Saturday, May 31, 2014


An institution is nothing but an organized version of a paradigm, a set of culture concepts that people more or less assume to be true and so insist on.  As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, when the paradigm stops working, people stop believing in it.  The institutional paradigm of “marriage” is breaking down.  

Reasons include:

1.  Economics:  a woman needn’t be dependent on a man’s income and assets while many men -- maybe the majority -- no longer earn enough money to support a wife, children, and a home.
2.  Ability to control conception of children.
3.  Willingness to abandon or eject children.

4.  Genetic research indicating that monogamous mammals are practically nonexistent: they all get a little on the side if they can.  Birds are more likely pair-bonded, but not always.
5.  Longevity means that human “life-long” can now be a century instead of a few decades.  Relationships tend to be unstable, accumulating children with blurry claims.
6.  Institutionalized nursing, combat, home-maintenance, and urban living make it possible for individuals to survive on their own.

7.  Obvious suffering of women in the old systems.
8.  Belief that people should not be owned by other people.
9.  Reaching the limits of what people can earn.
10.  Punishing poverty with imprisonment and fines.
11.  Big anonymous cities (hide).
12.  Almost unlimited mobility (escape).

Religious institutions have lost their grip on ceremonies of dedication to marriage and children, let alone respect for celibacy.  What was once a serious matter worthy of counseling has slid into being a sort of party about coming of age, esp. for women.  In an effort to keep children born out of wedlock from being shamed, we have succeeded in making everyone shameless, to the point of frothy white wedding dresses designed for the pregnant bride.

Government has had somewhat the same fate.  Over and over guys who wanted to “throw a leg over” have insisted that marriage is just a piece of paper.  Laws that require a father to support his child, and the DNA proof of which child that is, ought to have a sobering effect, as do divorce laws that automatically award a percentage of the couple’s assets according to the length of time they’ve been married.  Very few people sit down to read the state’s laws about ownership and legal obligations in marriage, instead picking up a lot of miscellaneous ideas from television shows where the screenwriters have invented generic locations.  If marrying an enrolled Indian or an immigrant, legal or not, a look into the laws would be very very smart.
Avoid extraterrestrials

Another medical category is disease, fertility, and so on.  Since even microbes have DNA and even viruses have families, it is possible to discover who was contagious, the bug-donor.  Why should the public care?   Because we’re all at risk, because it’s expensive to fight epidemics, because the emergency room at a hospital and the welfare support system both pay out a LOT to people who are in over their heads.  That’s TAX money.

Government’s main job is to keep order and to provide benefits that can’t easily be provided by individuals, mostly infrastructure networks.  Often this extends into medical contexts, even unto death and burial, by dictating who has access to patients in hospitals or make decisions about their treatment.  Taxation, insurance, liability, inheritance and other matters may include weighting in favor of old-fashioned legally married people and their children.
Prince William and Katherine -- but you knew that.

More than any of that technical stuff, the emotional consequences of marriage take people by surprise.  Violence, for instance.  Loving someone more than they love back.  Discovering pasts that come by ambush to claim energy, money, caring.  One’s earliest experience of nuclear family dynamics can erupt into the present, distorting reality and sanity.  Demands from the partner may turn out to be extraordinary: coping with kidnapping or extortion, involvement in gambling, mutilating damage from burns or war, PTSD, surviving community natural disasters or just one’s home’s destruction, addictions of various kinds, chronic diseases.  Loss of a child.  Stigma.  Community hostility.  These days one cannot discount national revolution and riots.

If the love is a true and growing bond, it will ask for many compromises and heartaches, but on the other hand provide someone who is always there, holding out a hand, guarding your back, keeping the bed warm.  That means you have a lot to lose.

When an institution gets hold of a cultural paradigm, it builds it in, tries to make it a law so it won’t go away.  Think of the wedding industry!   If people are on their fourth marriage, unashamed and still prepared to go into debt for all the fancy stuff, it’s great for sales.  All those slick magazines!  All those teenaged girls escaping into fantasy!  All those middle-aged people marrying who can afford so much more!  All those pretty little churches available to rent by people who are sentimental, but not sentimental enough to have established a relationship with their own church.  By the way, wedding cakes and garters are not religious -- they're only merchandise.

But it is the religious institutions who hang on to marriage the hardest.  They muster all the energy they have to summon supernatural forces, though that often raises peculiar problems: if humans are physically reconstituted in heaven -- at what age? Do you get missing parts back?  If persons were married three or fourth times, how does that work out?  Or, changing institutions, don’t any of those insurgents realize how much trouble a hundred virgins would be?  Or maybe they’re not teenagers -- would that be better or worse?  Pruney old maids?  Does the fantasy include boy virgins?

Like contemporary political parties, today's religious institutions are sundered and splintered and contradict each other into paralysis.  The governmental institutions at all levels and in their various departments are just as bad.  No wonder they have no credibility when it comes time for one to curb the other.  It is all too clear that they are simply preserving their own authority and existence rather than trying to find ways to help the people who fund them and suffer from them.

But most humans hope for a special and significant other that matches well enough for the partnership to go on a long time, long enough to grow together and really know each other, share memories, not have to explain everything.  Synergy is the word for two things that are fine separately, but make a jump into much higher value and function when combined.

So what new cultural paradigm is forming?  Gays who marry -- some of whom adopt -- may require a good deal of economic jiggering, maybe require new legal documents stipulating how to handle property and parenthood.  Will some better way of handling abandoned children come out of this?  We can hope.  What will be the final outcome of all the people who so value genomic children of their own that they pay out huge fees and suffer physical pain and risk?  Even now a divorce settlement must include provision for sperm, ova, and conceptia that have been frozen for later activation into children.  Some people care a lot more about them -- since they’re only fantasy -- than about their own rebellious, desperate children.  The law now forbids using those biological resources for anything but becoming children of the donors -- will that change as the authority of religion institutions is weakened more and more?

