Sunday, September 30, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Winter Quarter 1974

On to Shakespeare (juniors) and The Creative Imagination (sophomores--two sections) and a new class in Sensory Perception (freshmen). In thirty-five years of teaching, the class of 1977 was the only class that started acting the second quarter of their freshman year, for a total of eleven quarters of acting class.
I was teaching four classes a day five days a week--more than eighty student journals each week.

You are finding your own way most capably. You are on the right track.
Pursue: We are the decisions we make -- We are the sum total of those decisions. One night Hedda realized she was 29 years old -- Tesman was handy -- A step to suicide--
Keep exploring what we human beings are --
A new year, a new job -- lucky you! Good luck!


A new quarter. The same woes.
And it was only a decade since Krause had left NU. She carried her grievances still.

I have said it before. It's a lonely road. Accept it. Go it alone! It is far, far better than a life of compromise!
You might drop this idea into the well of egotism that is NU theatre: What is important: our own petty, jealous ego? Or the education of our students? What's our priority?
You will have to work under their system, but within it follow your own course, build your own platform. It can be done -- I did it.
If the little group here succeeds in the promotion of theatre in the park this summer, would you be interested in joining them -- acting, directing, building a Youth Theatre?



One of the things Krause missed the most about living in Bloomsburg, PA was Marshall Field's in Evanston -- on the NW corner of Sherman Avenue and Church Street.
Her birthday was January 29.

In the midst of rain, ice and snow today my Marshall Field package came today [sic].
Instantly I was back in Evanston -- the lake, Sheridan Road, the campus -- Chekhov, King Lear, [the name of a favorite student -- DD] -- Thank you --
The whole week has been one long birthday party and today your petit fours -- and a fire in the fireplace.
I stepped back a lifetime to Irina's name day ------


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: To My Mother

When I visited my mother for Christmas 1973 (I was still calling it "going home"), she told me that she had written to Krause. She had written that she was thankful I had found Miss Krause; that she knew I needed to find someone who understood me and that I was "too deep" for her, my mother, to understand.
This is the letter Krause sent to my mother.

Dear Mrs. Downs,
Thank you deeply for writing to me! David has talked of you so much. Now I feel you are known to me in person.
We worked hard while David was here. I think no one realizes how difficult, how almost impossible, David's job at NU is. Knowing the pitfalls, I recommended him for the post with great anxiety. David is a gifted young man, but his gifts still need support and direction. I am resolved to do all I can to help him in this difficult situation. I believe he can become a great teacher, and great teachers are rare. I should like you to know that I will do all that I can for him.
Sometime we must meet.

Alvina Krause

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: The Christmas Card

Krause asked me to design a Christmas card for her -- a pencil drawing of her teaching in her downstairs recreation room.
It was tough going. I had no photo to refer to and I had little creativity to put into anything other than surviving the first quarter of teaching. I sent what I had managed to come up with. That first pencil sketch has not survived.
This is her return letter.

Dear David,
Your material came today -- The idea of the card is right, I think. It says "still active", "spine erect", "hold to what is good, is true", Right?
Correction: I never wear a tucked-in-at-the-waist blouse.
Preference =


A little loose or open like these.
[With little bits of masking tape Krause attached these photos from a catalogue. Note the medallion she inked onto the second photo -- DD]

Lucy did not approve of the hair. Perhaps this photograph shows what she wants: the roll up high on the head.

Since time is growing short, perhaps you could send the finished design to me and I could have it done here where printers may not be so rushed. But get it back as soon as possible. I am so very grateful to you for attempting this. My soul rebels at the "typical" Christmas greeting behind which people can hide.


The final drawing wasn't suitable either. I think the university archives has it.
Alas, AK's 1973 Christmas card was a typical one.

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!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Notes on Sensory Response

More from Alvina Krause on the first quarter of teaching beginning acting.

