by Alvina Krause
(From the Fall, 1962, Tri Quarterly
For a school teacher, interviews with the press are invariably disturbing. Theatrical stars have learned all the answers to a reporter’s questions; at tongue’s tip they have the right words; the colorful words, the sparkling words, the intimate words, the words revealing such tantalizing glimpses of personal lives, the words selling acting as the most carefree, fascinating of all careers. The teacher, however, is not conditioned to this rule-concise, frank, unadorned truth. And so it is that when a reporter asks, “What in your estimation of this actor’s success?” she can only tell the truth. “Hard work. An actor is a human being who has the capacity through hard work to master the techniques of his profession.” Silence. The interview is abruptly terminated. Her life in theatre is no longer news. This drab statement will never make headline. If she could divulge secret stories of psychological traumas as the source of an actor’s success, or talk in rapturous terms of the mystical process of creation, this might be news. True: miracles have been known to happen. In the course of many a student-actor’s training they happen; in every successful production, they must happen at least once. But always it is hard work which has cleared the way. the time is right for inspiration’s release when the techniques have been mastered and forgotten. That the actor as an exotic phenomenon without virtue, or a complex of neuroses, Freudian or otherwise, may be a myth created by press agents whose advertising plays upon the imagination of adolescent minds, is inconceivable in an age when living realities like work are no longer admirable, believable, and certainly not glamorous. That an actor is a human being like other humans beings -- with this special exception that he has a particular talent for mastering the arts of a particular profession as another individual has a talent for mastering the arts of medicine, law or finance -- that he pursues the study of these arts with the same thoroughness, the same concentration, the same dedication, as does any human being preparing to earn a living with his talents, whatever they may be: This is a concept of actors which is too contrary to the popular image to be tolerated or even understood. There are in theatre schools show-offs and dilettantes engaged in self dramatizations, who are inevitably by their antics the focus of public attention: but do we not meet similar specimens, for instance, in the schools of medicine, law, journalism? Strange: it seems now that I have forgotten these and seekers of theatrical identities and, and their names are too seldom in lights to remind me of their brief, flamboyant moments in the University Theatre Green Room.
I do, however, remember Inga Swenson.
As a student she was too interested in too many things to have time to linger in the lounge dissecting the performances of the latest University Theatre leads. She played no spectacular roles in this same University Theatre. Yet when she was on stage in a supporting role, other, more colorful actresses, faded out; attention always went to a tall, quietly beautiful girl seemingly doing nothing to achieve focus. How she acted was a mystery: she used no tricks of characterization, no incomparable vocal eccentricities: there was nothing in her work to label “theatrical,” no moments of bravura acting: yet she invariably wove her spell. From the innocence and purity of Isabelle in Anouilh’s Ring Round the Moon to a pointedly satiric Charles Adams comic moment in Waa Mu, she was Inga. She found in a character an idea; she discovered what was most significant, most essential to that idea; she discovered the dramatic force of this idea and she brought to it a radiance and, sometimes, a devastating light. The frame of reference for her acting was that of a perceptive human being, intelligent, well read -- a participant in life, not a passive observer. As a director you had only to say to her, “This young girl is French,” and a spring was tapped. From a story of knowledge gained from books, music, living, her imagination took off to endow a role with qualities unmistakably Gallic. Or say to her: “This is the period of the Italian Renaissance”’ and without long involved searching within or without herself, she was the embodiment of the culture of that brilliant age. Within her was a rich store of images, ideas, sounds, responses to life waiting to be touched off by a playwright’s word, a director’s suggestion. Furthermore most rare in actors, she possessed innately a sense of form. There was music in her acting: a rhythm, a tone, a melody, that gave continuity to a role: a direct line to the ultimate goal. Her sense of style pervaded all her work. A director, or the mood of a situation, had only to touch it off. I remember one night: at curtain time in our summer theatre the lights went off, a power failure on the mountain. We held the curtain twenty minutes, the audience getting restless. Announcements were not going to hold it. This was a crisis. The silence of disapproval fell upon the audience, the atmosphere was pregnant with it, when suddenly from the back of the auditorium: music. Inga softly walked down the aisle singing an old English song: just a girl signing absently, no more. She hesitated for a moment near the stage and then sat down on the apron, still singing, remembering old tunes. She seemed not to see the audience, not to know that listeners were there, yet somehow you knew that she knew that you were there. she sang to you individually, all three hundred of you -- an artist in command of herself, the situation, the audience. fifteen minutes passed, thirty -- who knew or cared? When I try to teach the art of good showmanship I think of a girl singing, unaccompanied. “Cockles, mussels, alive, alive-o.” I wish I knew how to teach that art.
