Alvina Krause (Photo by Tom Foral)
My four four-drawer filing cabinets have to go out to the attached garage because their weight is making my flimsy house sink in the middle. Since the only way I can wrestle them out there is to take everything out of the drawers, stack the files separately, move the frame out, then replace the files, I’m sorting as I go and some things just float out as single sheets. These were sent to me by Tom Foral.
Here are two bits written by Alvina Krause -- I have xeroxes of the original paragraphs in her hand-writing. There’s other material with it, but I’ll just post these two bits. Some is about students: a few get high praise and one gets the equivalent of a hit from a baseball bat. I left that out.
Annie May Swift Auditorium
The first paragraph is about her last day of teaching in the Annie May Swift auditorium, so familiar to many of us. A small space with double doors at the back and sides -- the side doors often standing open in hot weather because there was no air conditioning. A cramped stage which often meant sets of great ingenuity. Theatre-style seats, a bit worn, with the class clustered at the front and observers at the back, separated from each other.
Like an empress forced to abdicate, true to her Brit/German heritage, she wishes to play Elizabeth 2, wearing her purple dress with her silver comb in the roll of hair meant to make her subtly taller. Sensible shoes. She will always be on her feet as much as possible. “MOVE!” she urges, and strides back and forth. How else to handle the bittersweetness of bringing alive a culture now gone in actors who haven’t lost anything yet because they haven’t lived long enough. These people are intensely privileged and know they must earn it.
AK says: “Speaking of Chekhov -- He is so true, so terribly true, too damn true. Today and my last class ever in the auditorium I have lived in for 32 years. And I look at the names of people scheduled! Good people, good workers: I’ll be able to end it all with dignity, humor, savoir faire, gemutlichkeit, chin high. etc. And what happens? What irony of all ironies? I couldn’t do it better if I were writing a play. The next to the last number comes up and all the bells start ringing and the balloons are floating straight up: a girl whom I was crossing off as hardworking but one of my failures did Lubov of the ballroom scene -- and suddenly she was an actress and Lubov was real and Chekhov was up there on that stage!”
But there lingers a mystery worthy of BBC Sunday night plots. Some claim they’ve heard confessions about what went missing and they are believable. Suspects include competing faculty or ambitious grad students documenting what they hope will be a major book or actors looking for the secret of success. No one really knows. Some suspects are dead.
“. . .These days . . . were made more dark by a curious, selective theft that was made during the holidays. Between the dates of Dec. 14 and Jan. 2, when virtually all students had already left campus, and had not yet returned -- and I can account for practically all of them -- the cabinet in my office at school was emptied of all my lecture notes for every class I have ever taught here, including Creative Oral which I have not taught for five years or more, and B43 which I have not taught for two years. Everything that bore notes in my own handwriting -- including a paperback of “Hamlet” whose margins were filled with notes -- and my lecture notes on all courses which I am not teaching: Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw, Ibsen, some “Styles” outlines (Thank God I had the last quarter of “Styles” outlines at home!) A most careful job of selection: it must have been at least an hour, for the cabinet was jam-packed. Everything not in my form was left and was meticulously sorted and stacked: mimeographing, newspaper clippings, pictures: all such material is carefully shelved. And my Lear Blue Books -- Gone! I had kept most of them in their original blue book form. And a few “Long Days J” blue books. Someone has acquired a pretty complete record of my work here for thirty years, for most of the notebooks -- B43, for instance -- were cumulative. It isn’t the loss I mind so much, although it is going to be inconvenient each quarter to jot down course outlines. The disturbing element is suspicions that I cannot shut out, much as I try. Questions: Who? Why? For what purpose? Isn’t it a beautiful mystery?”
Blue books were meant to be for writing exams. They had pale blue covers and were half-size, a legal sheet folded and stapled along the crease. AK liked them for notes because they were easy to hold and write in without a clipboard, resistant to the wind blowing them around, more the size of a book than a script. Her writing was usually in pencil but clear enough to read easily. She often posted notes about a play in rehearsal by thumbtacking the book to the bulletin board and then we’d take them down to copy, sometimes wearing off the pencil lead until the writing was faint. We thought that everything she said was a word from on high, a clue to the nature of the universe.
She didn’t always think that herself. One quote that I’m not recording here is about a poor actor who is “in a haze” about the “line” of his character and her own struggle to find where the difficulty was so as to dispel the confusion. In the end she did it. So much of creativity is withstanding the ambiguity and doubt that can invade anyone, no matter how experienced. In some ways this is almost worse than “getting it wrong”. As she says in the guidelines for Eaglesmere, “Not knowing one’s lines is grounds for dismissal.” But the real crime is not WORKING. Working was the key to the universe. But not a guarantee of quality.
There is no way in the world for someone to steal AK’s brilliance by physically stealing all her notes. Sure, they were a record of her thinking at the time, but part of her insecurity when people tried to write about her -- and the source of her inability to make big pronouncements about “how to do it,” as the Manhattan “Method” teachers did -- was that the only real text was the person standing in front of her. Written or recorded advice is all very well, and often helpful, but acting is a time-art, the management of consciousness, and vulnerable to everything from the weather to international politics. Empathy is the only instrument for an acting teacher or a stage director.
Western culture has been dominated by the idea of written material, even sacralizing it. But whoever stole the class notes of AK and whatever they did with them (burned? hidden? handed off to someone else? sold?) and whether or not they ever surface, her “Method” will be preserved in the living memories and performances of those who enact it, like ballerinas keeping the “Ballet Russe” in their heads and feet. Still, it is essentially written on water, to be rediscovered only by immersion.
"The Art of Floating" promotional image for a benefit
at Alvina Krause Theatre in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania
Still, these two fragments of significant events carry evocative mental pictures that we can add to our own consciousness -- even if we weren’t there.