Scattered notes on training of the actor through sensory responses.
Use your own illustrative material.
Develop ideas in your own way.
I have only tried to show the nature of the work and its connection with acting, with character, etc.
Make the course yours --
You have the equipment -- Use it confidently -- Share your knowledge, your love of theatre, your understanding.

Examples to use -- to assign

Elizabethans -- alive in all senses (except the artisans)
New world -- astonishing -- boats from Orient

Romeo, Juliet -- sky -- sun -- wind, stars --air etc. Give single lines -- respond to motivating sense response
"The clock struck nine when I did send the nurse"
"Soft what light" --

Mercutio -- poet -- all senses responsive --
"Queen Mab hath been" --

Marchbanks -- extra sensory -- every color hits -- every sound alerts -- His entrance

Candida responding to all -- but one at a time plays upon her -- Sit before fire --

Prossy -- shuts out stimuli -- effect on voice, spine

Shylock -- an itching palm but loves rich colors of oriental rugs, jewels. Give someone a jewel box --  Create Shylock through touch -- response to color

Our Town -- create Emily of last act -- with no words. She hears, sees, perceives for the first time

Create Hedda -- through handling of army pistol. Its weight, perfect balance, beauty of shape -- handle it until identification with it is complete -- she is a pistol

Tesman's love of books -- Create him -- books are living things -- lines dance -- read -- handle books, words sparkle in his brain

Judge Brack -- 'Justice is blind' sees a woman's pretty figure, curves, hears boredom in her voice -- perceives only what pleases his masculinity --

Thea -- sees people -- their eyes, hears tones in voices, responds to needs

Ask students to know: Romeo and J -- Macbeth -- Candida -- Hedda


Body -- Voice
The actor's body (total: voice, mind) is his instrument. As a violin is a musician's instrument--
How does a musician treat his violin -- his bow -- It becomes part of him -- He seeks perfection.

Teach your students pride in their instruments -- achieved how --
A pianist will never play on a piano that is not perfect. He will order a piano removed if it is not perfect. This is not eccentricity. It is the policy of an artist who knows his instrument must be perfect if his communication of Mozart is to be perfect. And the instrument must be tuned to concert pitch. Even the most delicate pianissimos must reach the last row of the auditorium.
So it must be with the actor: his instrument must be tuned to concert pitch before he steps on stage. His most quiet tones must reach the balcony effortlessly; his slightest movement must carry meaning to every member of the audience. This demands perfect ontrol of every nerve and muscle --

Train your instrument as a musician trains.


Keep your vision clear!
Know what is important: let that knowledge determine all decisions
Trust the dramatist! Let him lead you! "The play's the thing" -- Trust it.
Also: trust your students! Reveal greatness to them, expose them to magnificence and they will rise to it. I never knew it to fail --

My hopes and prayers go with you.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Teaching Beginning Acting

November 1973

So you have met Winifred Ward [Taught Creative Dramatics 1918-1950 -- DD]. Keep in touch with her. She is a great person. Her work is known around the world and destroyed in Evanston.

[...Comments about another teacher -- DD]

Keep asking pertinent questions in the journal--
"How does this apply to Romeo when-----"
"Tell me how you work on ----- Results?"
"Draw Romeo's spine"
"Describe Juliet's movement as she looks at the sun dial 'The clock struck nine" --

Always hold them to specific tasks -- Responses that go into action.
Have you tried the blindness responses to make them aware of eyes -- and other senses
Deafness -- same
Paralysis --
Take away one sense, others must compensate

Your teaching outlines reveal excellent work. Keep your courage up.

About the Christmas card, I had in mind something that says my spine is still erect, I'm still active, I still say "Respond". No photograph. Line drawing that says I am still alive in mind and body. I don't know about process of reproduction. There must be Offset presses in Chicago even Evanston. They could tell you what could be done -- The enclosed card: could something similar be done with a person instead of a house -- If it is a crazy idea, just say so. I so seldom can find a card I like: that's what is behind my request --

Call Van Meter when you get discouraged or uncertain or in any need -- He has bolstered up my courage many times.

