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_

Sunday, December 16, 2012


This is a summary of William H. Wegner’s article entitled “Alvina Krause Revisited.”  The purpose is to provide a short version for people in a hurry, and also to emphasize the very important points he makes.  

As background, the fact that acting is a process means that teaching acting is also a process, very hard to reduce to a formula.  Teaching is an empathic interaction in a context of trust that manages the interaction among the structure of a script (which includes the nature of the character in question), the emotional resources of the actor, and the empathic ability of the teacher to see what might bring the actor to understand and express the character.  An audience, even if it is the rest of the cast, participates in these interactions, which can be a source of great excitement and satisfaction when it all becomes congruent.

Wegner identifies four levels of what he calls co-consciousness:

  1. A teacher who truly knows the play and scene.
  2. The evocation of the actor’s sub-text through tasks, images and objectives.
  3. An intimate knowledge of the actor so as to know what might work.
  4.   Inclusion of others present vicariously even though they are not actively working.

I take these levels to be the dynamics of empathy, what neuroanatomists call “mirror cells” and which Kelty ( calls “the space between”.  I take it to be closely related to the “bonding” dyad of mother and infant or between lovers or even between a tortured person and his tormenter.  It is mysterious, something emergent from relationship, and very powerful.  In fact, I would say the keystone to theatre.  We watch and as we watch, our internal selves subtly imitate and feel what happens.

What’s left that Wegner remarks on is AK’s remarkable vitality, which he believes (and I do as well) comes from focus, intense concentration on the job at hand.  It’s a basic counseling premise that focus provides power.

What I’m wondering about is whether the dynamics work differently in relationships of equality.  The cases I suggest above are all asymmetrical:  one person is transmitting to the other.  Onstage, while acting, it seems to me that two or more people can create something quite palpable to each other, shared and apparent to an audience.


It is a good summary.  Important I think to  stress that Chekhov's texts especially yield subtexts; hence good actors, imaginative actors are drawn to his plays  ( Struggling with Chekhov after all was what gave birth to the "Stanislavsky Method -- which of course was not a Method,reducible to the Formulaic.  But how to teach this kind of acting?  Only students with a knack for thinking in particulars, not in abstractions, are capable of responding to AK's demanding approach. Uta Hagen was skillful at this too. 

So much to think about and try to articulate.  Talking about Good Acting is hard ; I look forward to more "discussions"; but wanted to let you know
right away that I do endorse your summary.

Bill Wegner


Friday, December 14, 2012


by William H. Wegner

William H. Wegner is Associate Professor of Speech Communication and Theatre at Trenton State College.  He studied acting with both Alvina Krause and Lee Strasberg.  His article “The Creative Circle:  Stanislavski and Yoga” appeared in ETJ in March, 1976.  This is retyped with his permission.

In a subject as controversial as the teaching of acting, where proliferating theories seem only to compound confusion and convert uncertainty into anxiety, it seems vital to attempt to analyze the art of teachers who have demonstrated the effectiveness of their approaches.  Alvina Krause is certainly one of these.  At Northwestern University, at the Eagles Mere Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and in private classes she has directly influenced a remarkably number of actors and directors distinguished in the professional and educational theatre.

Yet she has published little.  This is largely due to the nature of her teaching which is improvisational and based upon the interaction of teacher and student and does not lend itself to expression in formula or aphorism.  Yet, as Burnet Hobgood has observed, “Certainly both teachers [Alvina Krause and Lee Strasberg] do their most brilliant work with the student present before them.  But it would be a shame for these great teachers to end their careers without summarizing statements for the rest of us.”

Efforts have been made.  A 1972 doctoral dissertation by David Press
  provides extensive documentation of her career and teaching strategies, and a series of teaching films made at the University of South Dakota in 1966 preserves much that cannot be captured in print. 

In 1975-76, as a former student at Northwestern and Eagles Mere, I visited Krause, “retired” in her home in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and found her teaching a private class in acting to a group of advanced students.  I returned several times to observe the classes and make sound recordings, and I concluded that more could be said.

