Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Two Letters of Encouragement

A month into the first quarter 1973. Advice on surviving, not just on teaching.
Where Krause writes names, I have used capital letters.

Frustration, despair, defeat -- that's what you chose when you accepted a position to teach acting. But: the rare moments of exhilaration when truth dawns on someone! Live for them. If only you can endure long enough, they come, and when they start they come more and more frequently. Today for the first time, after all these months, R suddenly discovered what responding to someone really was! He actually responded! And then later, he and K both were telling me what great things Shakespeare does with language. Yes, they have new life since you all left! There is hope. Is that an answer to your frustration?
It is going to take a long, long time to build a healthy attitude toward what acting is. A long time. Since I left the star system has prevailed. X is a product of it. It prevailed when I took over the acting courses.
I travelled a long, lonely road. But that work produced: A, B, C, D, and many many others who have more than a toe hold on our theatre -- and they are true actors, not merely "stars"! Hold your own! Never argue! Avoid "taking sides". Let results tell the story, prove the case. If you can get a chance to work in Studio Theatre -- or whatever it is called now -- do so. As advisor -- any capacity.
I don't know just what is transpiring at NU but perhaps you can help me a little.
If the subject comes up in your presence could you quietly, smilingly make the point that A.K. doesn't give a damn about honors (But say it like a gentleman). Honor for the School I loved so dearly for a lifetime --that's a different matter! I find it impossible to talk about it -- what I have just said happens to be the truth. If you can quietly insert this idea into any discussion on the subject I would be grateful. After the horror of witnessing the destruction -- the deliberate destruction -- of a great school, what price faith? But never bring that up. Dean Wood had no part in that --
Keep in close touch with people in Interpretation: they are genuine, honest, sincere as human beings as well as artists.

Spine erect, eyes on the ultimate target--

Would you be interested in designing a Christmas card of me, before the fireplace still teaching? A.K. in retirement?



[...A discussion of a colleague....]
You have great gifts. Accept that responsibility. Steer clear of the games of sex, drink, intrigue. To achieve what in your heart you long to achieve, you will need a clarity of mind and vision, a physical stamina beyond that of ordinary man. I know whereof I speak!
By all means call in flunking students for a conference. Tell them you do not like D notices, that grades are impossible in creative work, that you need to know students much better than you know them before you could issue flunk notices. Add: Acting is an elective course: they take it by choice as you teach it by choice. They are free to transfer to other sections with no ill feelings. They are free to seek -- as are you. You must teach as you believe -- etc. Treat students as you would wish to be treated: with understanding.
There will be one, two, three -- who begin to understand your teaching. Use them fearlessly. As they grow others will join them. I always assumed that students could rise to my level and surpass me. For that reason, not for a moment could I permit myself to stoop to a lower level, for such stooping would be an insult to my students. You must reach for the highest star no matter how utterly weary and defeated you are. That principle took me through the McBurney era; find your own way. I recommend a hot bath for relaxation or a cold shower for exhilaration and good music in between every ten journals! By the way, take care that those journals do not become introspective ramblings. No neuroses permitted. Acting is objective, talent is capacity to work constructively. See that journals are objective statements on the work they have done, are doing.
etc. etc. etc.



  1. David, these letters are magnificent! They make me long for the days before email. More importantly, they are coming at the right time for me; teaching students who will mostly NOT be actors, and finding reasons they should raise the stakes for themselves. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Candace, many thanks for your response. As I was readying the letters for delivery to the university archives eight years ago, I had a fresh realization about how they were a fragment of a past unlikely to be repeated again because of technology--and of how glad I was to have these papers in her handwriting.
      You know, a couple of years before I left NU, I was the teacher for the start-up of the acting class for non-majors. I taught it only a couple of years, but I loved it. There were people in it who were terrified of public appearance of any kind; there were seniors taking it as a distro requirement and an easy grade; there were people truly interested in exploring performance. etc. It made me look in a new way at what I had been teaching for an entire career. And there were always those students for whom it was a transformative experience. I saved the email I got from one of them epitomizing the worth of the whole darn endeavor. So, as AK might say: Spine erect, eyes on the goal--Carry on!