Thursday, November 29, 2012

Claire from A Delicate Balance -- An Email Exchange

A former student emailed me about Albee's Claire and she gave me permission to post our subsequent exchange, which I do with minor editing. Ideas are scattered, therefore, and undeveloped; but I thought the spirit of the exchange was worth that shortcoming.

The Emails
Evelyn (Not her real name):
So what's the deal with CLAIRE in A Delicate Balance? Now that I'm her age, and know a few struggling alcoholics, I have more questions than ever.... What is the true vulnerability that keeps her from trying to function on her own? What keeps her living with Agnes and Tobias? When did she get permanently installed? After the death of the boy? Was the affair of the wet July after the boy's death?
Yes, she's funny, and wise and acerbic and all that, but she has made MAJOR compromises to maintain this relationship. Did she try and work and the booze kept her from any sort of success.... What makes her feel that she is entitled to A and T's care? Did the Dad of Agnes and Claire have anything to do with this? There is a sentence about his deathbed wish...?

David (My real name):
There are lots of opposites delicately balanced in the play. The one that strikes deepest for me and that links all the scenes and the acts together is the balance between Rights and Responsibilities. This is the organizing oppositional balance for all the others: self v. others; family v. friends; parent v. child; etc. And where are the lines drawn? When does friend become invader? when does child become adult? What rights and responsibilities does that imply? What's the balance between doing for others and protecting yourself? etc. And behind it all, what is it that you're protecting?

It's important not that the characters are of a certain age, but that they are of a certain socio-economic class and are retired and no longer actively engaged in life and living -- and there is a question about how vital their engagement has ever been. They've made their compromises and they are living a relatively, though delicately (sorry), balanced life with them. (Tobias asks the gardener about the new orchids for the greenhouse; Agnes checks with the cook about the evening's dinner plans, stops at Claire's door to listen if she's awake. Perhaps without needing to say anything, she hands Tobias the empty brandy snifter she finds on the stairs.) Harry and Edna will challenge the structure of that life and force Agnes and Tobias to come to irrevocable decisions about this delicate balance. (I've always appreciated the metaphor of the mobile for family: each piece strategically placed to keep it all in balanced suspension. Add pressure anywhere and all pieces must adjust in an effort to maintain balance.) I like that the play pulls back from that final irrevocable confrontation by letting Harry and Edna upstairs arrive at the decision to leave just as downstairs Agnes and Tobias are reaching a decision about what they -- he -- will do. So Tobias's "aria" becomes not so much a confrontation with Harry as a plea for Harry to give Tobias a chance to Do the Right Thing -- even if doing so might bring disaster on his delicately balanced family life -- an easier "aria" to sing when you know that Harry and Edna are leaving.

It's pretty clear that Claire never quite lived up to the standard that her older sister set as a daughter, a girl friend, a mate, etc. And since Agnes surely was Miss Perfect, it's not hard to imagine slightly younger sister Claire becoming Miss Imperfect. If Claire wanted to, she could go to the country club Christmas party and dress and act just like all the other women, but long ago she fell before their judgments and Agnes's expectations and she began to parade her failings rather than hiding them. Why?
Yes, she did once live alone, though she has never worked because she has never needed to work. But living alone was a failure, no? The description Agnes gives of Claire's life on her own is an accurate one. And, yes, on his deathbed, their father made Agnes promise she would take care of Claire. And so Claire has a shelter, a home, a safe haven here without having to be personally responsible for maintaining it; balance that 'right' with the 'responsibility' of gratitude to her sister as well as some attempt to keep her excesses in check and you get the major forces of her life. So, yes, she's entitled. She's also needful of this. Dad knew it and Agnes knows it. And although it's not possible to pinpoint the exact time/occasion that Claire came to live with them, it has been long enough that her part in the mobile balance of this family has been firmly established.
I'm not sure that there is a "true vulnerability that keeps her from functioning on her own" beyond what the play suggests in the lifelong living in Perfect Agnes's shadow, etc. I think you can add that, given the kind of outsider's objectivity Claire has (It's not for nothing that she's named 'Claire'), she can see things clearly but can't find enough strength to live as if she didn't.