What should be the minimum obligations of married people to each other?  What will automatically cancel the relationship?  Should there be two stages: one a commitment to intimacy and the other to the creation and raising of children?  (Margaret Mead suggested that many years ago.)   Should there be tests before people are certified for marriage -- not just for STD’s but for financial competency, home maintenance, child-management skills?  How would you enforce such a thing in a culture where people hook up with strangers in bars without so much as catching their names?  Should there be some system of something like kibbutzim for the raising of children in groups?  (How would they be different from old-fashioned miserable orphanages?)  What would the KIDS want?  I think probably a mom and dad, or a mom and mom, or a dad and dad, or at least a mom OR a dad.  Village optional.

Friday, May 30, 2014


Kevin Spacey, "Ordinary Decent Criminal"

“Dance-away Transgressors” are people who might be simply pests and might be terrorists but are always tricksters.  I just watched “Ordinary Decent Criminal” in which Kevin Spacey is an Irish example -- not NRA, not Garda, but just a clever guy who gets away with  theft .  A fellow needs to feed his family, after all.  The roots of this role go back into the primates, who mostly trick each other for food or sex.  Robin Hood is an English version. Brer Rabbit comes from Africa.  Napi and other prairie tricksters closely related to Coyote come from around here -- Napi is a Blackfeet word.  There’s been one in every seventh grade class I’ve ever taught.  Usually, but not always, a boy.  Some of them are grandparents now and have turned out fine: high energy, good sense of humor, ability to connect with others like themselves, creative thinkers.

Brer Rabbit, dance-away trickster

Transgressors who dance-away are the little guys, not the 500 pound gorillas who sleep where they want to.  Transgressors use their wits rather than their muscles.  Think Judo.  Think a million-zillion movies.  Think frontier bandits. Think the underdog-always-wins if he or she is tricky enough.  Think abused runaway kids.  At first they get the label “transgressor” which is the same as “bad boy.”  Because they were beaten or humiliated they learned how to land a counter-punch, dancing away just in time.  Because their abusers were often not so much malicious as out-of-control (drunk, high, fubar brain wiring), they’re easy to evade and even control -- up to a point.  They pass out, don't they?

People who wish to do needy and hurt kids some good -- to help them -- are often frustrated because they are employed people who are controlled by their salaries and who cope with kids by controlling them any way they can. That sets off alarm bells in a dance-away transgressor. You have to go to their terms, to empower them.  It’s not a matter of money.  It’s not a matter of explaining to them that  they are being bad and hurting themselves.  They already know that.  

Most do-gooders are operating with the backing of some institution, which means a hierarchy, which means that the front-line do-gooders are also being controlled -- by people who want results because their jobs depend upon them.  Dance-away transgressive kids then become liable to force, confinement, misguided operant conditioning, secret threats, and other abusive practices.  The supervisors of the frontline people may allow serious violence: drugs, restraint chairs, tasers, stock prods, sexual favors -- all the things we hear about at Guantanamo -- all the while hiding those practices.  The people who raise money for the institution would not like publicity about such practices, but they aren't there, so it's easy to pretend they don't know.

When I was a toddler, the cynical old lady next door advised my mother to “break that one early or you’ll never be able to do it.”  Where are the toddler-whisperers?  Aren’t toddlers mammals, too?   We break horses and children.  That approach sometimes creates a killer horse.  Or a zombie horse.

Do-gooders always think its about money because it is.  Christopher Hitchen’s criticism of Mother Theresa was that all the time she was lovingly carrying babies and saying kind things to dying people, she had enough money stashed away to pay for food and medicines but never used it.  She was NOT a dance-away transgressor.  She was a stubborn do-gooder who didn’t want to lose her role, her image of herself, or her absolute control.  The obsession with control is what leads to sexual abuse of children by institutional religious workers.  And others.  Esp. the ones who are “broken” in both senses.

Being a dance-away transgressor is a culture, a role in a complex of cultures, a way for the little guy to survive when the larger culture is greedhead hoarding and ostentatious displays of power.  It’s not always a conscious choice.  Sometimes it’s just a revulsion against the way things stack up, a necessity for emotional survival.  Transgressors can be as stubborn as do-gooders.  If a dance-away is caught and punished -- as they usually are when the enforcers of the status quo are lucky and circumstances create a trap (say, a disease that makes them dependent on help) -- they just learn from it and go right on.  For every set of bars there is a set of spaces between them.  Even if that space is a death dance, feet moving in the air beneath a suspended body.

James Bond is a dance-away transgressor, but he acts in the interest of the government.  A case can be made that the American Indian tribes taught the Revolutionaries how to win the war against the British Empire because they fought as dance-away transgressors (guerrillas).  The case is also made that the Ulster Scots have been the element of success in most American military conflicts, to argue that their history -- thrown off their land, forced to emigrate, living on margins and borders, surviving famine and disease -- has taught them to be dance-away transgressors, living in remote places, hideouts.  But James Bond has no dependents, no ties but his employer, no intimacies -- just sex.  That’s one price for being a dance-away.   The pretense is that he is a "good" transgressor and necessary because the really bad transgressors keep dancing away.  They are always one bad guy -- break him and the problem is solved.  Fantasy.

James Bond, alcoholic

Contemporary boys get thrown out of their homes, escape from schools, work their way north across international borders, live in the interstices of the cities any way they can.  They teach us not to see them.  What James Bond knows that even the Kevin Spacey character didn’t quite grasp, is that if a dance-away transgressor has intimates, those people can be punished.  So the trafficker doesn’t threaten to kill the kid -- he threatens to kill his best friend or maybe his family back in Ecuador.  Then it is very hard to dance away.  Pimps learn not to hurt offending girls, but to hurt her best friend and make her watch.  Script writers picked up on that idea so quickly that it implies they already knew the pattern in their own lives.