I'm with you always

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: November 1973

Two letters coming near the end of the first quarter of teaching. Thinking of every thing she could to help me to hang on.

Your teaching is terrific. But get braced for disappointments in Greek Drama. Quite evidently your students are attempting to do what they are not prepared to do. So: don't push too far and too hard. Hard as it is: be content with good beginnings. Better start helping them with what they are going to do for their finals. They will need help. Praise them for what they do well -- the bits of understanding, while you point out directions for future work. -- Remember how long it took you to put into action what you were learning.

The group here is progressing, working together at last. The program we are preparing for AAUW might actually be good. I was much encouraged yesterday. R's friend TB is an asset. Talented I believe. Willing to learn. And he knows the discipline of regular, hard work. There is more method in their work between sessions since he came. [....]

Re: The Greeks -- isn't Nixon's daughter an Ismene?

Show your students the "joy" when a piece of drama crystallizes. Is there anything to equal it? Suddenly you are Hamlet in a rotten world -- not playing at it -- suddenly you are. All the pain, frustration disappears, doesn't exist. -- There is nothing equal to it unless it is Beethoven as he writes the last note of the 5th Symphony. There isn't much you can say about it; you can't teach it -- Just have a vision of it and steer a straight path to that vision. Has no one written a biography or autobiography that tells the hell an actor lives through in learning his craft. Is it only the glamor that goes into print? By the way you must read the Chekhov letters just published. Letters of Anton Chekhov, translated by Michael Heim with Simon Karlinsky. See that the library orders it. The humanity of that man! Humanity in a world of inhumanity, and always gentle yet never deviating from his path of humanity. I love him more than ever. Many of the letters I had read, but chiefly the ones of Chekhov the dramatist. These are the letters of the man.

With regard to the Christmas card, I am all anticipation. just remember that most of them go to people like you --



I know well those collapsing moments you speak of. I can't say much but:
(1) Hang on. Have paper and pen at hand always to write to me. This year wil be the bad year so have a safe guard handy.
(2) Can't you get a project of your own started? A group of students who would like to meet to dramatize a Chekhov short story, for instance? A few people who aren't active in UT? Two or three people in Greek Drama who would like extra help?
Do you have a bulletin board? You should have. Where is your office? Can you put up a private bulletin board. I found mine indispensable. The first thing that belongs on yours is the Brustein article in the NY Times some weeks ago on Broadway and young actors. I am sorry I can't remember the title and date and my students have walked off with my copy. Look it up, get a copy, start your bulletin board. Keep adding significant comments (I hope you used the recent student uprising in Greece in Antigone sessions!)  Write observations of classwork, general comments, material you have not time to cover in class. Outside reading and suggestions: Lillian Hellman's "Pentimento". Have you read it? My bulletin board was outside of my room (now Schneideman's) -- an out of the way spot, yet people came up daily to read it. Find some place for it! That's one way of meeting those frightening moments.

"Theatre doesn't have time to produce plays the way you project it". Yet at Eagles Mere summer schedule, a new play every week! And I did it at NU! I don't know how you can use that with students but see that you hang on to it yourself!

Lucy and I will be in Detroit for Christmas. I don't know when we will leave -- about the 20th or 19th, I should think. So plan your visit accordingly. It will be good to see you!


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.


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?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Teaching Acting, Greek Tragedy

Before I started teaching at Northwestern in 1973 I had had only two other formal teaching experiences: for two years as part of my graduate fellowship in English literature at Loyola University I had taught freshman composition (1968-1970) and for one semester (fall 1970) I had taught sophomore English at Providence-St. Mel High School in Chicago.
While working with Alvina Krause in Bloomsburg (1972-1973), I had kept an acting journal. When I started teaching, I continued to keep the journal--a teaching journal now--sending it to her at the end of each week's classes.
The following is the note she sent with the first teaching journal installment--we hadn't discussed my continuing to send her the journal.
(I shall try to create the impact of her underlining and capitalizing and intensifying of the fountain pen script as she wrote. And I have appended photocopies of the note in her handwriting.)