After the death of the paternal grandmother, Albee's adoptive mother and father moved into the house that provides the setting for this play. Mrs. Albee had an alcoholic younger sister who often made extended visits as a houseguest there. Imagine the young Edward Albee -- with the passion and the objectivity of an artist -- witnessing his father's acquiescence to his mother in all things as she destroyed his relationship with his father. He hated his mother -- and she him -- and it was many years after her death that he wrote Three Tall Women and came to some reconciliation with his feelings about her. He was an artist, a social activist, someone who wanted to matter, etc. -- and surely the privileged and essentially meaningless life of his family must have caused despair as well as anger.
Albee said, "These people [the characters of A Delicate Balance] are teetering between being able to survive and being thrown into chaos". And for me that describes the greater existentially philosophically huger reality behind "Rights v. Responsibilities". Behind it all, as Agnes says, is "the deep sadness". The existential despair thing. The sense of lives lived not meaningfully, not productively. Emptiness. I think this is as important to the play and to the characters as the foot pedal bass line is important to the musical meaning of an organ piece.

Anyway, to respond to your other specific questions, Tobias does say to Agnes that he didn't want to have sex with her after Teddy's death so that she might be spared another pregnancy. So we might be able to imagine that the July Claire affair happened after that. Dunno if it's essential (or possible) to know for certain. (And regardless of when Claire came to live with them permanently, this incident suggests that she has always been an intimate part of their lives.)
You may be only six or seven years younger than Claire, but important to understanding the gulf between you and her is that she lives in a world that expects no real productive activity from any of them and so they create a cocoon that keeps the outside world away. Until Harry and Edna (Mitt and Ann? George and Barbara?) enter with their fear of imminent disaster.

Okay, but now the question is: What does the actor DO to turn all these ideas into expressive meaningful behavior?

Enough. I didn't think this through carefully, so feel free to find it inadequate to your needs. And feel free to pound further on my virtual door.

I think the context of NON-PRODUCTIVE may be the most important touchstone for me. When I talk to my students, I remind them that knowing themselves is critical. In this case, knowing that EVELYN must at the end of the day Be Productive above all things, Claire will be a really interesting challenge for me. What if I, Evelyn, had no use? Couldn't Advocate, Teach, Parent, make lists, bake cookies, create, nurture, pick dog poop up, WHATEVER!!!!
I might drink. I often dream of being a more addictive personality, cuz I love a buzz, but my usefulness kicks in and I think about all that will not get done if I overdo.... WOW.

Ohyes, you have lots of Claire capacities. You have the objective fifty-yard line pov, her delight in language, her ability to see the ironies, the incongruities, in others' lives -- and in her own. You early on loved the response you got from knocking people off balance with straight-talk -- shocking!
(How do you relate to Claire's relationship with family?)

Then try this: View your out-going motivation/need to DO, to Produce, to pick up dog poop, etc., as an addictive energy/need all on its own. Fuel it with the early Claire failure to live up to Agnes -- and you can turn your own driving energy into destructivve behavior. Improvise the first time Claire decided to get drunk in order to escape from being compared and found lacking. Was it a club dance? a fund-raiser? Did she try hard to succeed? Maybe there was a contest to sign up as many people as possible to donate to charity. And Claire seems to be winning. Then, of course, Agnes's tally is counted (Or something -- you create one that works for you). And Claire just finally decides whatthefuckwhybother and she gets roaring drunk. She gets attention. Noticed. And she gets to give them the finger at the same time as she gets finally to be the one in the spotlight.
Drink as an escape from -- what? and also as a way to get noticed, responded to. ("Oh, I am here! I exist!")

One more thing: It occurs to me that [the name of an actress with whom Evelyn was often in competition -- and who usually won] is your Agnes.


Ooooo, I didn't mean to ouch you. But if it makes creative sense, it's worth it....

It was a good ouch!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Fall 1976

Where Krause wrote names,  I use capital letters.

Your progress is stupendous!
The group here had a setback -- We gave too much time to the pantomime for the Fair -- the Wedding dress exhibition [Above the fireplace in the living room hung a painting of Lucy's grandmother in a wedding dress; in the trunk Lucy's grandmother had packed when she fled the Union troops, Lucy had the dress. One of the Bloomsburg group, Laurie McCants, wore it for the fair. See attached photo  --DD] -- It got them off the track. But they are back in stride this week -- A is terrific in grasp and understanding, B is equal to him and adds a wider background. C is growing -- you should see her Work now -- D has depths I did not dream of -- They are a joy --
Carry on


Laurie McCantz wearing Lucy's grandmother's dress and standing before the portrait -- and it seems grandmother is wearing something other than the wedding gown.
A note from Jerry Stropnicky, founding member of The Bloomsburg Theatre ensemble:  I remember that dress, which I reconstructed from unsewn fabric. The silk was given by President Polk to Lucy's ancestor, the thread had disintegrated in storage. Lucy wanted the dress reconstructed, so we did and won the blue ribbon (first prize) at the Bloomsburg Fair. Stories layered on stories.

