Monday, September 24, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Encouragement and Exhortation

Closing in on the end of fall quarter 1973

Next year, if you teach Greek Drama, require students to take Dr. Scott's course in conjunction with it. [Walter Scott taught history/literature/criticism courses. He created the Development of Dramatic Art, a three-quarter course that studied Western drama from the Greeks to Contemporary Drama -- DD] State the requirement in the catalogue. I have forgotten the number of Scott's course but it is the one that begins with the Greeks. Admit no one without the requirement -- the only exceptions permitted being students who will agree to a stiff reading program with weekly tests or papers on their reading. Obviously one of your problems is that your students have no background in drama and they are approaching the Greeks as if they were Mike Nichols. Ridiculous. Better start now with a reading list for background in Shakespeare or require Scott's course in Shakespeare, or Bacon's or one in L.A. [Liberal Arts, now the Weinberg School--DD], if there is a good one. Did you require them to study Greek statues at the Art Institute to get a feeling for the size and clarity of Greek art -- its freedom from modern contortions, frustrations, petty emotions.

Anyway: Keep sane by concentrating on your beginning courses; love them, praise them, set their visions high and fall down on your knees and thank God over every little glimmer of comprehension. I don't know what you are requiring for your finals in Sophomore acting, but whatever it is: give them extra, outside attention so that they come off with some degree of distinction. "Nothing succeeds like success" -- trite but true. If at the end of the quarter your sophomore students feel a true sense of achievement, of certainty -- they will follow you to the -- -- -- -- wherever you want them to go. Be sure they sense, as a group as well as individuals -- that they have a firm grasp of essentials -- With that grasp they can reach to the stars. Ten years has been along road down. Don't expect to go all the way back up in one quarter or one year. Just hope to get a foot hold -- a toe hold.

Remember what I told you over the phone: Actors must work with the director and he is the architect; he determines the direction in which the drama must go. It is the actor's privilege to drop out, but if he accepts a role he must play according to the director's design. No argument -- As a house is built according to the architect's design, so is a drama. Your Greek students are pitiable -- they are defending their actor egos with no basic principles to stand on -- only raw emotions.
Understand them, pity them (there may be a David Downs among them). In time you will be ready to meet the incident you told me about. Before anyone can speak after such a performance, you will be ready with the description of those Hungarian faces as they watched the Russian tank -- or something similar. Something that will "go home" to them immediately -- of people who choose death -- who are not driven hysterically into death, but who choose. We do not choose in hysteria. Always, when a performance is bad, get ready during the performance to meet it with a concrete, moving incident, illustration -- what have you, that will focus attention on what is basic, universal, human in the scene. It is clear that your people do not grasp what tragedy is -- they would discover this from Scott's course. Even as horror befalls him, the tragic character has the capacity to grasp fully why it happens, he realizes totally that his own action has brought it about. And realization is not an emotional outburst -- The world stands still in realization -- Enough, enough --
You, David Downs, realize that ten years of [the name of a colleague she despised--DD ] have led to this moment in your life -- Realize, meet the moment, stand tall, smile and move on -- not with tragedy but -- -- what?

I'm asking you to be superhuman, knowing you can't be, but if you reach you won't land in the gutter. In the beginning that's enough!

1 comment:

  1. I particularly like this installment. Without going into sordid details it makes so clear the teaching moment that gave rise to the letter. And the response is so firm and sure and clear.