One September Dean Dennis asked me to hear with him audtions of new students applying for theatre scholarships. Among them was one exceptionally grave young man who read from Maxwell Anderson -- a natural selection for one aspiring to theatre honors. Anderson was the new hope of the American theatre with his stirring espousal of the theatre as a temple, a cathedral. My present impression -- and it may be false, for imagination plays strange tricks with the memory -- is that this erious contestant read from Valley Forge. Certainly the image that sticks in my mind is that of Washington: a most somber, tragic figure at the Delaware. I know there were no costumes ad these tryouts, yet I have a mental vision, not only of an aquiline profile, but of cocked hat, great coat, and all. I still hear a fine, resonant voice -- oh, so resonant! -- speaking every word -- yes every word -- with deep, vibrating significance. fisk Hall became indeed a catheral! When the last contestant had finished, the Dean raised an eyebrow.
“Well? Anybody you’d care to gamble on?”
“One potential. the tall, lank chap with the tight jaw and the heroic mask.”
“What kind of potential?”
“Histrionic. Not fake. Takes himself too seriously, but theatre is where he belongs. Who is he?”
“Chap from Wilmette. Heston. Charlton Heston.”
For two years, until he was called in service, he was the epitome of the serious acting-student. He was dedicated to his search for the “inner truth.” To discover the playwright’s implicit truth, his research was endless. (It still is. The depth and breadth of his private research on “The Ten Commandments” merits a University degree.) So deep was his concentration during a performance that he spoke to no one backstage. The realistic world of technicians, stage hands, gossiping actresses did not exist for him. He was the world of the character he played? No, he was. He doggedly aimed at mastery of the inner experience which motivated behavior. He sought to develop the biography of each character he studied. He was determined to create on stage the effect of life as it would go on if there were a fourth wall between actors and audience. He stopped at nothing in achieving that goal. At one time he was playing in a Workshop production of “Riders to the Sea,” thoroughly immersed in the life of these fisher folk. He came on stage carrying a rope. I remember thinking, “That’s no stage prop, no ‘illusion’ of a roe. That’s the real thing>” It was! Next day a note came from the head of the department: “Tell your actors they can’t cut down the backstage lines. I don’t give a damn how dedicated they are to truth!”
Charlton’s last performance in University Theatre was Judge Brack, man of the world, in “Hedda Gabler.” His performance may have lacked some of the polish requisite to a complete realization of that cock-of-the-walk character, but it was surprisingly good. Charlton had a natural, innate gift he may have been unaware of at that time, or if he was aware of it, he fought it as a threat to truth. The gift was a histrionic sense which gave theatricality to his work, lifting his creation of Judge Brack above mere realism. It was the actor’s sense that acting is communication: the awareness that out front are people wanting to be entertained. I could not discuss this with him at that time: such words from me might have destroyed an ideal that acting is truth, not the illusion of truth. he was called into military service before we could progress to acting is art, not life. He has done very well since, on his own.
In one of Patricia Neal’s press releases, she was asked: “Just what did you do in your acting classes at Northwestern?”
“I had to be a pistal -- an army pistol.”