And this is Laurie in a rehearsal skirt for Irina from Three Sisters and Nina from The Sea Gull etc. in front of the house several of them rented.

[Photos posted with the approval of Laurie McCantz]

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Summer 76 journal

One of the students who went to Bloomsburg in the summer of 1976 shared the page of comments Krause wrote in his journal.

Student Journal
What does Gaev do when he says "He smells of the henhouse"? What is his olfactory sense like? What did he buy after the sale of the cherry orchard --
Do you hear his voice?

Whenever you make a discovery about a character, immediately ask: How is this expressed by eyes? Spine? Voice? What is Gaev's basic rhythm?

Yasha -- Draw a picture of him. How does he wear his hair? What is his vocal tune? Do you see his smile? Describe his eyes.

Every time you make a discovery, tell how it determines character -- For instance, look about at people today -- How do we express our age, our Watergate era?
What has happened to our spines? Why is the American voice what it is? Have you looked into people's eyes lately? What do you see? What is our rhythm of speed? of movement? Why?

Get into development of character and its physical expression. Can you hear Gaev's voice, its quality, its pace, its rhythm, its diction? How does Yasha's differ?
Sit in a library for 8 hours reading bad print, taking notes -- What happens to your spine? And you have forgotten to eat since yesterday -- Now what are your eyes like? What do they see? -- but you have an idea you must get on paper -- Now describe this Trofimov.


I kept detailed notes of each class session with Krause that summer. Her comments clarified or expanded on my notes. This is what she wrote at the end.

Journal Note
Tell me how you will make all this information yours --
How will you go about getting total response --
Know what you are after and Never be Afraid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Spring 1976

I spent the summer of 1976 in Bloomsburg with mostly Northwestern graduates mostly from the first class I had taught the full three-year acting course. This is a letter I got in the spring anticipating their arrival.

David, could you have copies made of the enclosed material and distribute copies to people who are coming. I feared if I sent it to some member of the group it might seem preferential treatment. I don't want to waste any time getting started. No one tells me the date when they will all assemble here. Can you initiate a response? These are people who are coming:
[A list of seven people -- DD]
I know you are busy, I hate to trouble you, but ----

Lucy insisted I go to NY for one day with a friend who was driving up -- I went, saw two of the Norman Conquests plays [by Alan Ayckborn -- DD] and had dinner with Paula and Dick [Prentiss and Benjamin -- DD] and their wonderful two year old son -- Fabulous!
I find myself in a panic about the summer. On the one hand I welcome the opportunity to work but seven new people and only eight weeks, sixteen sessions, thirty two hours ----- madness! What can be achieved? In the middle of the night a stern voice says "Cancel it! There's still time!"
I wonder about your work, but think of no suggestions. Do teach with joy!


Enclosed Material
In order to lose no time of our brief summer session come prepared to start work on the first day of our meeting on "Cherry Orchard". Prepare one of the following passages from the play. Avoid making it a finished production; keep it in the work-rehearsal stage. Work alone, or with others.
Trofimov-Anya: end of Act II
Anya-Varya: Act I dialogue
Trofimov-Lopahin: Act IV
Lopahin -- Opening of Act I
Lubov -- Act II "Oh my sins! I have thrown away money -----
Gaev -- Act I, the bookcase
The key to Chekhov is the essential of all true acting: truthfulness of response, of total response (Words spoken are only the vocalized part of the response). To arrive at these responses create the world of the drama, respond to the people of that world, respond to the significant elements of the environment. Bring to the moment the essential associations which are heightened, intensified by the moment of the drama (homecoming, departure, imminence of change).
Through responses to environment, to people, motivate the thought behind lines, overflowing lines, never spoken, more important than the vocalized thought. This unspoken thought, response, carries the drama to its final moment: the sound of the ax.
Every moment must reveal the inner action of the Chekhov drama: a great orchard has become unproductive; the owners of the Cherry Orchard have become unproductive. What happens to their world? To Russia? What similarity do you find in your world (school, theatre). Find life studies from, in, your world (Bring to all drama a concern -- the concern that motivates Chekov.)
The play is a comedy. The dramatist views his world, his people, his Russia from a distance. He loves his people, his country; but from a distance he sees incongruities which are comic. Not farce comedy, not belly-laugh comedy but thoughtful comedy based on love and understanding and concern for the world in which we live. You love your mother but she can't balance a check book; your father is a great guy but putting up storm windows he falls off the ladder, or breaks the glass. Lopahin is a fine man, a highly competent merchant but he can't say "Varya, marry me". Lubov is a lovely person, everyone loves her, but money slips through her fingers, as does life, love, happiness.
These are comments to start your creative minds going in the right direction. Focus on truth. Chekhov drama is realism, but in its high selectivity it becomes poetic realism. Think about it, read about it.


