Sunday, September 16, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Teaching Sensory Perception

Whenever I visited Bloomsburg those first two years, Krause always arranged her own work with her Bloomsburg students to address the concerns of my next quarter's teaching.
During the school year, I phoned her often.
Each week I sent her my teaching journal and each week she returned it with comments and suggestions.
And she wrote letters with more ideas and suggestions.
Her partner Lucy McCammon told me that AK was determined to do whatever it took to help me survive those first few crucial years.

First Year Acting
Acting is a performing art -- with music and dance.
The actor, through performance, communicates the drama--as violinist communicates--as dancer -- -- --
Through creation of character, responding to situation and environment and society in which he is placed, he interprets and communicates the playwright's dramatized idea as the musician interprets Mozart etc.

The musician's medium of communication, of creation, is his violin, piano, flute etc - - - No true violinist would settle for less than the best violin: a Stradivarius if he could get it--afford it -- Then through consummate artistry, he seeks to bring forth the depth, the power, the infinite variety of this Stradivarius, this perfect instrument. --

The actor's instrument is himself, his total self -- Not only his voice and body, his speech, his movement: these are the communicating media. Communicating what? All that he can bring to the creation of a Hamlet, a -- -- --

All that he is, all that he has known, all that experienced -- the music heard or not heard, people he has known -- books, etc. etc.
Out of emptiness comes emptiness -- What do you bring to the art of acting?
First page in journal: What do you bring to Hamlet, Hedda, Willie Loman, etc.
The actor is as all human beings with one addition: the ability to perceive more deeply, comprehend more fully -- he has keener senses -- He hears, sees -- -- -- --

The first year of the study of acting is the building, training of the actor's instrument: himself --
1. A voice that can communicate Macbeth or Marchbanks etc. etc.
2. A body that reveals through spine, toes, shoulders, etc. etc. every human response to the astonishment of living (which is drama)
3. Stored up experience, riches of vision, the creative substance --
4. Imagination which builds from the known to the unknown

It is through the senses that we store up usable experience.

Train senses to respond--
Start with sight -- What do you see -- color shape size etc. -- If you were a minister what would you see -- a poet? a carpenter -- a fool
Test for visual response -- Hold up a picture -- a piece of velvet (Oswald's cherry-colored velvet) -- Let students describe what they saw. Ask Is there a poet among these people? A porter (Macbeth) who sees nothing. A designer?
Show them how characters establish their individuality through sense responses -- Not always obvious ([Here Krause names a design teacher -- DD])

First assignment:
1. Test yourself: write in journal your most vivid visual response of the day. Check on what did you fail to see.
2. Find and study a visual minded -- responsive person. Be prepared to demonstrate him in class.
3. Find a visually unresponsive person -- sees little -- unresponsive to color, texture, design, shape etc. Be prepared to present him in class.
4. Be Juliet's nurse walking down street -- she responds to little except smell of food, beer, shady, comfortable side of street -- or be Porter from Macbeth before he is drunk -- same as nurse dull senses --
And so on --

Hearing -- same technique

Kinesthetic -- muscle -- Do Elizabethans!

Smell and taste -- Falstaff -- Sir Toby -- Nurse
        Hedda? --
        Discuss eating scenes and what they reveal

Touch -- Lubov and Anya finger tip touch --
         Study a jeweler -- an oriental -- love of beads  [I almost didn't include this, but Krause was a person of her time-- DD]

Wind up -- trip to Art Museum
          Malvina Hoffman statues -- study them with all senses alert --
          Bring them to life in their habitat -- what has made them what you perceive in the statue?

It's a glorious, exciting experience that first quarter -- People come alive totally -- they store up what they will use later in creation of character and environment --

Get it?


  1. These notes are such a treasure. I am happy to report that by 1979 you had achieved success with this actor. I am still totally alive! Grin.

    1. You are a generous fellow, Jaime. Thanks for that.