Thursday, May 20, 2010

Alvina Krause: A Midsummer-Night's Dream

I have enjoyed your blog ddowns.  maybe you'll topic the mechanicals in a future post?!

The writer will soon direct young people in a production of A Midsummer-NIght's Dream.
I thought I'd let Alvina Krause respond to this question in two postings. 
This first post is notes she wrote to us when we were working on the mechanicals for class, which she conducted in her home in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. 
The subsequent post will be notes to a production of MND performed at her summer theatre in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania.
I italicize words she underlined in her handwritten notes.

Always start your initial work with questions. Ask the right questions and the creative mind will take off in the right direction. You tend to start off with generalizations about characters you are playing.  The result may be an interesting characterization--which will take the play nowhere, or take it in the wrong direction. Always begin your questions with the play itself. The title is a good beginning.
Why is it called "A Midsummer-Night's Dream"?
Why are the "mechanicals" in "A Midsummer-Night's Dream"?
Each scene in a play is a movement in the direction of the end. Where does the mechanicals scene take the play?
What has this scene to do with Puck's "What fools these mortals be"?
What characteristics must each person have to take the scene and the play to its inevitable conclusion?

Such questions should direct you as you formulate and determine characterizations. Unless you are guided by such questions, the Bottom-Titania scene will come off as utterly ridiculous, ludicrous without being true comedy.
Why does Bottom not realize he wears an ass's head?
Why does he succumb to Titania? 
The logic of fantasy.

Shakespeare is having a glorious time with "Love is blind"--How do the "mechanicals" lead to this scene? Why is it inevitable? You all over-looked the fact that Shakespeare's common people are exactly that--"common"--totally unimaginative, totally literal in every sense. He gives them no flights of fancy. A lion is "roar" not a noble beast. Pyramus: a sword--
Do not let your imaginations take off and endow them with gentleness and romantic, humanistic qualities. 2 X 2 = four, not a magical number that sets the imagination going--simply "four"

Fit the characters to their names--Peter Quince is a quince--bitter, biting--quince. No apple qualities, no peach qualities, etc.--just quince--No human thoughtfulness, consideration, etc.--just quince--Name names, give directions and that's that. Add no motivations other than: Perform Pyramus, Thisbe--meet at such and such a place.
The drama itself is your master plan. Make all the pieces fit into the whole. Ask the questions that will lead you to the inevitable final curtain.

What is comedy?
Clarify your ideas.
A little man, a frail woman, slips on a banana peel. You don't laugh. A fat man slips on a banana peel, you roar with laughter. Why? Both are real falls--Why--
Bottom, Titania--a ridiculous scene, silly Shakespeare--What makes it glorious comedy?
Why is Bottom unaware of the ass's head?
He isn't drunk. He is not goofing off. Then why?
Try the creative "if".  "If" I had a huge hole in my pants, "if" I did not know it----?
Arrive at the reality of fantasy. If the audience cannot identify with this scene, these characters, they will not laugh at the tricks you may pull.
Titania is under a spell, true, but people in love are under a spell.
 "If" you couldn't see the hole in the trousers when everyone else did, "If" you could not perceive the fool under the good looks--etc.-- 
Begin with realism.

What you learn here about comedy will carry over to all comedy if you learn it. I can only open your eyes: you must do the rest.

Cut out extraneous business. Achieve focus through pointed, timed business.
Go straight to the end of the lines with a punch at the end. Do not tack on business at the end. Arrest then move.

Why is the presentation of the play for the Prince comic rather than ludicrous? Because they give the play exactly as they would patch a roof--
Learn to ask the right questions.


  1. Once again, David, connections made with the past based on this posting.

    In high school production, I played Bottom. Our good friend Mike Saad played Puck and it was a great experience. I remember when I auditioned for Loyola's Theatre Scholarship I did the Pyramus and Thisbe scene playing all of the mechanicals. Must have done OK (for an 18 year old) since it got me to Chicago. My favorite Bottom bit?

    The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen,
    man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive,
    nor his heart to report, what my dream was.

    I just recall playing it as a regular guy who has seen actors doing plays and thought "hey I can do that" and then did what he thought he had seen while having no clue what he was saying or doing.

    If there was a character model, it was Ralph Cramden from the Honeymooners. Big dreams, false sense of confidence, fearless and clueless... but a basic guy who needs to impress people and feel he is in charge. Takes himself seriously when the "smarter crowd" knows what a bungling bufoon he is.

    Also recalled playing Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet at Loyola and recalled Ms. Krause who watched a dress rehearsal and her notes to me that Friar Laurence represents "all clerics", "all religious", "all alchemists", "all counselors". I wonder if in her own way she was saying "make it bigger" since I probably played it "small" as this mumbling eccentric monk who tinkered with potions.

    I really envy the time you and others had to study with her.

    Found this and thought you might enjoy:

    Is this representative of how she was? Bring back any memories?

  2. Ron, thanks so much for adding insight and anecdote to this post. As for the video, Krause did a series of workshop at Yankton College, I think. They were taped and while it's a thrill to be able to watch and listen to her, she was hampered by the mic and by not knowing any of the students. She told me that it was not a satisfying experience for her. The saddest lack in it for me is her constrained restraint. In her living room with students she knew, she was up on her feet, cajoling, challenging, providing sensory stimuli for character and drama. There's an article from the Educational Theatre Journal by Neal Weaver that describes her presence in scene work as "co-consciousness", which to me is a much more accurate way of describing her process/affect than a term like "side-coaching".

  3. The "living room classes" sound like they must have been very special.

    Did you do scenes, exercises, readings? What were these sessions like? Can you paint a picture?

  4. Mostly scenes, but that was always preceded by character improvisations and assignments to address perceived shortcomings in the creative process (go find a life study for Lopakhin and present it to the next class; develop your kinesthetic responsiveness--bring a tone poem by Ravel and conduct us in playing it or lead a creative dance response to it) or skills (take a handful of pebbles to the river and do the 32d sonnet, tossing a stone into the air and landing it in a predetermined spot on the last word of each line. Report your achievements when you do the sonnet in class next time) etc.
    And scenes were always kept open and free to improvise, to physicalize, to explore, to discover--anything to get true total response.
    She demanded your full participation and she gave her full commitment. It was magnificent.