In this group were the first of those who, two years later, created The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble which continues successfully today. The BTE is preparing to celebrate its Thirty-Fifth Anniversary.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Spring 1976

Advice and Exhortation

Do you know, and do you use, "John Gielgud's Hamlet" by Rosamund Gilder? -- It would be invaluable. It is a detailed description, moment by moment, of Gielgud's production -- and his was a Hamlet of deep grasp. If you don't have a copy, get busy and find one. Some one got away with mine, to my deep regret. Start a search through second hand dealers -- I think it is out of print. I think Deering library lost their copy too. Use it!! Assign it: "Present nunnery scene as 1) John Gielgud did it" 2. As you would do it. Do not be hesitant to use such material openly while you are finding your way. If you have any creative sense it will assert itself; if you haven't then follow a leader, a creator, a Gielgud! To the creative teacher, the whole world is a stimulus -- books, people, music, art, politics -- Use the world! The stimuli are not within you -- The responses, the creative responses are within you. The world, life, art play upon them. Shakespeare is the whole wide world, all time, past present future: Renaissance, medieval, modern -- the far stretches of the mind. The theatre is the universe! Don't get bogged down in a classroom for God's sake! Don't get hemmed in by [She names two colleagues and an administrator -- DD].
The theatre is freedom!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Spring 1976

Winter quarter 1975 I directed Winnebago, a one-act play by Frank Galati. It played in the Benson Street Lab. In the lab winter quarter 1976 I directed Entertaining Mr. Sloane by Joe Orton about which Frank Galati said that he had missed the sex and the violence.
It was not unnoticed by me that sex and violence are central to Entertaining Mr. Sloane.

Dear David,
When a production closes never, never dwell on what was wrong. The result of such contemplation is despair. Always 1) recognize the wrong 2. immediately seek the why 3. Plan the approach to the next production. Always go on. Never dwell in the past. What must you do now? Where is the gap in your work? Why? It seems to me -- and from this angle I could be wrong -- your weakness is in character motivation. If your people had been truly motivated they would have responded to each other and to their world in such a way that Frank would have got from your production -- inevitably the sex brutality which he felt was lacking.
This aspect is latent in the first meeting with the cast. 1) Create the world in which these people live. Don't think because the drama is modern you will not have to focus on the elements which make this modern world. In a sense for this reason, a modern drama is more difficult than a classic: your people think they know their world. They don't. Bring newspaper stories to their attention -- stories in which your drama may be rooted. Get them out of the college classroom into the world of Mr. Sloane. 2. Establish the dramatist viewpoint on this world. Does he see it from the comic, objective viewpoint? from the tragic? The realistic: comic and tragedy? 3. Improvise your characters in this world until their character spines develop, until their responses are clear and habitual. Lead your characters into the playwright's viewpoint: in this moment of dramatization, what did the playwright, through character, say about his world and sex?
In fact, what I have written should be the subject of the last quarter of B43. [The three-quarter beginning acting class -- DD] If you no longer use the novelist to create character, you, yourself, will need to take on the attributes of the novelist. What is the world that created the people in Virginia Woolf? Maybe that's a good beginning -- Bring in a character study of a professor -- in a classroom -- after a movie, in a bar, in a faculty meeting, alone with TV, reading the morning paper, at commencement, etc -- etc -- His wife, ditto. Don't use one word from the play until the contemporary academic world is set up: money, promotion, honesty, success, failure, sex freedom, sex restriction, intellectual integrity vs. academic promotion, need to create an imaginary world, natural instincts vs abortion. Abortion of ideas, of ideals, etc ad infinitum. Maybe "Virginia" would be good background for your last quarter, But do not let them use one word from the play until near the end of the course. What becomes important to each person? What motivates him? What price education? What is a "character"?
You have much to learn -- that is wonderful -- you must grow and grow and grow. There is no end to growth in theatre. That's the wonder of it, the frustration of it, the amazement of it: you take a giant step and you're at the foot of a mountain. Even if you get to the top of it, there will be a whole range to explore. Climb on!
I have received no letter from [She names a student who wanted to move to Bloomsburg to study with her -- DD]. Let him write again but actually six students is quite enough. Tell everyone the class is complete unless someone has to drop out -- no more.
Muriel Bach [former student who regularly performed one-person shows -- DD] comes here this week with her new program for AAUW. I won't know how we are going to get Lucy to the auditorium, but somehow it must be done. She has not yet been able to get into a car. We have used the ambulance or the van for the aged. Neither are available for entertainment pursuits. No one realizes that Muriel's program is therapy.
Chin up, spine erect, eyes bright, stride into the future like Renaissance Man!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: December 1, 1975 and January 31 1976