At the heart of the dance-away lover paradigm is fear of capture or fear that intimacy (falling in love, believing in a family) will only break your heart in the end.  Or that people will find out what you’re really like.  Or that they will demand that you change in some unbearable way -- maybe get rid of your dog.  Proving to such a boy that such a thing will not happen will take time -- maybe years.  Might never happen.  Might not be true anyway.

Tom and Huck in an unreleased movie

Huck Finn was a dance-away transgressor but so was Tom Sawyer.  The problem for a do-gooder is that they see the kids are suffering -- and it’s possible that they are.  But maybe to the kid it’s worth it to have the freedom, at least that’s what a lot of street kids say.  Do-gooders working for institutions don’t understand freedom.  Danceaway transgressors don’t understand healthy dependence (no experience). The other problem for do-gooder institutions is that street kids are vectors as surely as fleas on dogs.  They are contagious for everything from crabs to HIV.  And the consequences are expensive to society.

But the most contagious thing of all is attitude.  When humans lived in a small bands, the biggest, fiercest, best hunter guy made danceaway transgressors behave by forcing young males out, so that they formed their own bands and helped each other survive.  (I’m not just talking humans. Elk.  Horses.)  This was good for the survival of the group because the alpha male dominated the gene pool and presumably he had the survival genes.  So the group went along with it.

But surviving in modern society might best favor the dance-away transgressor, not the ones who avoid every intimacy or are afraid of being known, but the ones with attitude, the hunter-gatherers who find insight, beauty, meaning, alternatives.  The ones who are brave enough to run, but then can find ways to start new groups that don’t depend on money, hierarchy, control, violence.  No primate can dream of this -- only humans.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Some assumptions simply are not true.  But I can find confirmation in media reports and formal “papers” of at least the following:

Not all homeless kids are impossible to handle or mentally ill.  Some are.

Not every kid who has been sexually abused becomes a sexual abuser.  A few do.  It’s the ones who sing “I’m depraved on account a’ I’m deprived” who produce the illusion.  But there IS truth to it -- just not universal.

Not every family is destructive, neglectful, violent, or chaotic.  Too many are.  And it has a lot to do with poverty.

Not every single-parent family with only a mom is dysfunctional -- they just are a lot harder and take more energy.  Same for military families, 2 career families, single-parent families with only a dad, and so on.

Not every baby is born out of wedlock.  Last year 42% were.  In the US.  All social categories.

Not every male is sexually harassed/abused/raped/violently raped to the point of death.  At least one in six is somewhere on that continuum.

Not every girl on a campus is sexually harassed, abused, raped while drunk and unconscious, killed in an act of sexual violence.  At least one in eight is.  Many more than that just clam up and take it.  

So how do we know?  Sometimes there are pretty reliable studies but you could probably challenge everything above if you were looking for exact figures.  Those of us who live near or on Indian Reservations, whether or not we are Indian, realize that there is a LOT of violence and much of it is against women and most of it is mixed with drug and alcohol abuse, esp. the latter.  Ask any Tribal Cop.  Try to get figures?  Impossible.  The victims suck it up.  They hide.  They scatter.  They trust no one.  Today a cashier in my bank, female with a brother who is a deputy sheriff, told me that there were deputy sheriffs she knew of who stalked young women enough to creep the girls out, including her daughter.  She said now those rats had been pushed out, moved on.  I wonder.

Plenty of deprived kids -- hated, beaten, raped, starved, tethered and caged -- still manage to become decent human beings.  Some have help and some don’t.  They have to think of it, know what it is they’re trying for, have some examples (“modeling”).

How many people keep in mind that the whole LBGTQX thing has so many letters because they are so assorted?  It’s a rainbow -- not a checkerboard.  A recently arrived minister in Montana declared there was no race problem in the prisons here -- because all she knew in the big city was black and white -- to her, red was invisible.

So, the varieties of “gay” include  (I sorta clumped ‘em):

1.  People who sexually desire other people of the same gender who are also gay.
2.  People who sexually desire other people of their own gender who are straight.
3.  People who are vanilla in all ways except sexual desire.

4.  People who don’t feel as though they are the right gender: their bodies don’t match their psyches.  They may want surgery to be consistent.
5.  People who are fine with being their gender but don’t fit the way their culture assigns gender traits and roles.  (Girls who want to be scientists, boys who want to dance ballet; tough tomboys, quiet library gents.)
6.  People who like to dress up as the opposite gender.

7.  People who just like sex and don’t particularly care which gender the hole might be.
8.  People who were forced into same sex performance (prison, isolation) and got used to it.

9.  People who would just as soon take care of matters themselves.
10.  Paraphilias: displaced preferences, fetishes.

11.  People who conflate sex with violence, control, mastery, domination, pain with them only dishing it out, never being hurt themselves.
12.  People who long to be hurt, controlled, dominated.
13.  People who just want to watch.

Sex is a force, not an object.  A verb, a tide, a wind, a process.  NOT a “thing” that stays the same.  In fact, the human race only persists because sex is a force that adapts, that sneaks through the cracks, an opportunistic irresistibility.  It cannot be managed by force without snuffing out people.  It is often cleverly disguised as something else.  That's called sublimation.

Not all gays are pedophiles.
Not all gays who are pedophiles want sex with little children or babies.  There are KINDS of pedophilia.  It means “love of children” and doesn’t necessarily have to be twisted or inappropriate or damaging.

Adolescents of any gender may be okay with relationships with their preferred gender with age differences.  Much older people might be okay or not.  (Older means access to “adult” things like booze and big money.)

Adolescents want to be responsible for their own sex lives but may be unable to protect themselves from predators.  Sometimes they don’t survive.

Criminal laws are decided by cultures.  They have the power to imprison and thus impose their standards.  Like any other difference across boundaries, those who identify and enforce laws can use that to their profit.  Power means the ability to break laws and to use exemptions for bribes.  Every culture pretends their way is the only way to go, because they figure if people know there are other ways, they won’t conform.  They’re right.