It makes a good press release. People like to laugh at that whfch they do not understand. The story is true, but it is not all the truth. Patricia was told to go on stage to be an army pistol. All sophomore actresses aspire to play Hedda Gabler, and Patricia was no exception. her attempts on this particular day displayed an awkward girl struggling to act “mortally bored.” The torment of defeat was in Patricia’s eyes as she slumped into her seat, crawling into herself for protection from classmates in whose eyes she always feared she might read: “Pat Neal? An actress? Did you see her Hedda Gabler?” Fear of failure distorts the vision of many a young actor. Patricia believed with every muscle and fibre of her being that she could be an actress. It was a belief in which she received little support on campus. She was honest, so honest that she called the score straight on all her failures. She had no capacity to rationalize her defeats, to bolster her ego. The image of the actress she wanted to be was brilliantly clear to her: the step-by-step slow progress to that goal was agonizing. Passionately she wanted to be the ultimate in greatness at oncc, in one gigantic leap. To play Hedda was not a wishful actress dream for Patricia, as it is for most would-be actresses. She did not mentally transform Hedda into Pat Neal: rather, she sensed in herself a capacity to become Hedda, to assimilate Hedda’s traits, to turn Patricia Neal into Hedda Gabler. This sense of character is the mark of an individual who can be more than a personality actress; it is the mark of creative talent. Following Patricia’s stage appearance on this particular day, there was the usual discussion of character traits. First the trite, general clichés like “fascinating,” “dangerous”; they were rejected. The actor must have the poet’s gift of conceiving in images, of thinking in metaphors. “Fascinating,” “dangerous” are labels which sum up appearances. Acting that illuminates the script springs from an imagination which, like the author’s, creates from images that are clear, unmistakable like “pistol,” Ibsen’s metaphor for Hedda. To stir the actor’s imagination into creativity, he is asked to dramatize metaphors. When Patricia walked on stage to be a pistol, the concept overwhelmed her. She froze; nothing happened; the pistol metaphor misfired. It makes a good press release.
Only a few people on campus believed in Patricia’s ability. When she was cast to play Olivia in Twelfth Night it seemed her great opportunity to prove toall her detractors what she believed so firmly: that she was an actress. To me is seemed the role was made for Patricia: she was vital in an Elizabethan sort of way; in a moment she could change from melancholy to laughter; she was innately patrician. In my memory her opening night has the proportions of a nightmare too grotesque for reality. If Patricia ever plays Pirandello she can use the memory of this night as her frame of reference. So can I. I was only the detached observer; I had seen no rehearsals to pepare me for what I saw: Olivia was a gawky, awkward girl in a shapeless costume whose ugly lines exhibited a square, ungainly frame with no waistline. All her scenes were played in profile; her chin jutted out in a sharp angular line emphasized by a collar that intensified the angle. As a nightmare distorts all realities, so this performance heightened every fault that Patricia possessed, There is something about the theatre, some strange code operative among theatre folk, that makes the backstage dranas as inevitable in their course as are the tragedies and comedies played by actors on the stage. The curtain comes down on the stage play, the offstage action continues. As a figure in a Pirandello play manipulated by an unseen director, I was compelled to go backstage after the performance. No alternative choice was open to me; ofstage entrances and exist are also made on cue. In other instances it might have been possible to breeze through the dressing rooms improvising gaily “Love the show,” with many repetitions, but not with Pat. She was alone in her dressing room. As usual she mustered no defenses. For her no hysterical release of emotion was possible. She looked straight at me, spoke before I could say anything in word or act.
“I shall never act again. Never.”
“Never again? You dare call what you did tonight acting? See me tomorrow at nine.”
An actor acts with all that he is: mind, memories, imagination, perceptions, voice and body. Acting is total. A body that does not communicate is a defective instrument. as a violinist is proud of his Stradivarius, an actor must be proud of his body. Not vain: proud. Next day I learned what I should have sensed all along.
“I’m too tall. Of course I slump. My shoulders are too broad. . .I’m too BIG . . . all my life I’ve hated being tall.”
You have to convince the mind before you can change the body, yet as you change the body, the mind changes too. Where do you begin? It was Saint Joan, not I, who accomplished the miracle. As she studied Joan, Patricia acquired the physical coordination that is Joan’s, the joy in movement that was the Maid’s. When the following autumn she opened on Broadway as the vital, beautiful Regina in Another Part of the Forest she was ahiled by critics as the season’s most promising actress. And beauty played no small part in the decision.
