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, May 13, 2013


by Dan Sullivan
LA Times, July 29, 1970

SANTA MARIA.  The Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts of Allen Hancock College:  It sounds like one of those institutions that take ads in the back of “unglossy” magazines promising you a lifetime career in espionage or cartooning.  In fact, the school, named after the Los Angeles millionaire who donated its site, is a respectable member of California’s junior college system.  And its summer “conservatory” program for young people who want to go into the theatre promise only the chance to live and work with a busy repertory company.

But Donovan Marley, director of the college’s theatre department and founder of the summer of the program, has worked to make the Santa Maria experience richer than the old stock-apprentice system it resembles.  Eight academic credits go with it.  The plant, a $1 million thrust-stage theatre, patterned after the Guthrie in Minneapolis, is first -class.  The plays, ranging this year from Anouilh’s “Becket” to “Life with Father” are cast immediately; if you don’t get at least one part, you get your $400 back and can go home.  (Or as most do, you can stay and do technical or fronted the house work.)


Most important, Marley’s staff knows theater and knows young people.  Gordon Peacock, directing “Saint Joan” this year, is head of Canada’s largest university theater department, that of the University of Alberta.  Set designer Robert Blackman did the scenery for the American premiere of Feiffer’s “God Bless” at the Yale Repertory  Theater.  The seven young professional actors who form the core of the company (with Equity approval) are young but seasoned.  And -- Alvina Krause.

Some readers will not know who Miss Krause is.  Others will be surprised to know she is still teaching.  Since her retirement -- not, one gathers, voluntary -- from Northwestern in 1963, she hasn’t been teaching on a regular basis.  But at 75 she is a busy guest lecturer. has made a series of films for educational TV and very occasionally takes on a guest director’s assignment.  Last year she staged “Three Sisters” here (she accepted the assignment, she said, because she had finally decided what the play is about) and this year she is doing “Becket.”

Marley wanted Miss Krause because during her 33 years at Northwestern she ha become what is called a legend in her own time, maybe the best acting teacher in the country.  Her students have included Patricia Neal, Salome Jens, Jerry Orbach, Dick Benjamin and Charlton Heston.  Also, Walter Kerr, whom she had advised not to tecome an actor.  (Too earnest.)

A mystique grew around Miss Krause in her Northwestern years: she was one of those teachers you have crushes on years after you thought you’d stopped having crushes.  Gerald Freedman, director of the New York Shakespeare Festival, put it this way:  “You suddenly realized you had collided with someone who demanded that you take full measure of yourself.”  Another alumnus wrote:  “If Alvina Krause had been born 300 years ago, she would have been burned as a witch.”

Watching her rehearsing “Becket” for its Tuesday night opening, you were reminded less of a witch than of a fairy godmother -- an unfrilly one, like Cinderella’s.  Miss Krause is tiny, wears sensible shoes and, despite the forbidding portrait above, has in persona a deceptive air of being pleased with the way things are going: as if she were looking up at a six-foot son and telling him he looked just fine.  This rather folksy image has its uses -- Miss Krause can issue a zinger so pleasantly that it’s into you and working before you realize it’s not a compliment.


Like most directors she complains about having to teach acting as well as get a show together.  This is rhetoric.  Clearly, she loves to do both.  She is on her feet every minute during rehearsal, following the action like a head linesman.  Then she goes home and types up notes, which some smart publisher will someday make a book of.  The lady is involved.

Marley admires her, because “she makes actors think; and anybody who can do that . . .”  she considers the leading heresy of this or any age is that acting consists of saying words emotionally.  Rather, with Stanislavsky and Boleslavsky, she sees the actor’s task is to be a matter of re-creating the big and little stimulus and responses that constitute your character’s life (everybody’s life), emotion coming as a natural aftermath.  This means that everyone who does a show for Miss Krause, down to the spear carriers, has to know what is going through the nervous system of his character at every moment, and to an extent feel it.  It they don’t, they get caught

“Norman priests and barons -- be aware that a Saxon may infiltrate your entourage,” she had warned Henry II’s honor guard in a note early in rehearsals.  “Never be unaware of movement behind you.”  The warning did not sink in.  So, at the rehearsal I watched, Miss Krause had a fellow on the sidelines come bursting into the scene, bowl over the guards, and wrestle Henry to the ground.  It was a surprise to everybody, especially Henry (Laird Williamson) but the point was made.

Acting to Miss Krause is believing with your body.  Trying to get the right pinking quality into Henry’s and Becket’s reporter, she made Williamson and Vance Jefferis fence their way through the scene.  For an intimate moment n a cave during a storm, she flicked the lights on and off in the rehearsal hall for lightning and made those on the sidelines drum their nails on the floor for rain.  Automatically the players slowed down, playing the silences as well as the words of the scene.

She prowled the stage like a poltergeist, quietly crooning the thoughts of a character as an actor would speak his lines, suddenly clapping her hand over the mouth of a player who was supposed to spit, making him need to spit.

“You’re using this too much,” she said, tapping Williamson’s head.  “Stop thinking How.  Let the scene play you.”  To capture Henry’s isolation before a Saxon crowd, she had Williamson look around the room “and tell us what it’s like to be stared at by actors who think they can do the scene better than you can.”  The actors on the sidelines caught the mood.  “Boo, screw it up!” they chanted.  “They’re faking now,” Miss Krause said pleasantly.  “Should have seen their faces a minute ago.”

Forget the words, play underneath the words, she kept telling them.  The character says this, but isn’t he really thinking about what he’s going to say next?  Now is he really gruff here, or does he know that if he isn’t gruff he’s going to go to pieces.”  “Archbishop,” she yelled to a silent player in one scene.  “What’s bothering you here?”

“I’m the Archbishop and I’m not used to being kept waiting.”

“What are you going to do about it.”

“I’ll wait, damn it.”

“Very good.”

She made the extras in a crowd scene tell how exactly how much they had been bribed to cheer for Henry.  (“Is that all?  I got more.”)  She made a girl with three lines picture exactly what it would mean for a peasant girl to go off to the palace as a courtesan.  (“What does that mean to her?  Ice cream sodas?”)  She was the Story Lady, getting everybody into the world of the play, and if she wouldn’t go, she pushed you.

Afterwards she talked, not effusively, about her method.  She has always worked this way  It is Stanislavsky -- and lots of other people.  The state of American acting is “rather sad,” mostly because no one really believes that acting can be taught as music is.  She likes Santa Maria.  “I like the attitude, the vision.  It isn’t flighty.  It begins down here.”  She points at the floor.  Where she begins.

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