I take it you want this returned. The only comment I have: Excellent! Well done! Go on as you have started.

Of course your students are slow to comprehend: you are shaking the foundations of their acting training! And I won't say be patient!


Be impatient of stupidity, of ignorance, of indifference, of your own inadequacies! Drive ahead! Be compassionate of the pain, the struggle of learning, but never tolerate anything that impedes the process. Be compassionate for the human being who is driven by the desire to be an artist and who suffers in the course of his search; but be ruthless in holding him to the disciplines of his art.

Lead your class to understand tragedy in its truest form: Greek drama. Do not force your concept upon students, but lead them to discover on their own that the tragic hero, heroine, is one who has the capacity to realize fully the depths, the power, the death (all tragic heroes do not die physically--Oedipus) and to realize fully deeply with every fibre of his being the role he has played in bringing about that death. The Oedipus howl, cry, thunder, of pain when he totally realizes that he has brought about this tragedy--this horror, this inconceivable catastrophe, must fill the world with realization of man's stupidity, pride, etc. etc.

Lead them to understanding--of their own fate--
A teacher's responsibility is not to provide the right answers: it is to ask the right questions.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Teaching Greek Tragedy Fall 1973

When I studied with Krause in Bloomsburg, we did not work on Greek drama. After I got the job at Northwestern, I visited her for a Greek tragedy infusion. The following week she sent me the notecards below. She sent the letter below some time into the first quarter of teaching (I think--she did not date her letters. On most, I pencilled the date I received them, but not this one).
During the breaks between every quarter and the summers of the first two years of teaching, I went to Bloomsburg to work with her on whatever it was I was supposed to teach the following quarter. Those visits and frequent phone calls during the quarter and the teaching journal I sent to her each week--and which she returned with lots of suggestions and comments and notes--kept me afloat the first two difficult years.

Before I ever taught Greek drama I had an experience that revealed Greek drama to me. In London I rushed to the British Museum to see the original Greek sculpture on exhibit there. I found myself in this immense room--a long, long room. I hurried down the center of it to find the Venus. Suddenly at the end of the room I found myself up against something huge, gigantic, terrifying and there was the name "Venus". I froze. This ugly mass, this rough dark immense thing. The dream of a lifetime exploded. I turned and ran back down that long room. But at the door--thank God!--I looked back. And there she stood--the Venus I had known all my life: Beautiful! Magnificent! I almost wept.

Distance. Space -- revealed the Goddess I had known for so long. When I started teaching Greek Drama that experience was my basis: Space, Sculpture, Columns, the Parthenon-- Have you created this for your people? Our world is so crowded, so petty, so small. But in the Greek world where sculpture was a dominant art Venus could be magnificent in her colossal size. Vastness, distance is imperative. Do your people go to the shore of Lake Michigan and look across into that vast space? And do they believe that law and order prevail? Does a God really speak from the sky? And still Man had the capacity to stand erect and tall. Did you begin with the magnitude of Greek sculpture? The Greek dramatists have that same magnitude. the realism of magnitude, of distance, have you created it? There are no petty contortions in Greek sculpture. If there is agony it is colossal agony but it is real in its magnitude. And it is beautiful in its clarity. It is magnificent. Can your students create a sculpture of Medea in her tragic agony?
Stay with it! You are growing. Thank god you are not satisfied!


Read Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way of Living. Make it your own thinking. Use it as background--out of what did Greek drama spring? The thinking of the Greeks--the social attitudes--
But remember: Bring the classics up to you today. Do not simply go back into the classics.
Antigone lives today
Edith Hamilton has a great essay on Greek tragedy. I no longer own it. Maybe John Van Meter can find it for you--or send you to the librarian who can find it.