Patricia had a quality that is rare in actors: a quality that cannot be taught; a sense of tragedy. Like the sense of comedy, it must be innate. It can be discovered, trained, developed, intensified, but it cannot be given to any student of acting. A teacher can lecture on the subject; the head can learn about tragedy; but to know about it is not to sense it. Acting which has depth springs from something which is part of the fibre of being, from a grasp, an awareness, a capacity to experience indignation -- indignation above the level of personal emotions. It is this grasp which gives to acting the imperative plus so difficult to define. Intellectually an actress may grasp the concept of tragic action. If her knowledge goes no deeper, she will act, as we say, “from the neck up.” The result may be art, but art that is intelligent but unmoving. The emotional actor, on the other hand, may run his gamut, ironically and illogically untouched by the actualities which motivate his tears, his manifestations of physical anguish. The result may be “exciting” but unilluminating. The actress with a trgic sense of life, and of drama, has the capacity to realize in every fibre of her being the consequence of her tragic decisions. With sensibilities fully vibrant as Antigone, loving life. she chooses death because obedience to eternal laws is more important than life. With her complete being, this actress realizes totally -- head, heart, body -- the loneliness of the road to her living death. Not only on the personal level does she realize; her is a world view -- the dramatist’s view -- of the tragic waste of human potentialities. The actress with a tragic sense hs the vision and power to speak for all people, of all times, who have known the suffering we call “tragic.” Patricia had this power; I belive she still has it. She could today create a Rebecca West that would have the strength, power, passion that would make a production of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm a memorable one. These thoughts make me a little sad.
Paula Prentiss was a different piece of goods. Unlike Patricia Neal, she was never or seldom ever, sure she was an actress, or even that she wanted to be one. Everyone else was certain the stage was to be her turbulent home. (Emotional outpourings are commonly supposed to be the mark of theatrical talent.) Each of her performances might be riddled to shreds by shafts of barbed criticism from the jury of her peers, who nevertheless stood in awe of her fireworks; but friends and adversaries alike agreed that the stage was the only place for her. Paula always seemed to be catapulted into the very vortex of storms. Studying music, art, and science in quiet obscurity in a girls’ school, she suddenly had an impulse to spend a summer at Northwestern, maybe even to find out what this thing called theatre was all about. That summer idyll came to its climax precipitately three years later when upon my luke-warm but threatening persuasion, she appeared in my office in sullen mood, clad in an incredibly bulky, all-enveloping ugly grewy sweater, sneakers and bobby sox, to try out for MGM. She played her tryout scene to the back wall with MGM gyrating in his chair trying to see her face. The scene completed, without a glance in our direction, she started for the door. Disgruntled and irked by her appearance and behavior, I was tempted to let her walk through the door into deserved oblivion when remnants of my better nature prevailed. I stopped her with a controversial question: “You’re from Texas, aren’t you, Paula?” She whirled on me: “No. Oklahoma!” At last MGM saw the animated face, heard the thrilling voice of Paula Ragusa who was thus precipitated for life into the role of Paula Prentiss.
The raod to that moment had been tumultuous all the way for every one involved in Paula’s life. I remember Caesar and Cleopatra. One night, at last, the opening scene clicked. Weeks of improvvie-run-the-scene, discuss-run-the-scene, improvise-again procedures at last paid off: the scene crystalized; it was ready for performance.
“That’s it! Excellent. Keep it just like that, Paula. Understand?”
A grunt and an affirmative nod.
“You and Caesar played together brilliantly. It was witty; even had style. Keep it just like that! Understand, Paula?”
Another indeterminate sound and nod, not so positive.
“No changes after tonight,” I was pleading now. “Understand, Paula?”
She found a stick of gum, meditatively unwrapped it, gave it full concentration.
“Want to run it again? To set it permanently?”
A negative response.
You reiterate with Paula, becaues, for all her deep concentration you can never really be sure that her concentration is with you, or whether she has already departed for that little world of her own: her private, creative world. My palpitating hope on this occasion was short lived; the next rehearsal sent it spinning into limbo; despair took its place. If I was baffled by the tenor of the scene, Caesar was dumbfounded. He was too humane to strangle a demonic actress; he could only stare with blank, uncomprehending eyes, and muster senseless, unmotivated words. This was a Cleopatra created neither by Show, nor by anyone else in all history.
“Paula, what in heaven’s name are you doing?”
“Hm? What’s the matter, Miss Krause?” No one in a lifetime of teaching could so confound me with so simple a question, asked in so innocent a tone.