This North American culture expects sex to define identity, success, wealth, worthiness -- why else would a college student, son of a movie director, shoot girls dead for not “putting out.”  Boys can be shot for the same reason -- not usually by girls.  

In our culture sex is attached to appearance, not to capacity for intimacy.
Violence is worse when it’s intimate.  
Intimacy is worse if there’s no consent.
Violence is worst if it’s intimate, there is no consent, and it’s a family member.

Being blood related is not the same as being attached, bonded, protective and protected.  Genetics means nothing if the emotional relationship is missing.  The Western fascination with “blood” (really meaning genetics) is because ownership, entitlement, and governance are linked to genetically-based inheritance.  It's a way of keeping order.

Economic and/or political forces push people into certain roles and behaviors.  If there are a number of people in a category, it is possible to speak of them as a group and give them a name, particularly if the category is based on power, sex or religion.  So people who were attracted to a life of strict self-discipline, celibacy, simplicity, and devotion which they expressed ecstatically in a communal context, became “Quakers” because they quaked.  It was a pejorative name, meant to be mocking, which they claimed for themselves.  Now it is a name that has lost its negative overtones and is a rather large complex of people who have developed variations and subgroups from the original root.  In some ways, assuming that a “name” means a real entity is totally misleading.  Names “create” entities that are fantasies.

The term “gay” seems to be something like that.  At first a term about a carefree attitude, then prostitutes, then an endorsement of hedonism, then slipping into a euphemism -- first used evidently by Gertrude Stein in regard to female pursuits -- then to wildly carefree males, with a scornful sub-category by kids that means stupid or weak.  But in recent decades it was politicized in something like the way “black is beautiful” became a rallying statement.  (But how black do you have to be to be beautiful?)  

Gay was a cry of freedom and letters kept being added until there was a “rainbow.”  It was a defense, and a demand.  The connection to human hard-wired desire preference or body identity was subsumed by the demand to set one's own terms  in the face of culturally imposed rules and expectations.

So far, no one has really analyzed the relationship of gay to heterosexual “Pick Up Culture” as has been shockingly claimed and illustrated by media dealing with the recent shooting of women who scorned a Pick Up Artist with a pretty face and an ugly attitude.  Pick Up Culture asserts that all women should go to bed with any man who asks, an amazing reversal of the old “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” male psychologist’s claim that he would go to bed with any woman who wanted sex from him because he had counseled so many neglected and ignored women.  (And that was BEFORE Viagra!)  PUC claims the idea from men-on-men sex -- that could be musical chairs because no one could get pregnant -- but then came AIDS and death.

Recently I watched a film that was supposed to be about recreating a section cut out of a movie called “Cruising.”  Then I watched “Cruising” -- they’re both on Netflix.  And I watched the voice-over version by the writer/director, who claimed he had the brilliant idea of attaching an ordinary murder mystery to the leather bar scene in Manhattan and exploiting the whole connection until it became a public conviction.  He named it, he said -- not “leather bars” but “leather bar murders,” as an inevitable entailment of cruising.   He claimed that he filmed extensively in real leather bars (imagine that!) but that the footage was mysteriously lost, but they re-enacted it, but then that disappeared, too.  His assertion was that most of the men in the leather bars, so costumed and menacing, were in fact bored young professionals who never went much farther than a little pinch and tickle, letting their butts hang out, etc.  Maybe so.  Any statistics?  Standard deviation?

High class homosexuals, thanks to so many witty playwrights and novelists, have had an image of being Oscar Wilde if not Ambrose Bierce -- insightful, elite and acid.  They are a genre.  The leather stuff came in via the bikers, Marlon Brando and the Wild Ones.  The two attitudes -- when rightly-blended -- were fire and gasoline.  Nevertheless, they were as much a sales platform as a lifestyle, and as always the buyer should beware.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


SPRING QUARTER (1960-1961)


1. To give students the experience of developing a characterization for a play and presenting its component parts onstage so as to communicate to spectators what the author wanted them to know about that character; to follow through on the actor’s Creative Process in connection with one role.

2.  To acquaint students with the concepts which underlie the acting of comedy and to develop some techniques used in acting Comedy.


 1.  To continue development of everything else the student has been working on during the year.  See outlines of previous quarters.


1.  Comedy of character results from opposite elements (incongruities) in a person’s makeup coming into evidence; the actor must dramatize the opposites, throw focus onto them, play them off against each other so as to evoke laughter.

2.  Sample opposites would include:  Prossy’s primness, efficiency, capability being upset by Marchbank’s reference to “love”, so that we see the real woman underneath; Prossy after a glass of champagne lets us see her two selves; a person who has a relaxed body and voice, but who uses “intense” language, is manifesting an opposite; a person wanting to help out in some way, but making a mess of things, etc.

3.  Drama is the one thing coming in conflict with another; you can have comedy that is very close to pathos -- and this is the finest kind.

4.  In comedy things are often in excess: there is too much excitement, too much intensity, too much eagerness, too much casualness, or something in relation to what is doing on, in relation to the other stimuli.  (Athene Seyler’s idea that comedy depends upon the audience recognizing a “norm” of behavior from which the character in some way deviates.)

5. Actors must avoid doing too many different things, adding little extra wiggles and embellishments and the like, which distract the audience from seeing and hearing what is significant.

6.  When comedy results from the situation, you are in the realm of farce; comedy of character is something else.

7.  Opposites can be played simultaneously, or alternatingly; one can come in and cut off the other; actors: use arrests, realization!

8.  In verbal comedy, lines have to be “landed”, to be made to hit out front and connect with the spectator.

9.  Comedy acting -- or any acting -- will lack freshness if you just do a sequence of planned things without responding to the stimuli which touch off responses and actions.  Avoid breaking lines up too much, or speaking too slowly.

