Friday, September 14, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Teaching Acting, Greek Tragedy

Before I started teaching at Northwestern in 1973 I had had only two other formal teaching experiences: for two years as part of my graduate fellowship in English literature at Loyola University I had taught freshman composition (1968-1970) and for one semester (fall 1970) I had taught sophomore English at Providence-St. Mel High School in Chicago.
While working with Alvina Krause in Bloomsburg (1972-1973), I had kept an acting journal. When I started teaching, I continued to keep the journal--a teaching journal now--sending it to her at the end of each week's classes.
The following is the note she sent with the first teaching journal installment--we hadn't discussed my continuing to send her the journal.
(I shall try to create the impact of her underlining and capitalizing and intensifying of the fountain pen script as she wrote. And I have appended photocopies of the note in her handwriting.)

I take it you want this returned. The only comment I have: Excellent! Well done! Go on as you have started.

Of course your students are slow to comprehend: you are shaking the foundations of their acting training! And I won't say be patient!


Be impatient of stupidity, of ignorance, of indifference, of your own inadequacies! Drive ahead! Be compassionate of the pain, the struggle of learning, but never tolerate anything that impedes the process. Be compassionate for the human being who is driven by the desire to be an artist and who suffers in the course of his search; but be ruthless in holding him to the disciplines of his art.

Lead your class to understand tragedy in its truest form: Greek drama. Do not force your concept upon students, but lead them to discover on their own that the tragic hero, heroine, is one who has the capacity to realize fully the depths, the power, the death (all tragic heroes do not die physically--Oedipus) and to realize fully deeply with every fibre of his being the role he has played in bringing about that death. The Oedipus howl, cry, thunder, of pain when he totally realizes that he has brought about this tragedy--this horror, this inconceivable catastrophe, must fill the world with realization of man's stupidity, pride, etc. etc.

Lead them to understanding--of their own fate--
A teacher's responsibility is not to provide the right answers: it is to ask the right questions.

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