Alvina Krause wrote nearly one hundred letters to me before her death in December 1981. In the first years of my teaching at Northwestern, the letters often deal with concerns about teaching. This blog seems a good place to post those that might have value to readers. This one (date: 1974?) is a response to my telling her that the department was changing the title of the beginning acting class.
Note: She names specific people whom I have labelled "A", "B", "C".
Changing the title of the sophomore year of acting does not change the content nor the direction nor the purpose of the course: the actor's total self as the medium through which character is created. What is character: the sum total of all that you are, all you have experienced, etc. since birth plus all your ancestors brought to your creation. You are you responding with all of your attributes to the world in which you live. Macbeth, Lady Mac, is the sum total of their attributes responding to their world Scotland. To create those characters in that world: walk across the Scottish heath, feel Scottish turf, stretch out your arms to those Scottish lakes: Loch Lomond, etc, tower to the sky in response to those mountains until you are fired by ambition to rule this land--building character is responding to the world you are living in; from sense response to this world comes desire, hate, fear or negative rejection. Create the world in which character (Hedda) lives, sees, hears, empathizes, etc.
You people who came to Penna to study acting at an advanced level were in trouble because you had missed or skipped sensory training. Let them label courses as they please, but you must teach what you know to be true. Agree to teach the basics as outlined. If questioned on your method explain: a teacher, if any good, is a creative agent; as all other artists must find their means of working with basic principles, so must the teacher find his way of teaching basics. Do not get imprisoned in regulations! Say "Yes" but be free to do what you know must be done.
Characterization is a most involved subject for it means the study of, the comprehension of human life. Never forget "The profession of the actor requires more genius, more knowledge, more understanding than any other profession whatsoever; for the profession of the actor requires the comprehension of all human life". Learn to listen to your associates, be quiet in response, but never be deflected from what you know to be true. Applaud genius wherever you find it--in student or in associate. Learn! Discover! The world and its people: perceive it fully. And trust your dramatists! They will lead you. Never get bound in by a little department of egotistical personalities. Seek out big minds like A, B, C. Remember: the value of disciplines is the freedom they bring you. Discipline for the sake of discipline is tyranny--avoid it! But discipline to achieve artistic freedom, ah, that's another matter!