10.  Play reactions of surprise to the hilt.

11.  Everything you wear and do must have a purpose, must make a statement to the audience; you must not offend us, for when we are offended, we will not laugh.

12.  Before studying a role, the actor must study the play itself; ask: what is the author’s purpose in writing the play; since it is theatre, it is to entertain -- through laughter, through the exaltation of tragedy, or through enlightenment and making people think; a few dramatists want the audience to do something, like fight for the brotherhood of man.  State in a word or phrase the subject matter of the play.  Then state the theme of the play, which is always a comment on the subject.  Theme must determine everything you do.

13.  Too often actors deliver a line and then stop as if they wanted the other actor to go on.  This looks false.  Hence, the need for something else to concentrate on, something for the mind to be occuped with, for a divided focus, something else to go on reacting to.

14.  Comedy of character is based on real character traits and does not make fun of people, does not caricature.

15.  The dominant drive of a character can be summarized in a “psychological action”.  Watch the eyes of people to see what their goals are; if they tend to put on a complete mask, watch their mouths.

16.  You can’t just create a character; the character has to be part of an organic whole.

17.  You illuminate a theme by finding your position in relation to it; then the audience adds it all up.

18.  Be careful you don’t work to create the mood you think exists; do what the characters do for the reasons they do them and let the audience create the mood from this.

19.  Voice and movement are an outer manifestation of something: curiosity, wonder, etc.

20.  Improvisation has as its goal (or as one of them) creating the inner life of a character -- the many-leveled thinking that goes on; if words come out, they are only part of it.

21.  In acting, start with essences, don’t act the “buts,” at least at first.

22.  Remember that drama takes up near crises, moves towards crises; don’t key things too low, or you won’t get to the crises; intensify the conflicts; intensification is an imaginative process; make distances bigger.

23.  Drama lies in the moments of transition.

24.  Creation is creation of stimuli.

25.  To stimulate imagination in connection with characterization, find the metaphor for your character and present it in fantasy form.

26.  Bodies must reveal what is going on inside the person; you are faking if your bodies don’t reveal anything;  start with a character’s spine.

27.  The discovery that comes from analysis must lead into kinesthetic responses in your body.


There are two strong memories I have of the work along these lines.  One was a character AK loved to play -- a runt of a belligerent Irishman, three sheets to the wind with his dukes up ready to punch out some offender.  But wait, it’s necessary to find someone to hold his coat.  Wouldn’t want to dirty his coat.  The woman would be angry.  “Now I’m going to knock your block off and you’ll rue the day . . .  but first I’m that thirsty, I’ve got to have another beer!”  She’d dance in and out, feinting at the shoulder of her victim and then backpedaling away, stopping to roll her sleeves up a little farther, thumbing "his" nose to look fierce, never really doing more than shadow boxing, the little banty rooster of a man’s intentions of aggression entirely undercut by his actual ineffectuality.

The other was a little game that Paula Ragusa/Prentiss used to play as an improv.  She had invited the local parson to tea.  She herself was an ever-so-proper but rather mischievous old lady who fully intended to put a spider into Rev. Applebaum’s tea.  What a delightful thought!   But one must not give away one’s intentions, so “Lemon in your tea, Reverend?”  Maybe the spider could just be slipped in under . . .

This list looks less like a course outline than a compendium of remarks made in class.  I suspect Weldon.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


WINTER QUARTER (1960-1961)


1.  To acquaint students with the nature of Imagination; to show them how Imagination may be stimulated and developed and used in Acting;  to begin mastery of the use of Imagination.  Principle teaching device:  the Fantasy Exercise based on three words, to be found in Modern Acting: A Manual.

2.  To acquaint students with concepts of Thought Between Lines (Sub-text); Multi-level Awareness and Response; Interplay; Transfer of Thought and Emotion; Playing from Moment to Moment; Recognizing Climaxes (the exact moment of transfer or change) in Scenes; Realizations; the Use of Metaphors in Acting.  To develop skill in the use of this knowledge.

3.  To acquaint students with the nature of the Vicarious Experience; to show them how vicarious experiences derived from reading and observation may be utilized in acting.  Principal teaching device:  The semester-long study by each student of a character from a good novel of character, and the presentation by the students of a series of improvisations and situations from the novel.  The students’ objectives in this work are (1) to make the audience believe he is the character and (2) to love himself in the role.  The written Journal and weekly laboratory exercises continue to supplement the classwork.


1.  To continue the work of the first quarter, the comprehension and use of Concentration, Observation, the Visual Sense, the Auditory Sense, the Taste and Gustatory Senses, the Kinesthetic Sense; of Sense Memory; of Memory for Experience; on insight into the reasons for human behavior; of insight into the nature of what is “dramatic” and “theatrical;” the use of body and voice in acting; of improvisational techniques; of the discipline and ethics required of theatre workers; of insight into play construction; of Truth in Acting; of the influence of environment on people; of how to show Reality onstage; of how to communicate with audiences and control one’s work; on allowing analysis to move into the realm of action; of theatre and acting terminology.


1. Imagination is the actor’s creative faculty;  it involves using what the actor has observed, knows of himself and others, and has experienced -- is the faculty which selects, recombines, intensifies what we have in us to work with.

2.  Belief in whatever is created by the actor as truth also stems from the imagination.

3.  The ability to visualize completely the appearance of a character comes from the use of the imagination.

4.  Fantasy exercises get the imagination going; fantasy takes up where experience leaves off.

5.  There must be continuity in acting, as there is in life; bad theatrical performances have “gaps” in them.

6.   It is possible to analyze inanimate objects (like the lectern in the auditorium, or a brace of pistols, or a Greek column) to see what qualities these objects possess -- qualities which could be carried over into a person if that person were “like” the object; this is how metaphors are used in acting.  The kinesthetic observation of objects can be done without even having to think.

7.  An audience must never be in the dark about what you are doing onstage; give one positive cue after another that will add up to meaning.

