Sunday, September 30, 2012


These books, up to 1961, are mostly Alvina Krause class texts.  Downs, Benedetti and Mason were students of hers.  Benedetti is also much influenced by Viola Spolin, Robert Breen and others.

Peter Brook is on this list because he talks eloquently about the shift from the kind of theatre AK knew and worked in versus the avant garde that was a response to WWII.  He does not talk directly about acting.

I think there are certainly more of these books that she mentioned to David Press, mostly early works on physical culture and voice.  I also think there are more of them in this house, but they are a sly bunch and hide, even sliding in among the folded sheets in the linen closet.

(Years are first years of publication, most have had many editions.)

Boleslavsky, Richard.  ACTING:  THE FIRST SIX LESSONS (1933)

Rosenstein, Sophie; Larrae Haydon; Sparrow, Wilburg.  MODERN ACTING: A MANUAL  (1936)

Stanislavski, Constantin.  AN ACTOR PREPARES (1936)  (trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood)

Seyler, Athene & Haggard, Stephen.  THE CRAFT OF COMEDY (1946)

Stanislavski, Constantin.  BUILDING A CHARACTER (1949)  (trans. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood)

Fergusson, Francis.  THE IDEA OF A THEATER  (1949)

Chekhov, Michael.  TO THE ACTOR  (1953)

Cole, Toby & Chinoy, Helen Erich.  DIRECTING THE PLAY (1953)

McGaw, Charles  ACTING IS BELIEVING  (1955)


Granville-Barker, Harley  ON DRAMATIC METHOD (1956)

Oxenford, Lyn.  PLAYING PERIOD PLAYS  (1957)

Funk, Lewis & Booth, John E.   ACTORS TALK ABOUT ACTING (1961)


Brook, Peter.  THE EMPTY SPACE.  (1968)

Benedetti, Robert.  THE ACTOR AT WORK.(1970)

Rosenberg, Harold.  ACT AND THE ACTOR(1970)


Benedetti, Robert.  Update of THE ACTOR AT WORK (2005)



Thursday, September 27, 2012


Thank you, Mr. President.  My gratitude is deep -- especially deep since Northwestern was my home.  

But who is this Alvina Krause you honor?  A myth?  A legend?

A few weeks ago I loitered in the front yard of my Pennsylvania home.  A car drove up -- I think you would call it a car -- with a New York license.  A young man leaped out.

“Hello Alvina!”  And he kissed me!

Keep your cool!  Keep your cool!  This is 1980!  And I grinned up at him.  What did this young man from New York say to this old old woman in Pennsylvania?

“Teach me!”

And suddenly it is 1914 -- yes, 1914!  And I a string-haired, freckle-faced, undersized runt of a girl am sitting at last! -- in the auditorium of Annie May Swift.  Dean Dennis is introducing -- as only Ralph Dennis can do it -- the founder of the school, Robert McLean Cumnock!  I know there were a hundred or more students in that room but I swear the great man looked straight into my eyes as he said,  “Stand up!  Tell me who you are, where you came from, what you have done.”

“St.Paul, Minnesota, and I. . .”
“Boston, Massachusetts, and I . . .”
“Portland, Oregon, and I . . .”
“Los Angeles, and I played Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ . . .”
Tallahassee and I played Rosilind in ‘As You Like It!’

And I stood up and blurted out,  “Alvina Krause, New Lisbon, Wisconsin.” and I sat down.  Nobody from Nowhere, who had done Nothing!  That was my beginning in this famous school!

Ten years later I am sitting in the Dean’s office in Annie May Swift.  I try to tell him that first year of college teching in St. Paul, Minnesota, was not so bad.  "I . . .”  and I heard the Dean’s voice:  “I am inviting you to join the faculty of the School of Speech!”

Blackout!  Complete blackout, until I heard,  “Well, Alvina Krause, do you accept?"

Did that Cumnock voice of mine ring out in jubilation?  My mouth opened -- closed.  Not a sound!  Reflex action wagged my head up and down!

Now, fifty years later -- yes, fifty years, I stand here holding the President’s honor in my hand --

Who is this Alvina Krause?

I am a teacher!

And this teacher has a creed which must be spoke now.  No this is not the senile babbling of an octogenarian.  This is the creed that has been the backbone of my teaching -- the spine that kept me erect through the long years.