I understood more clearly that hers was an art and not a system, and that Hobgood was quite right; her best work is done with the student present.  David Press elaborates: 

The spontaneity added to the excitement of working under Krause.  It also helped assure that what was said was relevant to the needs of each particular class or to a particular student.  The disadvantage lay in the fact that all but the best students would be hard pressed to restate, at least in an organized fashion, what they had been taught.

What follows is my restatement and summary of some essential features of her teaching.  I will begin at the center by reproducing the activities of a class I witnessed, a class which, in my experience, is exemplary.  I will then analyze it and give it context by comparison with -- inevitably -- the approaches of Stanislavsky.

The class takes place in the lower level of Krause’s home: a large, comfortable, lived-in room replete with books, antique furniture, assorted desks, chairs, several clocks, a fireplace, French doors opening into a wooded yard -- a perfect setting for Chekhov, Ibsen, and Shaw, intimate, and congenial to improvisation.  There is no stage area.  The actors work in and out of chairs, sofas, desks, sometimes making entrances and exits from the yard or from the kitchen to the rear.  Students can almost always find an object which, with a little imagination, can become a “prop” without the problems of miming imaginary objects.

The play is The Seagull, scenes from which the students have been rehearsing and improvising during the week.  Approximate rehearsal costumes are used.  The atmosphere is informal but intense.  The class begins with vocal exercises; Krause checks for posture, urges an “arching of the tones,” with “crisp consonants,” and, always, “open vowels.”

The scene work begins.  Medvedenko and Masha enter.  They play the first scene without interruption, pausing at Sorin and Treplev’s entrance.  A rather heavy silence follows.  Finally, Krause asks, “Where did they take the play?”  Another silence.  The students are groping: finally one volunteers that the scene seemed heavy and oppressive, and that one would be due for a “long evening” in the theatre.  Krause: “Now you’re talking in negatives.  What should they do?”  More probing, volunteering.  Finally Krause asks Medvedenko about his school teacher’s uniform.  “How does it make you feel?  Stiff, conformist, unbending?  He lives by the rules but he is now in love.  Go up to Masha and demand a kiss.  Do the rules allow it?  What would his supervisor say?  Now give an arithmetic  lesson to Masha:  “Class repeat after me, 2 X 2 is 4, 3 X 3 is 6.”  [Krause is acting now, by her voice and facial expression.]  Now the actor picks up his cue and transposes the arithmetic lesson to Chekhov’s dialogue, keeping the same tone and rhythm.  “I get twenty-three rubles a month . . . and out of that the pension fund has to be deducted . . .”  Now as the actor returns to the script, while he is speaking, Krause quietly reminds him that Medvedenko is also in love and desperate to gain Masha’s approval.  But, still, the methodical manner of the arithmetic lesson, a slight nodding of the head, a very serious expression.  Suddenly, laughter, a comic lover -- in the rueful Chekhovian manner.

Treplev and Nina enter, partly improvising, partly employing the dialogue.  Krause:  “What is it that stops you?”  Nina seems uncertain about her objectives in the scene.  Krause:  “Oh, people, didn’t you once dream of the theatre . . . how you would make people cry, and they would bring you armfuls of roases.  And what is she doing now?  Not thinking of Treplev’s play but visualizing . . .”  [A rhetorical pause; a student finally supplies the answer, “A great love scene.”]  And the terrible irony of it is that Treplev is working toward a new form and she’s living back in Arkadina’s world!  Now tell me, ‘it’s hard to act in your play’ -- just as you’re thinking right now.”  [The student has been lost in a private reverie, but Krause’s comment makes her self-conscious again.]  “Oh, why did you change it?  Don’t you see, you had it in yourself?  Now, think again what you were thinking.  Tell me again, ‘it’s hard to act in your play.’”  But the student is confused;  “I don’t get what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Krause turns to the class.  “Her problem is how to get identified completely with the scene.  She’s constantly doing what? . . . directing herself in emotional terms.  You don’t  need to; Chekhov is right here in this room.