8.  You establish an environment (in a fantasy, say) by doing single things; there has to be an arrest, a focus, on the first significant thing you do; when you sense that the audience begins to “see,” you add the new cue on top of the old one; the first thing you do onstage is especially important;  acting is a process of supplying details that will “add up” for the audience -- it is a process of funding.

9.  There must be no vagueness onstage; in performing a fantasy, tell your audience when the “curtain” is going up; every movement must have a beginning, middle, end.

10.  If, in a fantasy, you are going to twinkle like a star, first you must find the way to establish the idea of your being a star in space before you twinkle; if the star is to “turn human,” the audience has to be able to watch the evolution from object to being.  Never assume that an audience can read your mind; give them what they need to know to comprehend.

11.  Along with doing things one at a time, each detail must be sustained long enough for the audience to focus on it; often an actor can create suspense: we may not know at first what he is or what he is doing, but it will be done with such intensity that it will compel our attention and make us watch intently for the cue that will tell us.

12.  When an audience becomes aware of an incongruity (say between an intense body position of a performer and his wide-open, innocent eyes) it may laugh.  Comedy depends upon the dramatization of such “opposites.”

13.  To help carry off a Transfer, the players must concentrate on their characters’ purposes, must have goals to play toward. 

14.  Playing together results in a scene which seems natural, true, inevitable in its development;  too many actors try to manipulate situations, scenes.  Response to one another, to what you see and hear, makes for interplay.

15.  Onstage, the flow of thought continues all the time; when it comes up against a problem, words may stop for a moment, but not the drama of the situation.

16.  In rehearsal, use the most real props you can; the handling of them has something to do with the truthfulness of responses.

[THERE’S A MISSING PAGE HERE.  I’LL SEE IF I CAN TRACE IT.  I'm not entirely sure whether this is from the Van Meter notes or the Bleiler notes or even possibly something that AK composed for the administration.  But it rings true.]

31.  Sample questions asked of students working on characters from novels, questions designed to steer their thinking and to touch off visualizations, the use of their imagination, etc.;  What kind of tables are going to be in her (Emma Bovary) life?  What does she want?  Where do we want things?  Why does the author call her Emma Bovary? . . .  Anna Karenina sits on a “settee.”  We should begin to sense the road she will travel the moment we see her . . .  “Emma!”  What does she hear when her husband calls her? . . .  Kathy is outside?  Think of the title:  Wuthering Heights;  What kind of heights?  What’s the word?  Shout it!  Name should tear her in the vitals.  What’s the wind like?  Show us!  Too much face; how do you walk against the wind?  Heights: it’s on top; barren; stark; covered with mist; you can see valleys below; a particular place for her is a crag; get the joy of conquering; etc.

32.  Surround your character with the little things that make up his world; it’s our responses to our environment which makes us what we are.

33.  Test for how well performer may be doing with his improvisation of a character from a novel:  do you begin to see the character, rather than the actor?  An hour from now will you remember the character?  Have people onstage begun to change?  To what extent have they changed?  Has your thinking changed?  Have you done something different physically?  Everything around you -- objects, noises, aromas, etc. -- part of your new subtext.

34.  “If --” is a good starting point . . . “If my father is --,” “If I lived in --”, etc.

35.  To get at characters: do the things they do -- their work; go for their walks; develop their attitudes toward everything in their lives; do something.

36.  A goal of acting: to show three-dimensional people emerging from a background.

Monday, May 26, 2014


As I type this material I am 75 and fairly widely read, so naturally much more strikes me than did when I was 18 and only read novels.  One thing I note (maybe I read it somewhere) is how much AK comes back and back to the Elizabethans and the Greeks as epitomizing what it is to be free and alive.  Other writers have noted this.  In the Sixties, just before the cultural renaissance called New Age (if you accept that characterization), American culture was celebratory.  We had won WWII, we all owned cars and houses -- but it was unseemly to show off our conviction that we were a “peak culture,” so we implied it by associating ourselves with two other periods that were grand and cultured.

Now, of course, we are looking at the end of things, diminishment, confusion, and want to think about neanderthals and the end of the Roman Empire as well as the end of the English empire.  It’s a playwright’s problem, but also one for the actors.  Perhaps AK is so fond of Ibsen and Chekov because they are critical and see “modern” as not so fail-safe.  But my high school teachers in the Fifties also held up Elizabethans and Greeks as exemplars.  Were the Sixties and Seventies an attempt to return to those periods in some way?

The point for an acting teacher is that a sound knowledge of culture and history is vital.  How did AK come by her opinions of how people did things long ago?


Can be put together but are separate.  Gustatory is in tastebuds in tip and sides of tongue, but there is also a response in the stomach.  Other sense is in the nose.  These are two senses that have become dull -- very.  [Sometime I wonder how much of what AK thinks is true of the society is in fact her own self projected.  She is aging, thus her senses become more dull.]

Begin acting by asking why is this character in the play, why is this scene in the play.  One Foot in America (opening U.T. show of this season) is filled with eating scenes.  How you eat, your response to food, is youOne Foot is folk drama -- delineates a folk through their love-making, hatreds, etc., exists to reveal a people.  We saw a group of people onstage acting -- sitting around a table and doing what?  Why does your mouth water at the thought of food?  . . .  Once there was a reason for a prayer before a meal; when our attitude toward food changed, the prayer went.  AK recollects a man who smiled at food, another man who thought a baked potato was “beautiful.”  Comments on how long a novelist takes to describe about food, eating, etc. which we can show in an instant onstage.  She refers to other eating scenes in Studio Theatre plays class has seen:  Sicilian Limes, Demi-Monde; recollects her first French breakfast:  “Ze butter is in ze roll!” an article in the New Yorker about a restauranteur who goes around tasting food, asks class to distinguish between a gourmet and a gourmand.  