Remember: Greek audiences came with their picnic baskets, their families--for the whole day--What must the acting have been to hold their attention? To grip them.
Medea and Women's lib--
Antigone and the Hungarian Youths who chose death rather than Russian rule--
Greek drama fell into what we know as a classic form but under the form was rebellion, passion, tragic anger.
Contemporary--the March on Washington--Nixon--Creon--etc.
Why begin the year with Greek Drama rather than with Albee, Chekhov--the bigness of it, releases the actor--Play to the horizon first, then come into the living room--Establish the size, the bigness, the all-encompassing theatre first--
Reach out first then, within
Greek drama has no walls

They are not chanting a formal, pompous statement which bores them; they are wildly insisting that the audience, the gods, somebody look at these terrible things that are happening. They are passionately concerned with the drama. Only by singing their screams can they make themselves heard and understood. Only by dancing their fears, their exorcisms, can they raise their reactions above those of a mob to a universal plane.

Each play has its own particular idea--each has its own style

Find the basic outlook on life--

The astonishment of living

Art of sculpture was part of daily occupation of Greeks--Never a museum art--
Embodied beliefs--stood as a symbol of their lives, beliefs.
Infinite simplicity a sense of fitness, rightness--
They put art above all living pursuits--not as propaganda--artist was a free agent, Then best is exalted, clean, never coarse, cheap, mercenary, sensationalized, unintelligible, distorted
Study Greek statues until they burst into organic life--
Lines, wrinkles, creases, blemishes are removed in the interest of the essential.

Note the:
Resistance to forces
Balance with infinite variety
Dance in Greek drama was an expression of ideas by means of human body actions: Character, passion, were expressed in posture and rhythms, movement

Not creeds--they were unknown. Poetry, music, nature, ancestors, history.
Gods were impersonations of powers of nature and of their own passions. Earth, sky, sea, fire, wind. Love. Wisdom.
Gods were Man's ancestors. Like men they fought, lived, bore grudges, spent much time on earth helping and hindering man.
Intimacy in relations between man and Gods--If a ship was lost man called Poseidon to account--In victory he turned to Athena
Religious life was part of politics not a Sunday affair.

Hubris, the sin of pride brought inevitable punishment
Sin did not involve conscience. There was no moral brooding
no traumas

Balanced man did not neglect some of the gods. Gods were jealous. An untended shrine was a portent of disaster.

Her eyes smoldered under heavily-lidded brows
She wore heavy jewelry--preferably gold
Her gowns were low-cut--and she had a bosom

She had the magnificence of mountains where storms had been
A Columbia professor said the above about Clytemnestra. Sorry I can't find the exact quote. For me it sums up the lady. Note the opposites: magnificence smoldering--Sex vs tragic depths

No cold Greek statue but a Queen who has suffered wrong.
Opening scene between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon: magnificent! He knows: to step on the red carpet is hubris--and Cly- tempts him to do it--The response of horror from all on lookers is a dramatic climax that shakes the world.

It might be wise to start your class performances with a messenger assignment for this epitomizes Greek drama. They can be done by man or woman. In this lib age: probably a woman.
There are people who say the dramatists used a messenger to tell the offstage bloody event because the Greeks could not take the actuality on stage. Bunk! The Greeks were as inured to violence as we are--or more so. The slaying was not performed on stage--probably--because without lights or curtain what would you do with the dead bodies? So the messenger was created: one who was capable of bringing the offstage tragedy on stage. And so the messenger speeches are great pieces of drama. A servant, a witness, a soldier--someone with the capacity to speak graphic speech runs, rushes in--horrified, terrified but the tale MUST be told. Underscore that MUST-- The tale is not idle gossip, is not horror for the sake of horror--it must be told to a particular recipient. The bearer of the tidings does not want to tell the gory details: he must tell them - it is imperative that Medea hear. She must be told. (Clamp your hands over the actors mouths, restrain them in every way until they get the imperative urgency and necessity) The roles must have been assigned to great actors for only great ones can achieve these magnificent climaxes. They take the drama right up to the final tragic moment--

