Sunday, October 14, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Summer 1974

Beginning with fall 1974 I would be teaching for the first time the final year of the acting course -- Style: The Actor as Communicator.
I went to Bloomsburg for the summer of 1974 and Krause worked with her students on French drama (Moliere, Anouilh, Giraudoux) -- drama, as she put it, that demands style for its communication.
As the summer went on, the class worked on other dramatists, but as much as was possible Krause kept the focus of their work on style.
I kept a journal.
This post comprises excerpts from that journal and Krause's comments.

I titled the first entry "Style".
Krause commented:
The last stage in the creative process.
Style is more real than reality. "Why?" It is reality heightened, intensified by selectivity.
Quote, I think, from my lecture on style:
"When a craftsman has something distinctly his own to say, he may say it so clearly, so emphatically, that his manner of expression is part of what he is saying. He gives his subject clarification, intensification -- projection: he gives it Style."
"Style is organic". A.K.

Difference between Moliere, Coward, Wilde, Feydeau -- techniques are the same, but the style is different? the manner in which the techniques become part of the communication of the drama changes, but the techniques stay the same? Can you clarify?

Go straight to the end of the line --
Punch the end of the line in some way --
Use bright tones --
Toss up and out and over the audience
End business with the line --
Business points the line, must not steal the line --
Etc -- These are techniques common to all.
Style comes from discovering exactly what best suits the specific character and drama --
Style makes choices, Style selects, Style throws focus exactly where it should be to make a point (Chaplin throws focus on his eyes for instance by eliminating focus on his mustache -- Throws focus on his hat by eliminating all else)

I could do a dozen things (acts) to characterize me. If I wanted to project an acting teacher cares passionately about humanity, what specifically would I do? That selection of detail is style.


Working on Dorine and Orgon from Tartuffe, I asked about getting students to discover the responsiveness and flexibility of character spine.
Krause wrote this:
Spines --
I used animal studies to make students aware of spines -- Be a cat -- note that the tail is moved by the spine -- Note that each footstep starts in the spine, flows through -- Be a cat -- be a human cat -- control the tale [sic] through the spine.
Trees have spines too, I think. Isn't Antigone a birch tree that is being bent to the ground by storm, heavy ice, snow. But it must rise, it must grow toward the sky. It doesn't know why, it must slowly come erect. Our birch tree was bent to the ground during a winter storm. We thought it would break, it took days to come erect, but it did.
Have students observe and recreate the spines of the old, middle-aged, the ill, the soldier -- big business, etc.
Create National spines -- the very erect Norwegian spine, the curved Polish, the flexible Italian, etc.
Study a dancer's spine -- a trucker's --
Where will you find the Creon spine
Have you observed Nixon's -- slightly curved, but no flexibility


This is my record of Krause's comments focusing on elements of style during a work session on the beginning of Three Sisters.
That was good realistic acting but it wasn't Three Sisters. Why? What story must you tell? What story did you tell?
Masha--you want to tell her whole story in her response to that [Olga's saying that they would soon go to Moscow-- DD]. What will you do to tell: I don't believe a word of that, I have given up hope, I am purposeless. What single movement of the head will tell this?

The audience must get a chance to identify with each sister, to respond with each, to understand the basics of each -- they must care for each one -- at the same time Chekhov's drama must be sent home.

Olga -- what will you do on "I have a headache" that will show you are not a teacher, but that will keep the audience liking you?

In my journal she wrote this:
Note on the opening of Three Sisters, although verbally it seems to be Olga's "scene", the focus changes from one to another. 
The director will say Focus on Irina! Focus on Masha! and there is an arrest and a hold.

In one entry I described the work of actors dealing with the Orgon and Dorine scene in Tartuffe. Krause was going to keep me focused on style the whole summer.
She wrote this:
You have described the preparatory improvisation. After that eliminate, choose the most telling movement, or tone -- the arrest of what movement
So you arrive at
Style and meaning -- (always remember style and meaning are one)


We did work like this on Tartuffe, The Madwoman of Chaillot, Anouilh's Antigone, The Importance of Being Earnest, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard, and others.
I left Bloomsburg in late August ready to add the third year acting course to my teaching schedule.


I got this letter shortly after returning to Evanston for fall quarter 1974.

The flowers are beautiful. Stupendous! I wish you could share them with us. Thank you!
In the Saturday Review --World for this week -- August 10 -- is a description of Lunt-Fontanne acting which I think you could use. It's in the Henry Hewes column. You might be able to use it in "Styles". I would send you my copy but I think our group should read it.
It was good to have you here this summer!

Good luck


An excerpt from a letter a year later -- fall 1975 -- in which Krause responds to a comment I had made about something one of my colleagues had said.

The third quarter of "Styles" has not "traditionally" been contemporary realism and certainly not "American". The focus is on Style always. My last quarter culminated in drama that was highly dependent on Style for success: Ionesco, Albee for instance. [The name of another colleague -- DD] has turned Styles into something he thinks he can teach because he doesn't know what Style in drama is! Don't let anyone pull this "traditional" stuff.

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