I believe.  I believe in Michelangelo.  I believe in William Shakespeare.  I believe in Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and all the great artists the preceeded them -- all that followed them.  And most of all I believe in that combination of the arts we call Theatre.  I believe, in spite of all that has been committed in that name, I believe the Theatre can -- if we but serve it truly -- I believe the Theatre can illuminate the lives we live even in the darkness which is today.

I am a teacher.  Ralph Dennis made me one, as did those students, thousands of them, who drove me, questioned me, challenged me every inch of the long road up to this moment.

And a teacher must ask questions.  We are here to celebrate the dedication of this Theatre/Interpretation Center.  To what -- to what do we dedicate this Center?

And deep within me there is still a faint voice which insists,  I believe!

October 11, 1980

Saturday, September 22, 2012


My suspicion is that no one will post until someone starts it up, so at the risk of being a minor character who is taking up too much space, I’ll begin some memories that might trip the switch in other hearts and heads.  Mine will be mostly about the practical stuff, since I stayed at the Lodge most of the time.  It seems logical to begin with the buildings.
The actual Playhouse was a converted barn where the bats were only mildly annoyed by stagelights at night.  Sometimes they were stunned and fell to the stage where some actors were more concerned than others.  I seem to remember Russell Lunday, who was a big guy from Montana, not liking bats one bit.  They are, of course, occasionally rabid.  One wants fans to be rabid, but not the theatre livestock.
Behind the building was a wilderness.  Some said a swamp.  There were occasions when the set configuration meant that there was only one way to get from one side of the stage to the other -- go outside.  A risky business.  On the other hand, I seem to recall some people using that tangle as a sort of wilderness experience in order to find the spine of their character.
The next most important building was the old lodge where we roomed.  For some reason I had the downstairs bedroom next to the front door which meant that I was the unofficial welcoming committee for people who arrived travel-hypnotized in the middle of the night.  My roommate was Sarajane, who deserted me in favor of a bigger, warmer person.  Then Janet Lee Parker, whom I knew from high school in Portland and who was our “Blanche” for “Streetcar” was my roomie.  There was an intervening bathroom and two people on the other side of it, but I can’t remember who they were.  I do remember that the sink drain made a ghastly sucking noise which could be pretty alarming in the middle of the night.
From my point of view, the best thing about this bedroom was that it was only a few feet away from the stone church next door where a string chamber music ensemble practiced.  I enjoyed that very much.  I never attended any church services there and am not even sure they happened.
The kitchen featured a huge black woodstove named Othello.  The oven door was busted.  Lucy and I tried to fix it with plastic metal, but it didn’t work.  At the beginning of the summer we had a very small not-too-sharp black female cook with a drinking problem.  (The pay was almost nonexistent.)  At some point the guys had the brilliant idea of using sound effects to produce the illusion of a locomotive roaring down the hall.  She quit.
There was a hungry gap during which people ate at the Sweet Shop next door -- if they had the money.  Jerry Zeismer, who could solve any problem. took on the cooking and made one kettle of beans last for a week by spicing them so intensely that a couple of tablespoons were all most people could eat.
Then there was a second cook, an efficient woman who intended to convert us all to Christianity, not realizing that most people were Jewish.  She held classes on the front porch and people attended out of courtesy and curiousity.  At the end of the season I had no where to go and no money at all, so I went home with her in return for canning all her tomatoes.  She lived not far from Gettysburg and I had good rambles over there, sometimes chasing a resident 
My costume shop was the old ice house.  Until I began to google Eaglesmere, I didn’t realize how crucial to the town the ice from the lake was.  The costumes were mostly fabulous beaded chiffon evening wear suitable for a luxury resort life in the Thirties.  Since there were not many plays in that period, they were not terribly useful.  But I did find a gorgeous white fox muff that became cuffs for Penny Fuller’s white dress in “Mary Queen of Stuarts.”  She was also supposed to have a black dress but I had no black material.  I dyed her dress over and over but never got it darker than purple.  I hung it above “Othello” the kitchen stove to dry, half-hoping it would get smoked darker.  There was plenty of smoke.
Then there was a shed with a flat roof great for sun-bathing that we were not EVER supposed to get on because that made it leak.  And the little cottage where AK and Lucy lived.  I think I was only in it once or twice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012