Letter (December 1, 1975)
The doctor insists that Lucy is recovering -- It is slow, but it is recovery. When she will be able to go home he can't say, but she will to home! And that starts contemplation of a future. Bloomsburg will be our abiding place. No more travelling. And so I have been thinking perhaps of resuming acting classes again -- not for a few months, but eventually. But I would want students who could be of service to us. Give us six to eight hours of service in return for lessons. Reasonable? Lucy will be unable to drive her car. Is there someone wanting acting lessons who could drive our Cadillac as we required transportation, shopping, etc. Someone who could, and would, do yard work. This is all speculative. Until we take Lucy home I can't tell how my time may be occupied. But perhaps you could survey the scene from your angle --
Dean Wood's [Dean 1972-1988 -- DD] elaborate alumni appeal amuses me ironically. Dean McBurney said "Alumni will not run my school" and proceeded effectively to destroy all Dennis [Dean Ralph Dennis 1913-1942 -- DD] alumni relations. Now Dean Wood sounds a trumpet call --



Letter (January 31, 1976)
Dear David,
I wish you could share the beauty of your flowers with me! They are lovely. The container is a glass basket, faintly gold at the bottom, intensifying to a soft gold-red at the top. Your small, delicate red roses are opening slowly surrounded by the soft gold yellow of -- I forget the name of the lovely plumes. Small carnations tinted red and soft gold hold them all together. It sits on our dining table and Lucy shares my pleasure! Thank you!
The doctor says Lucy's progress is good. She, of course, is impatient. She hates doing nothing and I am not clever enough to think of important things to do. She scoffs at "busy work" and frets that I do too much. Life is complicated by the fact that the doctor says "No red meat"! She dislikes fish and chicken and turkey get pretty tiresome. So what am I going to do? How long will she be content with soup! A further complication: her doctor is leaving Geisinger Hospital. She would not be here today if he had not taken over. The head of the neurological clinic said "She is too old. Nothing can be done." And Dr. Thomas took over. Now he is leaving. He has not decided where he is going. To Arizona temporarily. I finally blurted out "Why, why are you going?" He continued writing for a while, continued testing Lucy for several minutes then looked me straight in the eye and quietly said "For ethical reasons". I gulped -- hard. I was back at NU. McBurney, New Dean, was saying to me "You raised a question in faculty meeting regarding a proposition I had made. I consider questioning your Dean grounds for dismissal. Keep that in mind in future." I considered resigning, thought better of it, decided to go my way alone, but to fight him in my way. Now I meet that same thing in Geisinger Hospital! Dr. Thomas was quietly telling me that in the clinic where his wife works 80% of the operations performed are unnecessary! They even leave patients in an impaired psychological state. So for ethical reasons he is leaving! Humanity, what price humanity! -- See that your teaching is rooted in humanity!


Friday, November 2, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: 25 November 1975




Lucy wrote that -- which tells you that there is hope again -- I am assuming that the beautiful flowers came from you -- red roses, heather, pink carnations -- Lovely! She was not capable of seeing them the first day. Now she smiles in response. The doctor today said "Better! Much better" and he stays talking to her about an hour. Just talking about gardens and people and things. He performed this arteriogram  on the Maharajah of India. Lucy chuckles over that; he says he has improved in the intervening years.
I stay right here every day and some nights for it is essential that she be relaxed and unworried. And I can calm her when panic raises its ugly head. She has been here for three weeks and it will probably be two to three weeks more. But she is alive! And today the prospects are good. Will you pass the word along? I find it difficult to write. Tell John Van Meter.