Now Pauline and Dorn enter.  Pauline’s line is simply, “It’s damp outside and you’re not wearing your galoshes.”  Krause stops them immediately.  “Now wait a minute; this, too, should be a nice little love scene.  She wants what? . . . Give your arm, give me your recognition; something.  He smiles and says ‘ye’ . . .  We need a sense of hurt.  What would Dorn be thinking about?”  [Krause begins to act Dorn with her voice.]  “He’s had a pleasant dinner.  They’ve been listening to music, and now they’re going to listen to Treplev’s play.  As a doctor he should be concerned with many things.  But he isn’t concerned with anything.  Surely you must have had in your short life one grief, unhappy love.  Now let’s see how you come in.  What she’d hoped for when they left the house was that he’d take her arm and give her a little kiss, but all she says is, ‘It’s damp outside, have you got your galoshes?’  Now, you’ve got to think.”

Pauline and Dorn enter again, but there is still no subtext.  Suddenly, Krause steps forward and slaps the student playing Pauline hard on the cheek.  Then, with some ferocity . . . “what does it do to you, people;  what do you do when the person you love --”  The student, having allowed herself a gasp of surprise and with tears welling from the shock of the slap and the real pain, at Krause’s urging begins the scene again, suppressing her tears.  “It’s damp outside and you’re not wearing your galoshes.”  Suddenly, the sense of hurt and yet, somehow comical.  Krause:  “Now, we’ve got her, now don’t you fake it!  Now what’s the difference between going through this routine and -- don’t try to remember what you did [the external actions].  Don’t try to remember what you did.  It has to happen.  And Dorn is wondering what on earth she is sniveling about.  So what do we have here?  A love affair which has ended, and he’s likely to go off on another one, and he will.  All right -- come in again now.  Why do you make me hurt you?”  The students repeat the scene with considerable effectiveness, although Krause must remind Dorn not to “care too much, to listen to Pauline with only half a miind.”  And she suggests an activity for him.  “Look, there’s a bird, a nighthawk.”

Arkadina enters, with Trigorin and Masha, Sorin and Medvedenko.  Krause reminds the student playing Arkadina that she must interrupt Treplev’s play and “steal the scene” deliberately yet subtly, so as to gain sympathy for herself; that as a stage actress, she knows exactly when to cough, and that a wagging ankle will “take focus.”  At the point of Treplev’s outburst, “that’s enough, the play is over,” the student stops and breaks character.  He realizes that he is “faking” and complains that Arkadina is not helping him:  “I just get this high-pitch voice from her.”  Krause turns to the girl who had been playing Nina earlier:  “Do you see, she’s trying to make it happen, but she has lost her objective, so she can’t let it happen.  And so the affected tone.  For example [to Arkadina now] you missed the fact that Trigorin leans forward watching Nina.  That’s why she says ‘we’re in for something decadent.’  You see, you people tend to do just one thing in a line, when actually they are all double.  [One of the students interjects a subtext for Arkadina.  “Get your eyes off that girl!”  That’s right, when you’re playing just one thing in Chekhov, something is wrong.

“But you’ve made good progress in the way you approach the play.  And I’m not saying that just to be nice.  It’s a difficult thing.  Chekhov is brilliant with a group scene like this -- all the cross-currents.  Trigorin is drawn to the pretty girl, of course.  She is lovely, but he is also subservient to Arkadina; he settles back in his chair, but then he is drawn in again. [Krause is acting now, suggesting Trigorin’s subtexts in the movements of her body.]  And Masha, standing alone in the background -- and notice the loneliness, if you’re going to play it right . . . and notice this little silence, that’s a good Chekhovian silence; you were all off in your own thoughts.  [A long pause; then one of the students breaks the silence with a kind of self-conscious giggle.]  Oh, that’s good.  She came in with a giggle at that moment.  This is Chekhov, the way you are now. . .  All right, go home!”  [And the class is dismissed.]

Two features seem salient.  First is what Charlton Heston, in  his introduction to the South Dakota films, calls Krause’s “enormous vitality.”  He is recalling his student days at Northwestern and admiring the same vitality evident in the 1966 films.

This charismatic vitality is integral to her teaching art.  It is an energy channeled and focused by tremendous concentration, the components of which must surely include her “passion for teaching” and what Heston calls that “expectation you could be great” -- the belief that the next moment in class would be inspired, and the corollary expectation that one would not dare come unprepared to class or settle for shoddy or careless work.