The Shavian farcical elements of the play were admirably personified and epitomized by Bob Linn’s lion and Larry’s Androcles.  Bob, in particular, has mastered improvisational skills in the comic vein.  He concentrates on the central element of the situation and simply lets it play.  The vocalizations which come forth are results.  They were a necessary expression of responses to what was happening -- springing from a need for communication.  Maybe the people of Paradiso should be forced to communicate with sounds that are not words.  Perhaps in that way people would discover real concentration and motivated response.  These are the basis of farce comedy.  Cerasani should try responses to grunts and laughs and sounds in grunts and vowels, etc., to rid himself of all the false, studied business and movement which ruined the comedy of the Secutor-Retiarius sequence.  Tom’s concentration was equally false.  Bob had discovered the basic qualities of his injured lion -- the qualities which fit into a “farcical fable for children” -- a hurt lion, capable of gratitude, who never forgot.  the play gave him the outlines of the situation-- and Bob let it play.  Governed by a sense of detachment which saw the values in each sequence, he created something he believed in, and everyone else believed it.  The lion of the fable became a reality.  Larry played admirably with him.  He was at his best when he forgot his lines were lines.  When the need to communicate on the lion’s terms became imperative, Larry entered into the farce situation and they played together.  Larry’s playing was of high order throughout, except for the exit to the arena, in which the clowning began to take precedence over the reality, as clowning for clowning’s sake.  It is important to watch this tendency.  Clowning is an art, but it must never be caught being an art.  The realism must conceal the art except in high stylization perhaps.

Megaera missed almost completely, and the failure is a warning to all in Paradise who are emotionalizing.  All Megaera needs to be is a direct opposite to Androcles -- strong, forceful, dominant, direct.  So played, there is a laugh or chuckle on every line because of the visual and auditory opposites.  She needed only to make direct, factual statements.  then she had only to listen to Andy: grasp a second too late the implications of his line.  (double take), and top his meek statement with an opposite.  Betty’s tendency to go up and down the scale, to over-business, stamped her work as “acting.”  The result was that the wonderful curtain line (You dance off with a lion you haven’t known ten minutes. . .) never did come off.  It was sheer hysteria which is not at all amusing.  Everyone:  avoid this kind of acting in Paradise.  Play strength with real concentration on the real situation.  Betty’s other climax -- the faint -- did not come off because she did not learn how to faint.  The strong force going down like a log is a farce incongruity which should  bring down the house.  Benjamin’s faint should have been from a standing position.  Ferrovius should have pulled him up in his ardor and then let go.  All comedy business such as this should be carefully worked out; realism is not enough, timing is everything.  Jack, as the Centurion, needed sharper timing and less violence.  There was too much perspiration in the role -- a human being playing from a distance to make a comment on and through the character.  Benjamin was best when not working so hard to be limp.  Realize the incongruous visual image that walks onstage in these two personages: Lentulus  and Mettleus.  The audience always got it the moment they came on.  You need to do little more than go through the action of the scene.  Learn to project in your minds a visualization of yourself as character against an incongruous background -- this should touch off your risibilities and put you into the detached comic attitude.  After that just play the situation.  Pressman does it well.  When Zegers learns to do it, he won’t have to work so hard to find incongruities.  Directing may help him in this respect, for a director must see in those terms.  Zegers’ Ferrovius was a fine characterization and all of his scenes were well-played -- except for the little comic, ironic twists.  For the most part, we were succesful in producing a comedy but not so successful in producing intellectual comedy.  Shaw’s farce scenes are inserted to highlight his concern for society, his crusade for rationality.  But the farcical elements and the intellectual elements are one play.  We played two dramas: the farcical fable of Andy and the lion, and the tragedy of the martyrdom of the Christians.  Remember:  all of the elements of a drama no matter how diverse, must be fitted into one framework.  Never sacrifice coherence.  Shaw labels his play “farcical.”  He does not call it “farce” -- it is an intellectual comedy with farcical elements to disarm the audience sufficiently so that the message goes home painlessly while they are off guard.  The play must then be comedy -- that is the framework into which all sequences must fit.  Now Bob and started off with farcical comedy; the entrance of the Christians with their anachronisms carry on into comedy, and then Lavinia and the Captain take over with the intellectual debate.  Roberts did, generally pretty good work with comic elements in his address to the Christians.  But Suzanne, unfortunately, with her very first speech, changed the tone of the play completely.  With the tone of her voice, with her total attitude, she immediately set up the tragedy of martyrdom.  Suzanne did a good job of playing a young woman in love, about to be martyred in a serious drama.  She and Roberts played well together on the serious level.  Their scenes were moving, gripping.  But they were out of context with the rest of the play, and they did not present Shaw’s rational viewpoint.  We became more concerned about the lovely Lavinia about to die than about reason in an irrational world.  The ironies of the situation must ber more important than the human interest factors.  Suzanne played to the hearts of her audience which is wonderful in straight realism.  But Shaw aims at the heads of people.  He does not eliminate the heart, but it must never obscure his aim at the rational faculty of man.  And and the lion (man and beast) could come together without violence -- why not man and man?  The wily emperor prevailed upon Ferrovius to give up Christianity and to take up arms to preserve the status quo.  Andy, the meek, Andy, the humanitarian, Andy, the Christian, is safe only with a lion to protect him.  Lavinia sees all this, gravely, yes, but if we get concerned over the gravity of her viewpoint, if she sees her world as tragic, we will see it so with her, and our feeling will obscure our capacity to reason.  She must see from the ironic viewpoint -- not the sad view of humanity.  The audience sees through the eyes of Lavinia and the Emperor.  If we become involved in the tragedy of life, we cannot reason to the solution of life’s dilemma.  Suzanne involved us in the tragedy, instead of taking us to the Shavian plane: search for a rational solution.  Violence is not the solution.  What is Christianity?  How can it exist in the world?  Suzanne understands Lavinia, but she has not yet learned to play from the rational rather than from the emotional.  We started with the vocalization through which the rational is made manifest: clear, bright direct tones; clear articulation; brilliant phrasing and pointing of meaniing -- the tossed up word, the suspended phrase -- all these are evidences of the rational mind.  Suzanne could not achieve this delivery nor the attitude which produces this delivery: concern but not involvement.  The Emperor had the clarity of tone, the clarity of articulation, the pointing of meaning which are essential to intellectual comedy.  His difficulty was in responding to the farcical elements on the one hand, and making shrewd silent comments on the other.  When he says, “And now, Ferrovius, will you join the guard,” his eyes say “You can’t say ‘No’ now, and if you say ‘Yes’ next week you will push Christians into the arena.”  When he says, “Caesar has tamed the lion,” something else says, “so long as Andy stands beside me.”  this is the difficulty in playing the Emperor: underneath the playboy is a Bernard Shaw.

