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, March 31, 2013


(From the Alumni section of the NU publication called “Dialogue” in Fall, 2002)

The creation of the Alvina Krause Fund and the release of a related CD-ROM have met with an exceptionally positive response, and alumni continue to submit memories of Krause as well as archival material.  The school will continue to gather such material for an on-line Alvina Krause database.  [Note: As nearly as I can tell, this doesn’t exist.]  Fund-raising continues for the Alvina Krause Fund, which will support construction of a new wing for the Theatre and Interpretation Center and expansion of the MFA program to include the teaching of acting.  For information on how to contribute to the fund and recieve the CD-Rom, contact Anita Hillin at 847/491-4379 or  [This address is dead.]

Bill Bergfeld (C 57) [sic] has been instrumental in helping gather Krause material, including Forward Productions’ six-film series Acting -- A Study of Life (with an introduction by alumnus Charlton Heston) that chronicles her 1968 workshops a the University of South Dakota.  Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble plans to issue a complete four-hour edition of the series this fall, with a highlights edition available this winter.  For more information, contact James Goode at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center Street, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania 17815.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

MEMORIES from Bill Bergfeldt

Bill Bergfeldt, Speech ’57

I was at Northwestern School of Speech from 1954 - 57.  Though never a student of Alvina Krause (I was a bit afraid of her), I admired her from afar and was taken in by her spell.  she was certainly the high priestess of the NU theatre department, and was practically worshipped by some.  I heard that the greatly devoted sometimes referred to her as Jesus Krause!  Of course, there were other prominent theatre instructors at NU at the same time, such as Theodore Fuchs and Lee Mitchell.


At NU Workshop Theatre was a big thing -- where segments of plays were produced and afterwards critiqued by Miss Krause.  We looked forward to her critiques more than the plays.  One time I remember she could not be there and instead the critique was given by Lee Mitchell, Chairman Dept. of Theatre.  The audience was so disappointed I believe there were audible groans when they learned that Miss Krause would not be critiquing.

Every year she did a one woman presentation of a play.  I saw her cutting of “Tiger at the Gates” and “Teahouse of the August Moon.”  She was the best Sakini I had ever seen, which I told her.  She said she was never quite sure about her Sakini portrayal.

While I was at Northwestern she directed “Uncle Vanya,” “The Winter’s Tale,” and “The Lovers,” which was a new play.  She always expected actors to bring their own copies of the plays to auditions.  I wondered how she would handle “The Lovers” -- but sure enough she wanted to know why actors were not bringing the scripts.  They had to tell her, “Miss Krause, it hasn’t been published yet.”

Two of my favorite Alvina Krause stories -- which I heard.  Was not there.

A girl was having a lesson with AK.  Afterward she went on and on to a friend about how wonderful AK was.  The friend asked, “Oh, did she like your performance?”  The student replied,  “No, she hated it, but she is WONDERFUL!”

A Workshop Theatre production of “Miss Julie” was in rehearsal.  Miss Krause did not think there was enough revelry onstage in the dances.  She went up on stage, grabbed one of the tallest boys and had him dance with her.  Something happened.  They tripped and he fell on top of AK -- six foot guy on top of short AK.  He was so upset, not knowing what to say and very embarrassed.  Miss Krause simply got up,  dusted herself off, and said, “Well, at least you could have kissed me.”

Somewhere I read where Patricia Neal came up to Alvina Krause after a performance of  “Twelfth Night.”  She realized she had not done a good job.  She went up to Miss Krause and said,  “I will never act again.”  Miss Krause looked at her and said,  “Do you call what you did acting?”  Of course, some years later Patricia Neal won the Oscar for leading actress for her performance in “Hud.”

(Note:  Bergfeldt was in the Speech Education department and taught high school dramatics for some years.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Over the past few days I’ve watched a set of DVD translations of videos made years ago in Yankton, SD, of Alvina Krause teaching acting.  Fewer than a dozen students are present, mostly aspiring young men.  They distract me -- they are "fullavit."  I mean, they are posing for the camera, thinking about themselves, for they are good-looking, smart, etc.  Presenting themselves as poetic, attentive, and strong -- worthy.  So is AK.  She was a remarkable woman and a crackerjack acting teacher, but now she is old and the path is worn.  Still, her posture is erect, her voice oratorical.   She is dramatic.

None of us really knew her personal lives.  She gives us clues:  the ring she has moved from the ring finger of her left hand and is now wearing on her index finger, same hand.  We knew then and know now that she had a lifelong relationship with Lucy.  Was this a wedding ring?  Does moving it mean they are differing, out of sync?  She tells us about the ring twice, at different sessions and says that if the students were portraying her, they would have to understand that ring.  