Gerald Freedman has described the result:  “She is a catalytic agent: something has to happen when you come into contact with her.  You suddenly realize you have collided with something that demands you take full measure of yourself.”
  A small woman, Krause always seems much taller and she uses her voice, fully resonant and under exquisite control, with maximum effectiveness, sometimes to reassure, often to challenge and provoke.

But the crucial component of her teaching is Krause’s coaching ability, what one might characterize as her skill in working “co-consciously” with the student actor.

There are, for example, in the above transcription, four moments when the students seem to achieve breakthroughs into the subtextual world demanded by Chekhov’s script: when Medvendenko gives his arithmetic lesson to his beloved, when Nina dreams of curtain-calls with roses, when Pauline experiences the slap of rejection, and the final Chekhovian “pause.”
  In each case we can see how Krause precipitates these experiential understandings by acting-with-thinking-with the students as they probe for the character.

This co-consciousness might be subdivided into four levels.  On the first level, as the above transcription should demonstrate, her knowledge of the play and scene is exhaustive, and her analysis is both critically penetrating and amplified by years of teaching and directing experience, of testing the inherent performance values of the script before classes and audiences.

The script is ever the basis for interpretation, but her experience of the play is more than literary and still more than directorial.  On a second level, using an actor’s subtext derived from this intimate knowledge of the play, Krause is covertly, proprioceptively acting out the character.  Hers is not a directorial idea of character, but an actor’s experiential one, with tasks, images, and objectives.  Out of this private subtextual flow arise the small gestural moments of what we might call “side-acting.”  Krause will at times suggest “actions” to the student, at times overtly act out her own subtext but so subtly that the alert student will not imitate her, but incorporate her acted suggestions into his own subtext.  The beat of the scene is scarcely altered; while the rest are watching Treplev’s play, Krause-arkadina will gain student-Arkadina’s attention and wave sulphur fumes away with an artful but attention-getting gesture that insures that all will watch her and not her son’s play, and which thereby sets up and helps motivate Treplev’s outburst “The play is over!” and Arkadina’s carefully exaggerated surprise.  The student-Arkadina (and others in the class alert to the fine points of her teaching) absorbs the gesture with her peripheral consciousness and tries to link her subtextual process with Krause’s. 

That Krause does not “plan” her teaching because she feels she must respond to the needs of the individual actor and of the moment, is emphasized by an example reported in Press’ dissertation.  The play is again, The Seagull, and Press is quoting Krause:

“His first line [Medvedenko to Masha] is ‘Why do you always wear black?’ And she says, ‘Because I am in mourning for my life.’  I am not going to tell them how to say that . . . I let responses evolve, let them discover their characters . . .  I’ll say, ‘Masha, where are you standing?’  ‘Well, I think right here beside Constantine’s stage.’  ‘What is your feeling towards that stage?’ . . . I’m asking her to make a relationship there which is nonverbal and if I’ve done it right, I will suddenly see that hand go out and touch Treplev’s stage . . . She doesn’t say aloud what she thinks, that Nina is going to play Treplev’s play here.  I say something like, ‘It’s evening,’ and I say, ‘Brush that mosquito away.  Why do you always wear black?’  ‘I’m in mourning for my life.’  And suddenly it comes.’

Clearly, the practice of this co-consciousness contains a third level, an intimate knowledge of the student’s general state of mind as well as his thought processes at the moment of rehearsal.  Krause was sometimes criticized for involving herself too deeply in the personal lives of the students; certainly, from her teaching standpoint, such involvement was necessary.  She would spend two full days a week, Press records, reading the daily journals her acting-class students were required to keep.  If this personal, almost parental interest is unusual today, it has precedent in the more ancient relationship of master teacher to chosen student.

“One of A.K.’s students” meant something more than taking classes with her; it meant to be the object of such scrutiny and to accept fully the fact that the content of one’s own experience was the material of the actor’s art.  Her intimate knowledge of the student provided the basis for what was the more crucial intimacy, her ability to sense the moment-by-moment state of mind of the student during scene-work in order to make those quick, intuitive decisions as to when to let the scene continue, when to suggest and/or side-act, and when to stop and start over.

