The idea was simply to type up my notes from the acting classes I took from Alvina Krause between 1957 to 1961. It’s turning into Pilgrim’s Progress. The sources I will name now are not morally invested like the symbols in that hoary old book, but they are representative of different points of view that both inform and frustrate attempts at biography or, more pointedly, attempts to describe and evaluate acting methods and the teaching of acting. The big cyclorama “green-screen” constructed by the media, of course, is the Stanislavsky “Method” that has seduced so many, promising them fame and fortune to say nothing of passion between the sheets, mumbling pillow talk.
This “blogging” is a way of working that wasn’t possible before the Internet and that will be disconcerting to some and fulfilling to others. Those who think of this blog as a “Montana” or even Blackfeet source must be braced, but not because I’m going to shocking in terms of revelations and broken taboos. (I DID shut off the “safe search” feature but I’m not making people sign in after a warning that I might talk about sex, which seems to be the only “adult” subject matter.) This is not directly about cowboys and Indians.
I’m working in reference to the thesis by David Press, available like all Ph.D. theses through http://www.proquest.com which is a thesis archiving website. $37 “A PH.D. THESIS FOR CARNEGIE MELLON ENTITLED "THE ACTING & TEACHING OF ALVINA KRAUSE: THEORY AND PRACTICE” by David Robert Press. In the past it has been brushed aside but it is carefully footnoted. The trouble is that AK had a change of heart midstream.
I’m also working off the notes I took and my memories of the time period, as well as the notes generously posted by David Downs, who was AK’s designated heir as acting teacher in the NU Department of Theatre, defined as stage acting in repertory. (DavidGoingOn.blogspot.com ) By comparison “Industrial” theatre (I’m thinking mainstream Broadway musicals or film and television) are different. The kind of theatre now represented by groups like “Looking Glass Theatre” who create their own productions, often from local history mixed with classical mythology and including such things as juggling, puppets or trapeze work, develops out of and -- I would argue -- is a logical continuation of AK’s understanding of theatre as a community within a community. (Sample at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZq5W-hVKaE Looking Glass has connections with NU, just as it did with Steppenwolf and Second City.)
The much broader and more philosophical department of “Performance Arts” at NU was separated not so long ago, maybe thirty years. It would include my idea of a person as a performance (which I’m drawing from various psych contexts, including Internal Family Systems Therapy and Gestalt), “flash” performances that are possibly high culture (“The Messiah” at Christmas) and possibly social protest (pouring blood). These ideas are open to ethnic and highly experimental means, often as technical methods become available -- projecting Mapplethorpe nudes on the sides of buildings in public squares or streaming sequences filmed by children on the tiny screens of smartphones.
Performance Arts is open to “philosophy of performance” in the same way as everything spiritual -- whether part of an institution or not -- is open to “philosophy of religion.” Both are interested in the human creature and how it works. We know we take in sensory information (some yearn after super-sensory mystical information), do something with it according to our internal structure, abilities and needs -- then act and interact. Sometimes we are more interested in the individual and sometimes the greater community -- clear up to the most extreme and inclusive patterns that are the cosmos.
My informal (and involuntary) guides for this grandiose enterprise are Brian Rusted at the U of Calgary, who was at Northwestern in the early Eighties when the two disciplines separated, and Robert Benedetti, who was at NU when I was, except that he was mostly in the Department of Interpretation. I’m bound to get things wrong. Rusted has been reading my blog for a long time. Benedetti always terrified me at NU, so I approach him gingerly but he HAS written well-respected books on acting as well as doing a bit of social action in the fine movies: “Miss Evers’ Boys” and “A Lesson Before Dying,” powerful and much praised films in which he was both producer and actor. He still teaches acting and is emailing me.
The person you can’t see but who is a strong contributer and provocateur for more, more, more thinking is my close friend, Tim Barrus, who has roots in the wildly exhilarating San Fran days that were crushed by AIDS. I was a costumer for Eagles Mere. He was costumer for fabulous, incredible, disruptive theatre. (If you go researching, remember Wikipedia can be HIGHLY misleading, simply by omission.) Since 2006 or so, one of my daily tasks has been to find ways to explain a cruel world to street boys by using what I learned as preparation for ministry to nice educated people, mostly prosperous and in families. Remarkably, sometimes it worked, and NOT remarkably, sometimes they had to explain the world to me.
A big part of arts (and religion) is finding dimension, not getting deflected off into teeny-tiny issues of immediate personal interests. If all the pain and struggle of learning one’s field and skills is to count for anything, it has to be aimed at the Ultimate. Not just “love, sweet love,” but also justice, facing the abyss. (AK would mention Antigone right about now.)
Usually I end these posts by circling around to the beginning, so I will. AK’s life and work are remarkable because this small town woman (literally “small”) lived through two World Wars and the Great Depression (not to mention the Roaring Twenties) on a major urban university campus without losing her focus or her tenure. Then in old age she found a way to survive the Aquarian dislocation of the Sixties and Seventies by returning to small town repertory theatre. (My guide here is Jim Goode of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. www,bte,com) Surely she still has much to teach us, whether or not we are actors.
And in the background -- oh, they are always sneaking up (It’s a performance art form.) -- are the Blackfeet who were always noted for dream narrative and oratory, ceremonial performances and trickster politics. When a local female drama teacher (white) was fired for “romancing” her lead actor (enrolled), no one was much surprised. Happens on university campuses all the time -- always has. (Yes, even same sex schools. Even seminaries.) The force for life, for creation, for survival, drives everything. The difference is that we make plays about it. Did you know AK wanted to cast Benedetti in a production of “Oedipus”? I kinda wish it had happened. The rehearsals might have been more exciting than the opening night.