images.”  They come from remembered experiences, experiencing art, reading, filling oneself full of observations of humans and information about humans in other times and places: philosophy, sociology, history, psychology, art -- whatever would “develop an awareness of living.”  Her key word was “imagination,” and she identified four basic elements:

1.  the power to re-experience remembered perceptions, including observations of others.
2.  the power to imaginatively reshape images from the past
3.  the power to reshape current perceptions -- imagine something is other than it is
4.  the power to invent fantasy

(By now --2012 -- there are standard and familiar exercises for therapists.  But several books of the Fifties -- notably Boleslavsky and Viola Spolin supplied patterns and ideas for training actors.)

Press emphasizes that AK is looking for IMAGINATION and control rather than emotion.

Metaphor is the main tool.  Emphasis is not on just standing frozen while thinking of being some object, but rather expressing that object in action, gesture.  Do not analyze in words.  This is where AK runs athwart the “word and analysis” culture of a thesis.


Using fiction or history, try to become another person by summoning up all the influences on them and their desires.  Try them out in improvisations.  Concepts investigated include:

1.  Thought between lines (subtext)
2.  multi-level awareness and response
3.  interplay
4.  transfer of thought and emotion
5.  playing from moment to moment
6.  realization

Stanislavky concepts included are:
1.  basic drive (S. called it super-objective.)
2.  conflicts
3.  inevitability of behavior
4.  sequence
5.  character objective
6.  dramatic objective


I suggest and will try to expand later in a longer piece that AK partly became paralyzed over how to explain what she was doing here because it was very much part of her personal transition from being a teacher of interpretation to being a teacher of acting.  She wanted to be able to assume that the actor had all the wonderful humanities background that Bacon & Breen describe in “Literature as Experience” but then with the ADDITION of action, movement.  What outsiders seem to think is that her Interpretation of Literature background was lesser or not necessary, but for AK it was a vital safeguard against both the kind of emotional excess that leads to “Black Swan” ideas about fucking the ballerina to make her more like an evil swan on the one hand (Hollywood) and on the other hand performing theatrical stunts like having the ballerina dance en pointe on the head of the prince (China).  Both extremes lose the physical and spiritual metaphorical content of a large white bird that glides in water and across the sky, full of mystery and unknown destination.

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.