All this can be absorbing to the observer and fellow-classmate as well as to the student directly involved in the scene-work.  This is one key to what might be seen as a fourth level of the co-consciousness.  As Krause generates her own character sub-text which she engages with both the student’s personal and character stream of consciousness, she also keeps the entire class (or cast, if in rehearsal) in the range of her attention.  an example is the moment described above, where Krause doubles back to point out to the student who acted Nina -- now an observer -- how the student-Arkadina has lost her objective, just as “Nina” had previously.  Krause uses the onstage scene-work to teach the nonparticipating students in the class, who in fact may be more relaxed, and therefore, more able to distinguish the subtle tones and gestures which are the signs of subtextual activity than the on-stage actor himself -- at least until he has time to reflect upon the class session.

One final word about this co-consciousness of four levels, and the apprehension some may have about the intimacy it requires of teacher and student.  In Krause’s teaching, as intimate and inter-subjective as it is, emotional self-indulgence -- a tendency of the “method,” some say -- is not encouraged.  The interpretation of the text, the first level, is the primary consideration.  The personal hurt of the actress who is slapped, for example, is immediately (indeed almost ruthlessly) applied to the needs of the scene and play.  With her “personal” tears still in her eyes from the shock and sting of the slap, the actress must continue; gradually the magic of the “Magic If” begins to take hold, and she adapts the personal emotion to the needs of the character.  This is what electrifies the class, not the sensation of the slap, but the dramatically truthful response which emerges -- Pauline’s sour-faced, clumsy attempt to coerce her ex-lover into a show of affection or at least attention.  Juxtaposed with Dorn’s genteel indifference, the scene is suddenly funny -- in the Chekhovian mode.  The class laughs, at the play, and partly in exultation at the power of the actor’s craft.

In interviews, Krause tends to discount the direct influence of Stanislavsky; at least she does not consider herself to be a disciple.  It is true that her initial training and first teaching assignments at Northwestern were in the field of oral interpretation.
  Needless to say, the S.S. Curry think-the-thought approach, which precedes Stanislavsky, dominated her theory and practice.  Nor is she a narrow “method” practitioner; her career, spanning the great transition in acting theory from the external to the internal, includes both aspects of performance.

But the analogies with Stanislavsky are undeniable.  In both teachers we note the energy, the charisma, and the semireligious dedication to the act of acting.  And as for the co-consciousness, we might quote from Stanislavsky [as reported by David Margarshak]: “Before, a producer planned his mise-en-scenes and the nature of the inner feelings of the dramatis personae in his own study.  He then went to rehearsal and told the actor to carry them out . . .But when I arrive at a rehearsal now, I am no more prepared than the actor and I go through all the phases of his work with him.”  Or, an example of what I have called “side-acting”:  “He would no longer show the actors how to play their parts, but would help them instead to find the inner dramatic movements of the scene or act.  He would use hardly any gesture or movements or mimicry.  Just a slight change of posture and his huge figure would suddenly become transformed.”  And, quoting Stanislavsky again:  “It is very difficult to share one’s experience in so complex an art as the creative work of the actor.  In personal communication with students it is possible to convey and to represent what cannot be so easily formulated in words.
  And from another source:  “If a director foists upon an actor his own, the director’s thoughts, derived from his own personal emotional memories, if he tells him ‘You must act precisely so,’ he does violence to the actor’s nature.  Does he need my emotional memories?  He has his own.  I must cling to his soul like a magnet and see what it contains.”
  Norris Houghton describes the typical techniques used by Moscow Art Theatre directors in 1936 which seem to reflect these convictions:  “Instead of thinking about it . . . it is suggested to the actor that he try certain actions and then from the doing of them, he discovers their meaning. . . He walks about with them on the stage, whispers suggestions to stir their imaginations.  If the actor wishes to make movements of which the director does not approve, he is allowed to try his way.” 

