Tuesday, October 30, 2012


On the surface it might seem that I’m working on several different contexts at the same time.  Maybe I am:  the acting methods of Alvina Krause; reflection on my life “trajectory”; theory about liturgy and brain function; social criticism, particularly the issues raised by “Law & Order SVU” and related television serieses now presented in a new “long form” on DVD’s; my friendship with Tim; Blackfeet history; and ordinary things around Valier.  (We had early snow and cold last week, chaperoned by grizzly bears in our yards.)

I keep meeting myself coming and going.  Idea-wise, I mean, with a few virtual grizzlies maybe.  I mean that what lies under Krause’s career is a convinced moral sense of human life that she acquired in a rural place not unlike this one and that might have been expressed as ministry under different circumstances.  Her way of understanding theatre is as a kind of secular church.  She says that when JFK was assassinated she longed for a church, but passed them by, and ended up at home reading Greek drama.  At that time I was teaching in Browning, on the Blackfeet rez, so I just looked at the mountains longer than usual.  Same with 9/11 since I was back here by then.

She asks her interviewer why she never wrote any books, and Dave Press offers that maybe she’s just too physical.  She thinks with her muscles, striding and striking and whirling.  She agrees, ironically citing a book:  “THE THINKING BODY.”   Mabel Todd.  There’s a demonstration of the message on YouTube.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nG1DdSkF4o  In her letter advice to Dave Downs she says over and over,  “Make them DO something.  Don’t let them just talk.  They must get out of their heads.”  Tim says the same thing to me, but this piece in me is lacking.  I didn’t get the gene or something -- so I sit here happily in this chair, writing and writing and writing.  In my head.  But brain theory makes it clear that no one just thinks in their heads: the thinking involves the gut, the molecules in the blood, muscle tension, responsiveness, the senses.

I’ve just watched “An Affair to Remember” with Deborah Kerr who is always acting out an English ideal: the virtuous woman who “saves” the wayward man.  Irene Dunne acted it, Greer Garson, Ingrid Bergman.  Me, too, in the Sixties.  There’s a little of that in AK except that she’s not saving a lover, she’s a teacher inspiring a student to achieve great things.  This pattern is very deep in human life.  I suppose it’s the Madonna thing.  But also very English because there are so many stories about the tough coal country where sons unsuited for going “down the hole” had only one way out: education.  AK acted in “How Green Was My Valley.”  It was one of her abiding texts.  My version was more French, Camille Claudel meets Rodin or Francoise Gilot meets Picasso.  Except on the high prairie.

These stories are patterns that throw people into intense circumstances where it is hard to know what to do and the consequences may be grave.  Or might, indeed, trigger greatness.  Maybe they become more muted later in life.  It helps to find a partner who neither competes nor draws energy as AK did.  (David Downs‘ post today was about Lucy suffering a concussion and AK tending her in the hospital.)  Surely I’m not the only one beguiled by the detective partnership of “Elliot” and “Olivia” in their roles.  Surely I’m not the only one who values scripts that illustrate how two people can stay in a cooperative, equal relationship, esp. when the focus of the stories is on violent, sexual, destructive dysfunction.

Which is in part where the rez comes in.  So many stories of desperate, deranged, impoverished people trying to force others, punish others, suck the blood of others, and all the time the refusal of those with the resources to make the arrangements that might re-pattern everyone’s lives.  And then a few rise above it all, with the help of a mentor, and we are grateful.  A microcosm of the planet.  Grizzlies stalking everywhere: raw predation has been symbolized by bears since the cave days.  And yet bears also swim desperately in the shoreless sea as it becomes more acid.  

The time frame for the study of AK’s teaching acting methods is the same as the early days of television -- about 1950 to 1965.  She does not address television, does not teach acting for a camera.  My very early adult years overlap with her late adult years.  By now. fifty years later, I’m watching brief shocking clips made by feral street boys with little pocket video cameras.  They are like poems, metaphorical.  AK might understand that.  But she says she believes in the live actor, scripted, on a real stage -- other things are fine, just not theatre.  But there’s got to be some underlying force.  I think it is what we call spirituality.  Or life force.  Truth.  Love.  All that jazz and jizm.

The basic pattern of evolution -- which is only unfolding life finding its way -- is a mainstream with side-channels where circumstances allow development of something a little different.  For a while after AK was pushed out of her lifelong teaching in Evanston, she felt excluded from mainstream theatre, maybe headed for extinction.  In a few years she had reinvented herself as a lecturer and visiting professor and BTE had formed.  Then clearly she was able to contribute something unique and valuable.  It’s an obvious truism that detours turn out to be valuable paths.   This sort of thing was happening to a lot of us in the late Sixties and early Seventies, so many new horizons as to induce vertigo.  But AK was a good gardener, which saved her.  Except she never wrote a book. She was too busy nurturing people.  

The work of a writer, an actor, a minister, a therapist, a teacher comes out of the authentic reality of the person, so to some extent a person who teaches these things must address the essential nature of the person who comes to be taught.  Shallow, greedy, needy people cannot provide the understanding that will attract and guide others.  Fifty years ago, when I was an undergrad, the goal of a university used to be to create good human beings, ethical and resourceful.  Now the idea is to run up a huge debt in order to make sure that no student will shirk the task of making a lot of money.  What of substance might be taught is, well, open to negotiation.  You don’t need university for that -- ask Tim.

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