“What’s the matter! You were going to keep this scene as it was last night, remember?”
“Oh . . . well . . .I got to thinking about Cleopatra. . . you know . . .how men fell in love with her . . . I just got to wondering. . . you know . . .”
Paula’s voice always rises softly into the unknown and dies away on an unresolved chord. You feel you msut follow her into infinity, into the mysteries of the creative state; but production dates are set and immovable, awaiting the inspiration of no artist. Once more you start back at the very beginning, with the careful underscoring of quiet desperation.
“You see, Paula, you have to play the author’s idea . . . Not Paula’s idea of Cleopatra. This little, housewifely creature you are creating tonight does not fit in Shaw’s framework. She is lovely, fascinating, adorable, but that isn’t Shaw’s idea of this malicious little queen. You must act the playwright’s idea . . . I wish we were doing a movie! Last night’s performance would be permanently recorded; you could never, never tamper with it again.”
At least once in rehearsal or performance Paula gave a perfect interpretation of each individual scene. How often we thought: “If only an audience were here tonight!” Paula, however, could never do the same thing twice; she could never repeat. Praise works with many actors; Paula was deaf to it. Not through wilfullness nor temperament, nor temper, did she deviate. She simply could not turn off the creative spring. In Paula’s shows we never had to worry each night about creating the illusion of the first time. With her, every night, whether it was rehearsal or performance, was the first time -- sometimes chaos. Carefully, on performance nights, I used to plan what I might, casually, say to her -- or should I write a little note? -- that would keep thye stream flowing in the direction of the drama’s objective. I would watch her brown eyes light up with agreement as I spoke. Then having made my point by subtle implication, I thought, I would retire to watch from a distance until she started to the stage, praying that on the way no one else would let fall a chance remark that might turn loose again that fantastic, creative imagination.
Paula evolved a theory for her acting: every character, everyone, young, old, sad or comic, fat or lean -- every one -- “has a little secret.” (Being tall -- five feet nine inches -- and aware of her height, Paula describes everything in wishful diminutives.) The “little secret” maybe labeled by psychologists as the subconscious, and by erudite actors as subtext; but in Paula’s world these prosaic terms are not stimulents of the dramatic imagination. In solo performances in class, she was always at the peak of her form. There was the time when for twenty minutes or more we watched with delight rare in a classroom, while on stage a commonplace “little” woman with a “little” secret humming its tune inside her, removed items of food from an imaginary refrigerator. Not a word was spoken, although inarticulate, indescribable sounds communicated a world of meaning. There before us on a bare stage was the bread and butter world of gadgets and things; there, too, was an inner world in which quite a different woman was sweetly singing, I imagined, something like, “I think I’ll put a spider in Mrs. Applebaum’s tea . . a red spider, or a green spider or a striped spider. . . I’ll watch Mrs. Applebaum swallow the black spider and I will say, “Do you like sugar in your China tea, Mrs. Applebaum. . . dear?” Of course, I don’t know what the little secret was exactly; but it was believable and entertaining, and I could not call time on the assignment.
with most actors, I wish devoutly for power to ignite inadequate, dormant, or lazy imaginations. With Paula I could only pray for the patience I haven’t got that together we might find the way to channel, direct, and discipline the superabundance of her creative energy before it exploded, sending us both to see it through in whatever is the next world for the passionate of heart.
James Olson could not pass his required public speaking courses. The ability to speak extempore is a gift possessed by few actors. when called upon to deliver a speech, Jim’s mind froze his tongue stuttered, his vocabulary was reduced to: “Well . . .but . . . ah . . .” Yet once he had his moment of eloquence. A performance of Dark of the Room in our summer theatre had reached the revival scene: the climax of the drama which, in theatrical terms, crystallized the playwright’s theme: religion can be distorted to appeal to the baser passions of men. We were playing it with a stern discipline governing the action. Suddenly, and so dramatically that it seemed on cue, there came from the audience a ringing, ministerial voice drowning out the evangelist on stage:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is blasphemy!” The stage froze for an unquestionably true dramatic pause of several beats. Then Nancy picked up her cue and the action was resumed. Once more the stentorian, solo voice cried out:
A sobbing woman joined in: “Sacrilege.”