According to Aristotle, acting ability is a natural gift (phuseos) and cannot be taught; it is “a-technos,” not subject to systematic and rational procedures.  By this definition, if we insist on forcing also the teaching of acting into expression in discursive modes, then the teaching of Alvina Krause is private and not communicable.  Then we are uneasy, when, for example, Krause’s vocabulary seems to vary and shift and we are suspicious of her refusal to commit her ideas to print.  If, on the other hand, we describe her teaching not as systematic, but as the guiding of the student through her honed co-conscious skill to the self-discovery of the “moment-by-moment action,” then linguistic abstractions are not so relevant.  It is probably for this reason that the mature Stanislavksy abandoned his earlier “table work” and taught by driving directly for the “physical actions.”  As one penetrates to the realm of subatomic particularizations in the search for these actions, one abandons the realm of generalization, of “techne,” and in the teaching of acting.

  • *    *    *

Alvina Krause has read the above part of this article and had some reservations and amplifications which it seemed best to include here in a separate section rather than in footnotes or possibly confusing alterations in my text.  These comments were spontaneous responses by letter, and not intended for scholarly publication.  However, with her permission, I include them in the form of direct quotation both because she explains herself better than I can (despite her disclaimers) and in the hopes that the quotations convey something of her personality and oral style.

First she was concerned that I might be exaggerating the degree of “side-acting” she does.

You use the term “acting” in describing my teaching.  It’s a dangerous word, has too many misleading connotations.  Might lead to the conclusion that I taught, directed through inculcation.  You know I think I never gave anyone a “line reading” nor an action pattern -- I believe so strongly that coaching is a creative process that I shunned limitation, did everything in my power -- stopped at nothing! -- to stimulate, awaken that creative faculty -- to make the actor discover within himself the material with which he creates . . .  so if I am teaching Hamlet, there he is before me and I am moving into his world, seeing with his eyes, responding with his spine:  I may fall into “Now I am alone” -- but only if I sense my class is creating with me.  There, you see how impossible it is to write about what I do.  You see I fear labels.  “The Krause method” -- I can’t bear the term!  It is a violation of the freedom of the creative process.  Of course there was design, purpose, discipline in my work but -- you tell it.  I can’t.  I saw Dick Benjamin and Paula in Norman Conquests, two of my “devoted” students.  And there was nothing of me in them except their resolution to master that art.  Yes, they are “Alvina Krause students” but only in the sense that I helped them learn to observe, perceive, understand the “astonishment of living” which is the core, the source of drama.  You see I learned early: the “spine” of teaching (for me) was not to have all the right answers.  The important thing is to ask the right questions, the questions which touch off the creative process, the questions which provoke, stimulate . . . you say it!

Remember Billy Budd?  [Northwestern and Eagles Mere, 1952] . . .  I gave you [the cast] virtually no stage directions.  Realize?  (Which doesn’t mean that I did not know exactly where you should be every second.)  But I believe -- and it worked -- that every actor finds the right movement at the right moment by being truly motivated, by responding in character to the total situation.  Yes that means I do identify with every actor and above all with Melville.  No, I’m not “play-acting” every role.  I do everything, anything to to stimulate the creative mind of every actor to create Melville’s drama . . .  the work you saw in class was always an attempt to awaken the imagination, the creative mind.  And it gets more difficult in these days for something has stifled the creative impulse.  Is it that observation is inactive and we have nothing stored up with which the imagination can work logically and creatively?

It seems that here Krause is not contradicting but supplementing the idea of the “co-consciousness.”  It is true that her side-acting is not a primary technique; a sharp question, a slap, a pointing to an image or an object was sometimes sufficient.  And yet because she is herself such an empathic actor, inevitably -- perhaps more than she herself realizes -- her attitude, body, voice, her “thinking body” would provide clues for the alert student to an appropriate subtextual process. Moreover, as she says, she would act Hamlet “only if I sense my class is creating with me.”  Again, the co-consciousness of four levels.  Her reference to the art of blocking the play through the actor’s discovery of the inevitable movement illustrates how in her teaching the art of acting and directly were organically related, the effectiveness of such a blocking technique depending of course upon the authentic motivation of each individual actor.  it also resembles the Moscow Art Theatre practice of 1936 as described by Norris Houghton.

Another of Krause’s comments relates specifically to the co-consciousness of the second level, that of the student’s state of mind and to the habits of introspective self-use of the creative actor.  It is occasioned by the brief reference to the use of student journals in acting class.