Everyone in the company must become adept at landing lines, at planting them securely, of delivering them with impact, yet witjout pounding.  Kulhanek did a good job with the Jupiter line.  Now get your Paradiso cast to land lines in similar fashion.  Better play ball with fast delivery and true aim.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Dr. David R. Press   (301)777-0540

Never throw anything away!  I could remember this tear-out from the NU newspaper and even remember that David Press was writing a thesis, but I couldn’t find the scrap and when I’ve asked people who should know -- they gave me blank stares.   Today it fell out of an old file. I realize now that in the late Sixties there was for Alvina Krause a landslide, a civil war, a palace revolution, a firing squad, and a lot of expectations that went awry.  Her retirement was forced, after she had been assured it would not be, her house was taken, and a plan for a theatre company in Chicago did not work out.  People’s feelings got hurt.  No one knew quite what to do.  Then the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble saved the day.

I’ve talked to Dr. David Press, who is retired after a long career, and I’ve bought the thesis as a PDF via the Internet.   The thesis is available through which is a thesis archiving website.  $37   I’m on page 49.  David and his wife are going to travel until next week some time.   Their fiftieth wedding anniversary is coming up. A couple of years ago they saw David Pressman in an off-Broadway production.  Pressman’s wife was played by Deborah Monk, a former student of David Press.

This is very interesting to me.  When I finish reading the thesis, I’ll compose more about what and why.  But just let me say that now I begin to understand why no book was written and I have some ideas about where to go from here.  It looks to me as though it ought to be a group effort, but it would be a worthy and timely one.  Hopefully it would be resolving and reconciling in a number of ways.