Eating reveals national characteristics.  In the last scene of R.U.R. there are people in tails after dinner drinking brandy -- have reached the highest level of sophistication, but only one man onstage recalls how to handle a brandy glass.  If you have a drink to handle onstage, know what it must tell.  You say you can’t eat and talk?  People do it.  The way you size up your plate (or don’t), put in the first fork-ful, etc. all reveal something about us.  Think of your favorite food; what happens?  Your mouth begins to water.  Think of Falstaff.  He tastes beer before he’s got it.  Where does he want food?  Elizabethans were very open about it.  You can’t fake these things onstage, can’t “play an attitude.”  What do you get in an animal?  It’s a necessity to have food.  When he has enough he quits.  Eating scenes provide dramatists with one of the best ways to show family and social relationships.  Noel Coward went to the cocktail set for his material; a whole era was caught and on top of it are the clever, brittle lines.  Do you know the mark of your own eating?  What epitomizes you?  What food?  

One girl says German beer is her favorite.  Not just beer, but German beer -- she’s gone up in the scale of discrimination; the girl explains why and comes alive as she talks about drinking the beer in particular surroundings with particular friends under particular circumstances; she describes the taste, color, richness, glass it is served in, where you go for it, etc. and almost makes a stein of it materialize.  The stein itself is an expression of part of the German temperament -- German word for “friendship” mentioned, for love they can be very sentimental -- can weep, sing, be warm, you belong, you are welcome in their little places. . .   

Do you know spices?  The names of them perhaps, but do you really known the essentials of them?  Acting is illusion; that’s why we’re training your senses -- so that you can turn stage oatmeal into -- ?

Critique of a student’s efforts to reproduce someone’s drinking: Give me a character sketch of him?  What do you know about him?  A professional gambler? (He was throwing dice and drinking.)  Why do you use the label “professional”?  It looked kind of amateurish.  Was it whisky?  How do you know it was whisky?  You mean you didn’t know what he was drinking?  Was he rich, poor, in between?  What sort of place was he in?  Was he a heavy drinker?  A light drinker?  We ought to know a great deal about him by the end.  What size glass was it?  What are his eyes like?  What makes him sit there for a long time between drinks?  WHY?  HOW DO YOU KNOW?  AK says, “I’m still asking why.

Critiques of other eating scenes:  Class are giving situations rather than character responses to food. . . AK wants to know what a character’s attitude toward food is . . . What role you would identify the character with -- Juliet?  Hedda?  Clytemnestra?  it should be possible to take the character into some other situation once his or her eating habits have been established. . .  One student seems to be acting any young girl, to be acting attitudes; each person is a unique being in a specific situation: look at her head, feet, eyes, etc.  From the cigarette exercise onward you’ve been looking for the why of behavior.

Critique of an exercise in which a boy attempts to create an Elizabethan: you’re faking.  The listening was inadequate, the voice was wrong.  Now you’re really listening (to the critique!)  Before you didn’t hear.  No, you’re going through planned sequences.  You were a little modern man rather than an Elizabethan with curiosity, wonder, love of life.  If you wore tights all the time you would be free, and you would show your legs to advantage.  We see something prissy.  Where’s your weapon?  How do you know you’re not going to be attacked?  Murders occurred in broad daylight as well as at night . . . Create an Elizabethan who might be in Shakespeare’s plays.  Before you weren’t alert; you’re a little alert now;  London must be full of smells, etc.  He talks about there being “garbage” around; is that all there is in the room?  He is “attacked” by another student who has been hiding in the shadows.  There’s always something going on around you.  Student look up several details on Elizabethan life, but made the mistake of stopping there.  Put into action the child’s principle:  “IF I wore tights -- IF I lived in dangerous times -- IF I were a man and wore a necklace -- IF I wore a ruff.”  Pictures?  What did you see in the pictures?  Hands must be ready to draw weapon, but must not touch weapon unless someone else draws.  Protect the vital parts of the body -- where the organs are.  In this era of Elizabeth you do need to to be prepared.  No “buts!”  something has to transform you or else it does no good to read dozens of books.  I’m giving you what is typical. . .

Critiques of other Elizabethans:  Did she have a quality of open-eyed wonder?  Why did she walk sideways, crab-like?  Only crab-like people walk sideways.  Where’s your big skirt?  Twirl it, kick it out of the way.  Arms being out away from body at the beginning was good, but don’t let them get stuck there.  Don’t get so close to a chair as you approach in your voluminous skirt; some women wore farthingales, but not all.  How much do skirts weigh?  Feel resistance against them with pleasure.

To a boy acting the death of Christopher Marlowe:  You are giving us an elaborate “plot.”  You must achieve a much stronger walk; sitting needs more room; never let yourself get squeezed up against furniture regardless of what the play is.  Handle the cloak easily; experiment with possible ways to dispose cape around you.  Now feel the weight of the cape and enjoy the movement of swinging it;  these people have energy.  Don’t swing your weight from side to side.  Keep a pull upward; work on stopping the middle of a strong step.  Let all parts of body “follow through” on a movement.  Exercises tried to get strength and suppleness and follow-thru.

Girl dressing herself before a mirror: her happiness was excessive to the motivation; no reason for being so happy.  What was she, anyway?  I’m going to say she was a high school girl doing her first costume show.  Were you an Elizabethan?  assignment was to get an Elizabethan body responding.  To another girl:  You’d be carried out of court for a little bow like that.  The bow goes down and under, with nothing sticking out.  Circle around rather than pivot; the skirt must follow you.  Feel the skirts; where’s the pull felt?  What about her step?  What’s inconsistent?  It’s little and tiny.  Women, too, must take long steps to get somewhere.  Do exercises; enjoy them.  Everything (parts of body) needs to be in alignment; bodies “resent” an off-balance position . . . 

To students attempting to be Romeo and Mercutio:  you aren’t holding our attention; if you can’t hold attention something is very wrong.  Mercutio should be the best swordsman in Verona.  He is not an animal but an element: quicksilver!  Moves quickly, all in a piece.