The journals were not diaries in the personal sense of that word.  Students were instructed to put down on paper what they had discovered about the acting process.  An artist needs a certain objectivity; the actor must learn that self-exploration is not acting.  The journals were a means to this realization.  They were a means of private instruction; through them I could guide, direct each individual.  Personal confessions were discouraged.  Neuroses were never discussed.  The student was directed to discover the artist, the creator within himself . . . With my best students those journals were dialogs.  Sometimes in response I wrote back more than the student had written.  The journals revealed to the student the answer to the question, am I an actor?  Self-discovery was the objective.

Finally, in response to my brief noting of her background in oral interpretation and her ambiguous feelings of indebtedness to the theories of Stanislavsky, Krause writes:  “In the beginning I thought the words conveyed the thought and then one day -- as an interpretation student -- I discovered the thoughts, contradictions, mental-emotional processes and responses and a whole new world opened to me -- long before I heard of Stanislavsky.  When I discovered him, years later, I felt indebted to him for formulating what I had been seeking.”

In an earlier taped interview I had pressed Krause to describe how, under what circumstances, or under the influence of what teaching or teacher she originally experienced the subtextual process.

Oh dear . . . You see I was taught in interpretation;  I never had any actor training.  Northwestern [School of Speech] was founded on the think-the-thought approach.  And they were so right about that: . . . and it was wonderful the way they were teaching it.  And I remember once as a student working on a scene from Macbeth.  And I thought, “That’s one scene I can do.  ‘And all the house cried sleep no more.’”  And I was working in the practice room for hours yet somehow sensing it was wrong.  Yet I was thinking the thought.  But what thought was I thinking?  of the line itself.  And I knew exactly what that meant.  And I knew the state he was in.  And yet it was false.  And suddenly I thought, ‘I’m giving up.  I’m through. I’m no good.’  And it was terrible . . . Then I heard myself say “Sleep no more” and I thin that’s when I found that the thought was back of the line.

You mean at that moment you gave up, despaired?

That became the subtext.  With that background, that horror.  And from that moment on I knew I was after something else.  I couldn’t formulate it.  I was too young.  I didn’t discover the word subtext till many years later.  But I think that has always been in my work, the sense that words, no matter how elegant, are . . .[a pause] and I revere Shakespeare -- but then I went to Chekhov.  You’ve got to.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


In 1962  Alvina Krause, Professor of Acting at the Northwestern University School of Speech, returned from Christmas vacation to discover that the four-drawer file cabinet that contained her lifetime accumulation of teaching notes had been emptied.  The door to the office had been locked, was still locked, and showed no signs of tampering.  In the coming years two things were mailed back anonymously: a set of photos of eyes came back postmarked locally and some other papers -- none of them written by her -- returned from Hollywood a year or so later.  Why would anyone want to steal teaching notes?  That was the first mystery.

In 1963 Krause was retired against her will, though she had been assured that an exception would be made to allow her to go on teaching as long as she wished.  Campus expansion also meant that her house would be torn down.  This sudden break with what had originally been a protective university invested in the humanities was the second mystery.

Though she was acclaimed as a “legendary” teacher of the “Method” acting technique, she never wrote a book or promoted herself as anything but an academic professor, except at Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania, where she ran a summer repertory company that allowed students to try their wings.  No less a luminary that John Gielgud remarked that she was the “best kept secret in American theatre” and even aspiring students with connections in Manhattan by-passed the famous Strasberg school to attend Northwestern.  After her retirement she did a bit of gypsy teaching around the country and then settled in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where the Bloomsberg Theatre Ensemble formed and thrived, despite Krause’s death in 1981.  And yet no one wrote a book about her nor did she write one herself.  This is the third mystery.

My cohort, the Class of 1961, included some of the most outstanding of AK’s students, which are not particularly well-known to the general public because they are stage actors rather than film stars.  AK’s teaching was focused specifically on script-based, proscenium-framed, realistic theatre which requires a set of set of skills rather different than those for film.  My class, born during WWII, is now on the cusp of retirement.  We are almost too old to recover what Alvina Krause taught us. 