The same is true of a twicetold story about a young man’s mother, icy and commanding, who comes to her to demand that AK “make her son an actor.”  She compares this to Lady Macbeth trying to make her husband a king.  She fails and the boy leaves.  She is afraid of that mother.  Who are those sons?  I know nothing about any mothers who made demands, but I can think of many a son who tried to make a mother of AK.  So what is she displacing here?  She tells the story twice.  The details vary, but she claims this is true.

At one point she repeats and repeats,  “This means everything: that I am a MAN.”  Of course, at the period it was conventional that “man” was supposed to subsume both genders.  (We thought there were only two then.)  And that they were the pinnacle of evolution.  (Now we wonder what comes next.)  She seems to be saying that we as humans should stand up valiantly with erect spines and not accept anything less from life than full value.  But is there something more?  She could have said “HUman.”  It was a point in culture when Skinner was trying to reduce us all to stimulus/response, make lab rats of us.  Is this what she meant?  That being a man meant being more than being a mammal?   

At one point she made a strong point about an actor having to include ALL humanity and twice talks about the great value of being “astonished” (her trademark mantra) by the sight of entirely different human beings.  She twice uses the example of an Elizabethan seeing a Chinaman for the first time: pigtail, silk jacket, jade.  No mention of yellow skin or slanted eyes, but an eloquent demand to understand that person’s world:  what makes him what he is?  “If you are going to be an actor, no human experience can be foreign to you!”

As was conventional at the time (my high school teachers were the same age as AK, maybe a half-dozen of them in “Boston marriages”), certain Great Ages were considered to be determiners of character and style, a kind of cultural ecology.  (How they loved Edith Hamilton!)  So the Greeks, of course, were all about the gods;  the Elizabethans were all about the explosion of discovery, including books; and the modern plays considered (Pinter, Albee, Becket) were about the death of God and the ensuing emptiness and lack of meaning.  That last didn’t appeal to her much.  She talks about how the study of Chekhov opened the door to the culture of Russia -- a little risky given the times, but a way of sidestepping the Cold War to get to Stanislavsky with his humanistic version of stimulus and response.

In these lessons on video AK soon has the student actors striding around flaunting capes, gripping the floor with their feet, chests thrown up and open to receive life itself.  There are real capes and rapiers and when the men fence, it’s clear they’ve had lessons.  The girls have it tougher: she takes their hands, smacks them in the shoulder, pulls back their hair.  The girls are A-students who have gotten good marks because of verbal skills and she wants them to drop those -- go to the sensory world under the talk.  Use their own inner life because that’s where they will find the responses that explain what is happening inside them BETWEEN stimulus and response, that which “justifies” words and actions.  When the brain is processing, the body stops momentarily.  SLAP.  STOP.

There’s an oddly Victorian quality implicit in AK, declare as she might that she stands with Hedda Gabler and Shaw.  She may be rebellious and struggle against the current, but twice she tells about receiving a package in the mail.  Eagerly she tears it open and finds that it is a newly published book of poetry by a former student.  “He’s made it!” she cries.  “He’s published!!”   Well, she never did like the idea that God was dead.  Even less would she like realizing that publishing also died, but she didn’t live to see that.

She was aware that at in her time there was a great cry that Broadway was dead and Times Square was only a cesspool of porno and drugs.  And she was part of the push-back of repertory theatres like the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, who accepted the risks of defying the culture, and made a stand practically in her front yard where she gardened to keep her sanity.  She probably had not read about the Great Vegetative Principle, which is that if you tear a living thing -- for instance, a god -- into pieces and scatter it, the bits will spring up in a whole new version of the original force.  But if Joe Campbell had dropped by to explain, she would have grinned with glee.  In a sense, she herself has been cut up into potato eyes (to use a midwestern metaphor since she was from rural Wisconsin) and planted all over the planet.

All the articles talk about AK’s genius for making stars by teaching them the Method, but that’s the usual media distortion and the usual institutional greed for marketing by boasting about alumni and begging them for money -- all the time refusing the testimony and recommendations of alumni.  The bourgeois culture of curiosity, airs and graces (the silver comb), and the conviction that their world-view is true, was dying at the end of AK’s life, along with God.  “Good riddance”, she ought to say.  But she is aging, has just survived the attempted destruction of her work -- which had originally been evoked and sheltered by the same institution that now swept her away.  She is a “man” and she stands like Antigone against the carnage of greed-based culture, commodified fun, enforced mediocrity.

The limitation of these videos, valuable as they are, is that they are not the live presence of a human being with all the richness that “real” can provide.  AK’s methods (as many versions as there were students) worked very well for film, but the real heart pulsed on a stage.  Until she slapped you into responding, you were not breathing.  You had to STOP!   THINK!  WHAT IN TIME ARE YOU DOING?

(These videos are available through the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.)