Then both together chanted:
The silence on stage, and in the house, was vibrant. In the darkess of the auditorium I was making my way torward the disturbance, when from the stage I heard words unrehearsed, not from a play. An authoritative but strangely quiet voice said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a theatre.”
I stopped frozen, not daring to think what might come next. Down stage right a tall figure was the focus of attention. Jim Olson, stepping out frm the wings where he had been waiting for his witch-boy cue, was talking to us. he spoke about the theatre; a free theatre, where playwrights could speak their thoughts, through actors, to people free to listen. I wish I had a recording of that speech; I can recall only the effect it had, the thoughts it stirred in me. did he speak for one minute? Two? No more, certainly. With a conviction so deep it had no need for histrionics he spoke straight to us. The agitators too were, apparently, spellbound. Reason prevailed; actors resumed their roles; the play went on. Jim had touched in us a rare sense of fundamental rights, beliefs we scarcely knew we possessed we heard articulated for the first time. I think I never before realized so fully the lucidity of the English language. By college standards, Jim was a sophomore; in this crisis he spoke wisdom which added up to a credo of the theatre. I have said that miracles do happen when the way has been prepared for them. The Dark of the Moon incident supports my belief. An actor can speak extempore when he has discovered for himself that drama is more than individual roles in a play; he can be eloquent when the theatre is for him more than actors strutting on a stage.
James Olson was an all-theatre man, designer, technician, director. By his very nature he was compelled to master each of the theatre arts in order to function more totally in the one which meant most to him: acting. There was no indecision in his approach: the theatre was to be his profession, his way of life; excellence was his measuring rod. In summer theatre he designed a set, constructed that set, played the leading role in that set -- a Herculean accomplishment by any standard. Jim was an actor who, as a designer, designed for actors. As he designed, he saw characters emerging from the backgrounds, saw people in movement. No wonder his sets were a joy to directors! As actor, designer, technician he demanded perfection. Jim could not compromise. an actor who professed a love for the theatre and then gave to that theatre less than the best, was guilty of hypocrisy which Jim could not accept nor tolerate. He struck an actor once during final dress rehearsal. It was one of those times when morale was low, fatigue had mastered the will to do: an apathetic rehearsal. Suddenly Jim’s powerful arm shot out: he struck a fellow actor. Physical violence is unjustified under any circumstances. What others who condemned him, and rightfully, could not know was that Jim was as horrified by his act as they. Temper was too simple an explanation. Jim was torn by the knowledge that his motivation lay much deeper. He could not understand it, much les formulate it. Slowly we groped our way to the cause. To Jim, an artist, a play was a work of art perfect in form, a marvel of unity, balance, rhythm, proportion. Any violation of that form was to him a kind of murder; it produced chaos within him, stirring his indignation to the breaking point. His act of violence itself was unjustifiable; the motivation for that act is something every true artist understands and has experienced when he has witnessed the mutilation of artistic form. The response to such desecreatin does not necessarily manifest itself in violence; our culture demands that even the artist conform to passive acceptance or indifference. How I long to hear from an audience some day, one frank, resounding “Boo!” when actors on a stage forget the unwritten laws of their profession, when they violate the principles by which we recognize theatre as an art. such a demonstration might foretell a renaissance in the American theatre.
Sometimes I think that day is near. “A triumph for the Americn theatre . . . I must not temporize here: this was the finest production of a Shakespearian comedy I have ever seen.” The reviewer was writing about the 1960 production of Taming of the Shrew for the New York Shakepearean Festival in Central Park. He continued, “The director, Gerald Freedman, is new to me: yet, I have no hesitation in saying, from this job alone, that he is one of the most gifted theatre men in America.”