To another girl:  leap, leap for the joy of it; walk; leap; reach for something -- a star, a man, anything!  Elizabethans have so much to reach for they can’t choose.  The Queen is coming!  The Earl of Leicester!  A musician!  Strange animals!  Strange people!  . . .

To another girl:  Nothing really Elizabethan in her portrayal of a Catholic woman at a shrine.  Her religious feeling would be very intense, because she’s had to take sides, or evade the state’s decree.  The worship business restrains you;  try being at a theatre with a mask on, in a world of intrigue;  skirt must have weight, a concealing cape; enjoy it!  What play is it?  Why are you there? . . .

To another girl:  Movement actually suggests a dainty delicate person!  Be Juliet running to meet the Nurse, with the “why” of Nurse bringing Romeo’s first message.  Running on tiptoe to life.  What is life to a young girl in love for the very first time -- and with a Romeo!  What does the sky look like?  The grounds?  The trees?  She wants to take it all in!  Don’t think about it -- feel and sense it all.  Make one good run across the stage and stop; good because it had suspense in it.

Side comment to girl who “doesn’t feel like it” when it comes to doing a scene:  What do you do if the curtain is going up in five minutes and you’re scheduled to play Juliet?  What do you do?  Never let an audience down: never, never, never.  The rule of the theatre is: the show must go on.  If you aren’t there, that’s the end.

Other Elizabethan:  You’re acting attitudes.  There was no reason for picking up that skirt.  It is stupid to walk in straight lines; your clothes wouldn’t follow you; you must go in circles.  How many petticoats do you have?  Many.  Don’t tell me, feel them.  It is nothing to intellectualize: you must be kinesthetic, not mental.

Actor showing Krapp’s response to banana -- and other stimuli.  Everything was “more than clear.”  What dimension did performer add?  Delight.  A man who knows how to get what he wants out of a watch, a banana, etc. who has the delightful recognition that everything is “working as it should,” that the watch is running, that the banana tastes as it should, etc.  His joints had to be manipulated as a result of extreme age.  Everything he did was beautiful.  What did you learn?  -- that what the author gives him has to be motivated.

Critique of actress setting table:  Class is asked to give a biography of the character they have just seen.  Why does she do it this way?  She did each thing one at a time.  Finished one thing absolutely, then took up the next.  Tiredness without martyrdom was clear.  She realistically checked everything.  Woman seemed older than student actress because she had a “settled” quality of middle age.

Same student as Kate the Shrew:  Let’s  see her express joy in living.  You have so much energy it has to be expended somehow -- in climbing to the sun, in choking a man, etc.  Cry out; leap; run.  Now pick up that little lute, used to sing insipid songs to Bianca.  (Movement is too inhibited.)  Get on a horse.  Swing up!  Get on a bike.  Two men go onstage to “tame” her -- real men, not Bianca men.  (Now actress feels “just great.”)  Her society is is trying to make her conform to being a Bianca -- she replies by being the opposite.  Then she meets Petruchio and falls in love with him.  Recognize first that he dares, then respond. . .

Critique of boy presenting a character study observed from life:  Everything onstage tells a story: tell me a story here.  You saw a timid little man absorbed in his paper and less in his food?  If you were writing a play, how would you use him?  This is character study.  I’m not interested in plot.  One person eats at a particular time -- so, when it gets to be that time, he eats; is this the man you saw?  He felt he had to read the paper?  What page did he read?  Was that the actor or was that the man observed?  “He reads the comic section first?"  How does he read the comic section; why does he read it first?  Does he laugh inside?  Does so because it doesn’t take any concentration?  Because he doesn’t feel like plunging into world affairs or high finance?  Because comics provide a certain positive thing that comes up day after day -- provide a kind of safety, certainty, security.  What did the eating tell?  College student?  Businessman?  Does he taste his food?  What’s he eating?  An egg?  Oatmeal?  Does he enjoy it?  If it is not so good as usual, would he know it?  Is he in his own home?  Go on doing it, and while you do, tell us what you’ve discovered about him.  Give us a “hand study” again.  Does he smoke?  Is there anything you notice particularly about his hands?  Does he use his fingers separately, or the hand as a whole?  If the former, it says that this is a man who has time and/or taste to know what his fingers are doing.  Next time you do anything, take your opposite, somebody as different from you as possible.

Critique of a boy doing an Elizabethan:  We don’t like the laugh; it’s a self-conscious snigger.  Show us you can laugh like an Elizabethan.  Movement excellent -- had pull-up, follow-through, balance, ease.

Critique of boy eating:  A laborer?  An Italian -- or some excitable nationality?  A person who hasn’t had much education, but who gets through life well enough?  A college student showing off?  Go up onstage again.  Something needs clarification.  Study him more.  Enjoyment of food, showing off, etc. coming through better . . .

Critique of girl impersonating an old woman eating:  A very old woman.  Some good observation of character.  She did walk in between counter and stools.  Why didn’t she take napkin to begin with?  Why was coffee put where it was?  It is an actor’s job to give the audience cues to understanding.  Did spectators believe in it?  Was it caricature?  You tend to say this whenever you see something extreme;  Evanston is full of extreme people.  Scene still needs “the reasons why,” although some of these were there.  AK asks actress if she is satisfied?  Actress feels she hasn’t got inside woman yet.  AK says audience wanted to know why she became old in this particular way.

Critique of boy who impersonates a literary-minded college student who does nothing but talk, talk, talk at table.  Next time choose an opposite kind of person.  When class laughs, AK points out they are laughing at a comic irony.

Critique of a girl’s exercise.  What did you get from this?  Did you believe her?  What kind of person is she?  What is her personal drama?  How does she look at life?  I’d say that she rejects practically everything.  What we’re searching for is the reason why -- otherwise you will act stereotypes.