1. The messenger has been an eye witness of horror.
2. The messenger must bear the tidings to the character involved--
3. He (she) comes at break neck speed-
4. He is pulled two ways--back toward the horror, forward toward the recipient
5. He neither babbles nor does he orate: he articulates a horror of exactness with demanded explicity what he is almost incapable of telling.
6. The listener is active: Medea is glorying in the message; she demands every gory detail (But always remember she is no common bloody murderer--She is tragic in that overpowering deep, passionate love is in combat with equally overpowering hate that must revenge the incredible insult to love. Medea and Jason were two great lovers who gloriously sought the Golden Fleece together. At Corinth she is a savage alien -- Jason deserts her for a princess. Because of the greatness of her love she must strike-- Hate overcomes love) So: Medea glories in the message, exults in it, demands more, more, at the same time part of her is die ing in tragic anguish-- Love and hate are close kin, you know--
7. The messenger's entrance is forecast and built on stage. I think Medea is standing high upstage looking off right in anticipation. I think when she sees him in the distance she cries out, runs down in an exultation, hands clasped high "God and God's Justice" and swings up to focus on his entrance. I think perhaps in sheer exhaustion and fear he drops to one knee. Perhaps she advances on him with arms raised-- he has to begin his tale--

If the assignment is successful, if students get absorbed--perhaps you will go on with more Medea--
Then Antigone

LAW (hubris)
Man may not question the law of gods, the law of man--
Law is Law.
(Elizabethans sought the law within self)
Tragedy is always imminent when a law is broken.  Any line that refers to the breaking of a law should be followed by ominous thunder--

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Letters from Alvina Krause: Teaching Beginning Acting

Alvina Krause wrote nearly one hundred letters to me before her death in December 1981. In the first years of my teaching at Northwestern, the letters often deal with concerns about teaching. This blog seems a good place to post those that might have value to readers. This one (date: 1974?) is a response to my telling her that the department was changing the title of the beginning acting class.
Note: She names specific people whom I have labelled "A", "B", "C".

Changing the title of the sophomore year of acting does not change the content nor the direction nor the purpose of the course: the actor's total self as the medium through which character is created. What is character: the sum total of all that you are, all you have experienced, etc. since birth plus all your ancestors brought to your creation. You are you responding with all of your attributes to the world in which you live. Macbeth, Lady Mac, is the sum total of their attributes responding to their world Scotland. To create those characters in that world: walk across the Scottish heath, feel Scottish turf, stretch out your arms to those Scottish lakes: Loch Lomond, etc, tower to the sky in response to those mountains until you are fired by ambition to rule this land--building character is responding to the world you are living in; from sense response to this world comes desire, hate, fear or negative rejection. Create the world in which character (Hedda) lives, sees, hears, empathizes, etc.

You people who came to Penna to study acting at an advanced level were in trouble because you had missed or skipped sensory training. Let them label courses as they please, but you must teach what you know to be true. Agree to teach the basics as outlined. If questioned on your method explain: a teacher, if any good, is a creative agent; as all other artists must find their means of working with basic principles, so must the teacher find his way of teaching basics. Do not get imprisoned in regulations! Say "Yes" but be free to do what you know must be done.

Characterization is a most involved subject for it means the study of, the comprehension of human life. Never forget "The profession of the actor requires more genius, more knowledge, more understanding than any other profession whatsoever; for the profession of the actor requires the comprehension of all human life". Learn to listen to your associates, be quiet in response, but never be deflected from what you know to be true. Applaud genius wherever you find it--in student or in associate. Learn! Discover! The world and its people: perceive it fully. And trust your dramatists! They will lead you. Never get bound in by a little department of egotistical personalities. Seek out big minds like A, B, C. Remember: the value of disciplines is the freedom they bring you. Discipline for the sake of discipline is tyranny--avoid it! But discipline to achieve artistic freedom, ah, that's another matter!

Good luck!