David Press has sent two documents from the bibliography at the end of his doctoral thesis about Alvina Krause’s teaching methods. I’m typing them into the blog called “Krausenotes.blogspot.com” but I’m doing it a bit at a time. They'll appear as individual posts on this blog, but as a continuous document on the other one, so it's easier to download. This is the course as I took it in 1958-59 and is evidently an account written out by AK for the use of John Van Meter who was taking on the teaching of the course. (The illustrations are from Google Images and have no relation to the text.)
People who have taken the course will recognize her “Socratic method” of asking questions, then answering them herself! She’d get into a kind of soft-voice rhythm that was almost hypnotic -- then stop, pace, turn sharply, and demand attention -- sometimes by doing something unexpected, like striking something -- or someone. “Now why did I do that?”
OUTLINE OF YEAR-LONG BASIC ACTING COURSE AS TAUGHT BY ALVINA KRAUSE AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY IN THE 1960-61 ACADEMIC YEAR.
Not AK, but a good actress
Includes orientation to Acting and Theatre, the training of the actor’s senses, a study of the nature of Responses in human beings; training in observation, training in concentration, training in improvisation. The class work is offered in conjunction with lab periods in which students work on voices and movement, discuss plays they have read outside of class. All of the work of the course is intended to supplement reading on and about the theatre which students have previously done or are currently doing or will do. Discussion with other students in the lounge and over coffee is expeced to further develop ideas which are brought forth in class. The student keeps a journal, the daily entries of which record his awareness and give him a means of holding conferences with his instructor.
Beginning acting is devoted to a study of the actor and his instrument, which is himself -- his senses, intellect, emotions, talent and its development, and a consideration of whether they should be used in the theatre. There are two subsequent courses: Analysis and Performance, which centers on the written play, and Styles, which concerns the actor and style in acting.
Actors must develop objectivity about his work, must know why he is good or bad, must be able to repeat night after night what he does, so as to give the audience its money’s worth. Acting is an art; it is not an accident.
It is sad at 18, 19, 20 to discover you are not what you want to be -- an actor. It’s tragic at 40, 45, 50 to wake up to the realization that you’re in a profession you never belonged in; then you may not go back. But it’s not tragic to find out now. Nothing you learn now will be harmful or wasted. It can be used in any profession or in life.
People say acting cannot be taught. I agree. I merely set forth principles. I criticize. I lead you. In the last analysis you must be self-teachers.
Theatre is not one art: it is a conglomerate art that turns what the playwright has said on the page into something more meaningful than life itself, whether it makes the audience laugh, cry, or think. Your goal is to illuminate the life, not to show off or get rich. It is to create art. All of the intuition in the world is not enough; what you know, do, must be put into meaningful form which illuminates, communicates, says something. It isn’t enough for theatre to be exciting, it has to mean something.
Theatre is a great profession, a great art; it requires greatness of the people in it. Everyone can read; but can you make a word say something else besides, say, “dirty”? Acting isn’t speaking a line or moving as directed. It is much more.
The difficulty in acting is that the actor is his own instrument; he acts with all he is. You have to look into your souls. You act with all that you are: all you have experienced, sensed, read, come to know up to this instant. When Antigone says: “I am the last of my line” on her final exit, what do you have in you that will illuminate this line? When Lady Macbeth says: “Will these hands ne’er be clean?” what is in you to show us a woman who can never look at her hands again? Look for what you have in you that indicates you have or will have the capacity to play Macbeth. Theatre involves a development of all you are. What you are can be added to that you can interpret life. Participate in the world: don’t shut your senses up too much.
There is no one single method of acting or teaching acting, as far as I can see. We have all been seeking THE Method; some think they have found it. I hope we keep seeking. What you learn here you will adapt to your own uses; challenge these ideas until you can accept them or discard them. It isn’t enough to talk about acting, to know it -- you must be able to do it.
A performance onstage is not life. It is an insult to an audience to ask it to believe this. A performance is scenery, lights, illusion which are intended to make an audience laugh, think cry. You don’t live a part, you give an audience an illusion of life. Our job is to make the illusion believable. A performance is never complete until it is before an audience. The audience reaction is a part of the performance. Acting is a communicative experience. Acting is not done for the joy of the actor, but is done for the audience. We believe or reject what we see onstage according to the degree that the illusion approaches a likeness to life. Actors must learn to be lifelike.
Drama lies not in words but in the pauses between words when something is happening to you; it lies in what we do to each other. What is drama? It is what makes you smile when you don’t mean to. Acting is responding, is reacting to a stimulus or stimuli. Part of a response maybe be words, but how much can words say? Some experiences are too deep for words, or too sudden. Melodrama is words and actions without motivation; motivation lies in the responses to stimuli which, in turn, touch off words. We response to a smell, a sound; the stimulus has to come first and then echoes our particular response. Responses onstage are not memorized things, but are freshly experienced each time the stimulus comes.
Acting is creating the behavior patterns of an individual in given situations -- the playwright’s situations. Behavior patterns come out in response to stimuli about you. Behavior patterns are total things. No two people respond to stimuli in the same way; how you respond is you. Has everyone felt jealousy? Well, have you felt Othello’s jealousy? Let’s hope not; he killed his dear wife. Many good actors and actresses draw from stored-up memories, impressions. The words on the page touch off something in hearing, tasting, smelling. You create out of what you have seen, heard, imagined, tasted, known. To create Lady Macbeth’s bloody hands, start with something you know. Shakespeare will give you more things to build on. The process of using memories, if well done, is unconscious. Directors can’t give you the truth great acting must have. Aspire to be great.
If the stimulus is real (i.e. if you respond to the right things in the stage situation with your senses and make the appropriate associations out of what you know about your character and about life) the emotion you want will follow automatically. You don’t create emotion -- it follows by itself on the heels of the stimulus.
First quarter is devoted to training senses, storing up impressions. Cleopatra’s jewel box is a tawdry thing supplied by props. But you have to touch it as it it were the real thing.