Saturday, November 20, 2010

Alvina Krause on Farce

Last night I saw a production of a new farce and I was reminded of these notes from Alvina Krause, written early in my study with her when we were working on The Taming of the Shrew. (Read this note in conjunction with the Krause note I included in the previous post of November 12.)

Krause Note:
Farce—the most technical of all drama. Timing must be perfect. Laughs come exactly on schedule. Actors signal laughter—it comes right on cue. When it stops, the farce falls to pieces, becomes merely gimmicks. Rules are strict, must be strictly followed:

1.  Go straight to the end of the line, the end of the speech; no pauses or stops within the line! (Pauses are for thought or shadings of emotion--ruin to farce.)                                                                                                           
Good morrow KateFOR  that’s your nameI  hearWELL  have you heardBUT somewhat hard of hearingTHEY  call me KatherineTHAT  do speak of me

The underlined word indicates an intensification, a swelling of sound, followed by the capitalized word in bold which indicates topping of self or partner. No stops until the end of the sequence! [Note from David: I've tried to adapt to typing formatting what Krause wrote in longhand with other symbols--I hope this makes sense. If you say it out loud, I'm sure you'll get what she's after here.]
Try those two lines until you have them perfectly timed—then go on:

2. Snap or punch in some way the last word of the line or last of the sequence. The snap releases the audience chuckle or laugh. To achieve this, sense that your partner is not next to you or in your arms or on your lap but in the balcony. Send the last word of the speech or the last word of the sequence like a swift ball straight to the balcony. Hear it land:

“moved to woo thee for my WIFE.”
Snap and toss to the balcony.
“Moved in good timeLET  him who moved you hitherREMOVE  you henceknew from the beginning you were MOVEABLE.
Straight to the balcony—hear it land.

3. Action follows the landing of the line. Action mid-line distracts and muddles. Land the line clearly, exactly, with a snap, click—Move swiftly, exactly to new position (for return of the ball) and thus you have “played the laugh” which the snap has released.

4. Use straight direct tones. Hit the bull’s eye with clean straight shots. No inflections! They distract. Farce is situation, farce is action. Inflections are character revealing, are emotional entanglements. Farce is not concerned with inner conflicts, with thought behind the line. If we get involved in subtleties, we cannot laugh. Play the situation. We don’t care about Katherine’s mother—whoever she was—We are interested only in the shrew who has met her match. Ditto with Petruchio. So—bright, alive, direct tones with no insinuations or subtleties. Front tones, bright tones, tones that hit the target.

5. On the straight direct way to the end of the speech, lift or toss up, the important word, the word that carries the import [indicated by  ^ and italicization ]:
In truth KateYOU  are too  ^waspishIF  I am too ^waspishBEST  beware my ^sting ...where it LIES

Work on sequences like this until your timing is perfect.

In action, it is a clean, swift, professional ball game, played with a professional’s tuned up sense of total participation. Minds are alert to match the opponent, bodies are alert from toe to crown to guard, to attack, to give, to return; vocal mechanism is tuned to accuracy of delivery. No fumbling mental, physical, or vocal!

Work on a fragment until you have achieved perfect timing. Add another—work for perfection. Never trust to accident to land a laugh! Audience laughter, perfectly timed, is part of the show. Go into training as you would for basketball, tennis, etc.-----

Footnote from David:
If you master the technique skills described in this note, they apply, with variations, to every form of comedy.
When actors tell me that they rely on their own comic timing, I often wish it was what is described here that they were talking about.


  1. "Go straight to the end of the line.." Before every Speech Tournament, as part of our highly ritualized warm-ups for the 50 member Carl Sandburg Speech Team, we we all sing out, "Get to the end of the line, tossing UP the most important words along the way!" It wasn't until I read your blog that I realized I had learned it from Miss Krause. Since I was fortunate to work with you, Frank Galati, and Alvina Krause, sometimes it's hard to tell the source.

  2. Starting to read your notes from Ms. Krause and so far, they are a real treat. Thanks for doing this, David.