A director is seldom news. He is the man in the shadows usually. When the curtain goes up on opening night he retires into the blackness of the auditorium, silent, invisible, obscure. A few critics may recognize in a production the creative mind of the director. The audience, however, sees, hears, applauds the actors and sometimes, astutely, the play. Only the theatre-wise patron looks first of all for the director’s name on a program. Yet Jerry wa wise to choose directing as his activity in theatre, for Jerry is a man of many talents; only directing can use them all. On campus we knew Jerry as an actor. Shakespeare, Shaw, Sophocles, Satre: he was a master in the interpretation of all. I have seen the greats of the commercial theatre attempt Androcles; but Jerry is the only actor I have ever known could hold a totally legical, intelligent, Shavian conversation with a lion. Others can’t resist the temptation to “play for comedy,” to burlesque, distort, or play the scene swiftly as too ridiculous to make sense. Jerry had the mind to grasp the Shavian intent; he had the capacity to understand both man and beast. Not only that, he understood all eras. when he played Shakespeare, he was the Elizabethan Renaissance personified. With sufficient pressure, and much kinetic participation on my part, I can induce actors, perhaps in self-defence, into a state of Elizabethan total activity. Knocked about enough, they can be forced out of their contemporary torpor, their physical passivity, so that a stage can come alive with some semblance of the physical joy of living, the mark of the Elizabethans. But the Renaissance mind, that stimulating, many-faceted, creative mind that motivated the activity of any age -- how do you endow actors with that? Jerry possessed it: a word, suggestion, a scrap of pantomime, and he could toss of an Elizabethan sonnet, sing a madrical, fight a duel, bait a bear. So it was with all eras. I might say to actors, “In this play you must be continental; you must discover how the European mind works, how it activates behavior.” They stare at me helplessly. I talk to them at great length, I send them to books, to art, to living people: French, German, Italian. Eventually , with great effort we arrive at some degree of understanding. Not so with Jerry . . . a word, a description, a stage direction, and he walks on, for instance, as an Austrian -- not an American imitating the outer vestures of an Austrian, his voice and behavior -- this is no imitation: Jerry is what he imagined. he had the ability to conceive what eternities had produced, the historical insight to give substance to his thought, the flexibility of mind and body to transform himself into the role imagined. Other actors, with difficulty, draw upon their memories of personal experience as frames of reference for their characterizations. “With difficulty,” I say advisedly, for how limited they are in their store of significant experience, and in their passive state, how unreceptive to the stiumuli of life about them! Actors today must be taught to hear, to see, to experience before they possess a memory vivid enough to draw upon. Not so with Jerry. His memories went deeper than the personal. Racial memory? I do not know the source of this creative spring. I can not endow actors with it, I can only make them aware of the need. Jerry was endowed with it. And he had a greataer gift, the gift of communicating, of sharing his experience. Unaccompanied, sitting in a chilly living room after a later rehearsal, Jerry sang Hebrew chants. He is a musician -- another of his talents; he writes music, has a tenor voice of unusual beauty. but it was not the beauty or, at least, not the beauty alone, that moved us. As we listened we were one with him; we knew, we understood, deep within us, the origin of those laments. The tribulations which were their source were our tribulations. As an artist-actor Jerry could, always, for a time a least, change the tenor of our lives.
Jerry is a designer, too. When he entered the university he had to choose between an art scholarship and his theatre interest. Theatre won, but during his stay here we had many private showings of his paintings. In the theatre this talent was released in scene designs. His set for Midsummer Night’s Dream was visual music. It was obvious then, why Jerry was wise to choose directing as his career, for only in this capacity could he use all of his arts. As a director he plays not one role in a drama, but all roles. As an artist, he fills his stage with pictures which interpret the play with visual connotations in fluid patterns of color, movement, design. As a musician, he balances voices in harmonies and dissonances, as a symphony conductor produces musical form out of many instruments, as a stage director creates a dramatic structure which is not unlike a symphony -- when that director is a Gerald Freedman.
I am often asked by actors, columnists, and laymen, “What makes an actor an artist? What makes him great?” Depending upon my mood I may mutter: “Bloody hard work,” or “Who do you think I am: God?” The truth is: I do not know the answer. Sometimes in the class room or in a rehearsal, it happens: that electric moment when student-actor is tr4ansformed into actor-artist. Why? How? For an instant I think I know: all our work has added up to this inevitable achievement. But that moment of rationality is instantly followed by a deepened sense of the mystery of the metamorhosis. I leave the question now to the researchers: let them find the answer if they can. I think, perhaps, I do not want to solve the riddle, for if I did might I not lose what is the most dynamic reward of all: the eternal astonisment of teaching?