If you look at the list of famous “stars” who claim Strasberg’s Method as the source of their success, you’ll see that it has two sources.  His location in Manhattan was not relevant to Broadway stage theatre, but to the intellectual achievement brought to this country by the wave of Europeans displaced by war and after the war celebrated by the media as the pinnacle of culture.  The second source of Strasberg’s success was his focus on personal emotion.  Passion and the unique interior lives of individuals became of great interest to Americans in the Fifties, partly because the desperate war required masking, conformity, hierarchy, secrecy, suppression of emotion in order to win.  And yet everyone knew trauma, if only in newsreels.  New security and dawning prosperity allowed an explosion of freedom in all the American arts.  In Europe more time was needed to process damage and the stage was much more political, experimental.  

Krause turned 21 in 1914 at the beginning of WWI, an idealistic time with a focus on the heritage of England, as epitomized by the Elizabethans, and with a bow to the early Greek theatre seen as the near-religious source of Western culture.  My high school teachers, her cohort, lived dedicated and unmarried lives, because the men they would have married had been killed in battle.  The energy they would have devoted to family went instead to teaching other people’s children.  Krause was no radical intellectual theorist nor did she appreciate madness.  Her style was Mid-Western American, focused on classic English repertory ensemble acting, which was no doubt why she was  praised by John Gielgud rather than Marilyn Monroe or Marlon Brando.  BTE is a community-based theatre group, not a nursery for film stars.  It is meant for the greater good of local people.

Sources of material that illuminate Krause’s life and thought have remained.   There’s no need to wait for some publishing company to take an interest.  I’ve already posted her 1933 Master’s Thesis at  It’s about creative imagination, only 35 pages, quite academic and irrefutable.  The “instrument” she designed to detect talent is outdated and not useful enough to post.  I doubt that anyone in the oral interpretation class she tested is still living.

At the end of each Eagles Mere season Krause wrote up evaluations of each of the dozen productions.  These were mimeographed and given to the actors of that season.  One copy was supposed to be “filed” by being pitched into a box in the office of the theatre company.  When David Press, a student, had the idea of writing his Ph.D. thesis on the teaching methods of AK, they went to the box and discovered only partial copies, loose pages -- not the chronological account of seasons.  No one knows whether these materials were also stolen or just never accumulated as supposed.  Another mystery.  

Press set out to use interviews but ran into difficulties.  First, the withdrawal of appreciation by NU encouraged the aging professor to be defensive about what she did and why, and, second, her methods were always based on clinical observation and interaction with specific actors. Often she was by-passing any critical or theoretical consciousness, but merely acting through her own personhood to evoke the personhood of the actor.  “I just do what I do because I MUST!” she declared.  Nevertheless, Press produced his 1972 thesis and it is valuable.

Because the Eagles Mere actors kept their copies of season evaluations, some survive and they have been added to  More will probably show up.  They are personal and specific to particular plays, but acting techniques do show up in spite of that.  I’ll try to pull some of them out and sharpen them up by consulting individual actors.

The most personal of sources about AK are her letters, especially those being posted by David Downs, her protegĂ©e and successor at NU. Here we read the real human being, so idealistic in the beginning and challenged in the end.  Bitter, angry, and all that, but never vanquished and always recouping everything, beginning again.  My most recent discovery is an article by William H. Wegner and there are six half-hour films made at Yankton College and the University of South Dakota, introduced by Charlton Heston.

Oddly, some sources of insight come from non-actors. In “my” cohort Robert Benedetti differed with AK, ended up transferring to the Oral Interpretation Department just as AK moved more squarely into the Theatre Department, and has pursued a career that encompasses the academic, the commercial, the traditional and the avant garde.  He writes books, lots of them.  He was a Chicago native without the Manhattan connections of some students.  

And then there is me, who used what I learned from AK in strange ways: as an English teacher and sculptor’s wife among the Blackfeet; as an animal control officer in the under-culture of Portland, OR.; as a minister and writer in a small Montana town.  As you see, I blog.  In 1980 I stopped through Bloomsberg to pay my respects to AK, Lucy and their little dog.  Krause socked me in the arm, HARD.  You always felt any confrontation with her, and even when it was painful, it was meaningful.  You didn’t forget it.  You weren’t supposed to.