Monday, October 29, 2012


Back in the day, when Meadville/Lombard Theological School was a dignified and historic marker of the Unitarian tradition and each student had a key to the library stacks that occupied all of one end, I found the rows of old masters’ theses and decided to read them.  NO ONE ever read them.  Carefully bound in hardback dun muslin and full of heart-blood from generations of aspiring ministers, mostly dead by then, I thought they deserved some attention.  There were no major insights in them.  Mostly the ideas had just absorbed into the mainstream.  A thesis is generally supposed to be received wisdom.  One does not cut trail but re-affirms one’s mentor’s views.  One of my classmates was famous for having on his thesis pages more footnotes referring to previous authorities than text.

Now that I’m trying to frame up the materials available about the lifework of Alvina Krause -- in hopes that someone else will see how rich and meaningful it all is and decide to write the definitive book before it’s too late -- I’ve been trying to read theses through Interlibrary Loan.  Now and then I buy one outright, like David Press’ thesis about AK’s methods.  

In the past the assumption has been that book publishers would immediately pounce on anything worthy and put it on the market as a formal book.  That doesn’t happen anymore, at least not in the humanities.  Even in the sciences the safeguards and legal issues have become such a thicket that it’s certainly not automatic.  The first problem is just knowing that the subject exists.

This week I’ve ordered two theses from NUcat, the catalogue of thesis archives of Northwestern University.  I am an alumn (Sp ’61).  When my local librarian couldn’t follow the cybertrail into NUcat, I picked up the phone and called them.  (People don’t think of that very much these days.)  The NUcat librarian walked me through.  One thesis was Robert Benedetti’s “Encounter Theatre” (1971) and the other was Alvina Krause’s 1933 Master’s thesis, “A Study of Creative Imagination.”  They should be along in a few weeks.  I’ll tell you about them when they come.

In the process of searching, I did lot of googling and discovered other fascinating things.  For instance, Calgary (which is about a four hour drive north of Valier) has an Encounter Theatre !  http:/

It’s worth quoting the website at length.

"The core of the theatre is an encounter." [Grotowski]  "It must have searing physical and oral impact." [Artaud]   

Cruel.  Happy.  Challenge.  
Theatre Encounter’s mandate is to create expressive alternative productions of theatre’s classic works with a focus on physical explorations and textual interpretations. Theatre Encounter enhances community development by artistic and social means through the essence of quintessential theatre. 

By reinventing classic texts through a modern Canadian perspective, with a strong emphasis on provocative language and embodying movement, Theatre Encounter offers Calgarians an alternative to the mainstream view of classic dramatic literature. 

Welcome to Theatre Encounter.

Approaching art through a performance medium (regardless of the other artistic mediums and multi-media facets that it encompasses) starts with the question of whether we want to tell a story or not. The creation is then able to have focus, which opens it up to style. The experimentation within specific styles is what allows for the discovery of exciting creation, and staves off banality and the trite. What Theatre Encounter insists on from their performers is full commitment to the implementation of the style at hand; this is very demanding work, which comes from full internalization before the aesthetic, and attempts to push the performer to their limits. 

The result edges them into a critical state of awareness that offers the viewer a dynamic connection that inanimate creations lack; as one’s body relates to another body on intellectual, emotional, visceral and energetic levels; the viewer and the viewed are engaged in a relationship that bring livened responses and transformations.  

Thus, the theatre becomes an engagement of individuals in a collective dynamic, and through the art of the actor, the relationship between audience and actor is the source of creativity and embodiment. The actor’s body becomes a dynamic relationship which reciprocates verbal or non-verbal messages and provides an opportunity for performers and audience members to integrate a totality of physical and mental reactions into their awareness. Moments more 'real' than others can be experienced.

In order for the performer to reach this unrestriction, a framework must be used in which the diversity of experience can be experimented within. We at Theatre Encounter believe that literature’s classic works, and a contemporary approach through style, are the perfect avenues for this inquiry; time-tested structures create a trusted code in which a contained modality of artistic and personal research is created.

Theatre Encounter produces a creative environment where a performer can be vulnerable and therefore open to this experiment, so their best work can be harnessed for the greater good of the group. The expulsion of this committed and imaginative work flows through the classic texts emblazoned throughout the ages.

We hope you will be as excited as the team here at Theatre Encounter about this season, as we strive to fully engage you with our art. As theatre theorist Antonin Artaud said, “we are not appealing to the audience’s minds or senses, but to their whole existence. To theirs and ours.” 

Michael Fenton & Mike Unrau
Co-Artistic Directors

Theatre Encounter’s vision is to create a world-class experimental theatre company and artistic & social research environment by reinventing the traditional into the contemporary, in order to push the cutting edge of artistic and social boundaries.

I’m not sure I really get it, but this spring I ought to have enough money to renew my passport and afford a trip to Calgary.  Sometimes it feels as though I’m balancing on the lip of an abyss and other times it’s as though my feet are guided by fate to a place I’ve been seeking a long time.  Most of the time, it’s both.  And that’s the way I want my life to be.  Encountered.

Nevertheless it’s surprising to discover “encounter theatre” which I’m only newly aware of and yet -- through NU -- deeply connected to, just a four hour drive across the border.  But then, Calgary was a key city for Bob and I in the Sixties as well.  I wonder if the Jade Palace is still open.

A sample review:

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