Mary Scriver
1-406- 279-3429

Friday, September 14, 2012



You let Shakespeare’s language and music carry the drama.  When you began to realize the power of the language, the drama in the language miraculously the production came together.  Having experienced this, you are ready to attempt other Shakespearean drama in which characterization is more intricate (except for Richard), trusting the language to give you the keys to character and action.  The best of lines, the pulse of the drama, you all achieved successfully, and you made it the pulse of actual speech.  You achieved too the vigor of the English language, something of the texture of the language.  Not all of you have yet attained the agility of tongue and lips, the frontal placement which give such clarity to Jenkins’ speech.  Rader made amazing progress when tones began to have front direction.  It was almost incredible how the character of Richmond shaped up, how it took ascendancy in the latter part of the drama as Jack learned to speak the language.  He still needs work on quick, bright articulation and continued work on frontal direction of tone.  It is worth noting the relaxation Jack achieved when he learned to rely on the language for action.  Zegers needs the same sort of work: to carry over the placement he uses in singing to his speaking, the same openness of tone, the same confidence in production of tones.  he seemed a little hesitant, a little reluctant to go all the way.  In this respect it is well to note the action that comes on stage when Pressman, Jenkins and Singleton speak.  Benjamin has it, too: a ringing note of vitality.  Stu needs to work for it: he submerges too much; the queens pushed too hard to achieve it; Cerasani has it, but still tends to smack into a line.  Roberts is on his way to achieving it.  He achieved a strong characterization, he gripped attention every time he spoke, he spoke volumes in two words, “monstrous, monstrous,” quietly spoken but so directed that they reverberated int he mind.  His Hastings grew in dimension each night, yet he seemed only to speak the lines with true values.  Many of you discovered the value of breaking a line just slightly with an intake of breath -- a little supplementary breath -- and a topping that carried you through to a full ending of the line.  It is perhaps, because she does not yet do it always, that Jane gets off on a forced or intoned note.  Her Queen Elizabeth was well-drawn, she matched up well with Richard in the climatic scene.  More work on articulation and breathing would correct the flaws.  Paula, too, needs the control that would come through the same process.  Carried away by an emotion, she loses control of the breathing and phrases; whole lines are spoke of without breath, without vocalization.  When Paula’s in control she has a magnificence that is tremendous.  She was Margaret, she was fury, she was revenge incarnate when Paula was in control.  Her entrances were chilling in their effect, some nights she played entire scenes without a break.  But her vocal and physical controls do not yet match her emotional power.  But the positive advances made in this production are most promising.

In the use of language, our weakness still seems to be in the use of onomatopoeia.  You seem to have a reluctant to let the sound of words suggest their meaning.  Paula has a sense of it, an ear for it.  I think her surge of emotions keeps her from playing it.  Carried away by loathing, she does not let sounds of words play Shakespeare’s expression of that loathing.  When she did, the effect was horrifying.  Benjamin has a good sense of it, and is beginning to break through the barriers which kept him from using it more completely.  could we extend the run, I feel sure than onomatopoeia would take over more.  It would be most useful to Jane and Linda.  they would not get so tense, nor work so hard if they trusted sounds to carry connotations.  Shakespeare often uses word groupings of nouns, of adjectives, to build an image or an emotion:  “son, husband, king,” for instance.  Jane tries to build through volume or stress or force.  Try sayng each word so that by sound alone it connotes the relationship.  Become aware, all of you, of the relationship of sound and meaning.  Work on it consciously for a time.  Trust that you can achieve an easy conditioned response to words.  Listen to records and don’t be afraid to imitate.  If you have talent, the limitation is merely a temporary device.

Many of you need to work on spatial relationships, to achieve the state when unconsciously you find the exact spot on a stage which best reveals -- in space -- your relationship to everyone else on stage and to the world of the drama.  It is one of Benjamin’s gifts:  it takes him into movement that not only reveals his thinking and emotion, but also best dramatizes that state of thought and emotion -- which best makes a visual comment to the audience.  It isn’t merely “taking stage” although that is part of it.  It is sensing the power of the space about you, the lines about you, the elevations.  Penny has it too -- perhaps not yet so sharp as Dick’s.  Jenkins has achieved it to such an extent that I do not recognize the actor of last summer.  Paula must work on it; Jane and Linda must acquire it.  I suspect it is latent in Stu, but he does not yet use it.  I suspect if Larry directed the play again, he would discover more movement within scenes.  His actors should have given it to him, instinctively, unconsciously -- as Buckingham and Richard, as Claris does even in small bits.  Kulhanek was using it well; he was strong in every scene, whether supporting the actor, or leading it.  (Vocally, too, he ws tremendously effective.)  He found the right orchestration and the right choreography for each movement.  I suggest that all of you work on it consciously to sharpen your awareness of spatial relationships.  (Androcles is sadly lacking in it.)  Whenever possible walk on a stage alone, find the strength and weakness of all areas through your muscle responses.  Stand in doors, at windows, walk up and down steps, stop at various points, sense at that point your relationships to a total picture.  Once your muscles have learned this awareness, you may rely on them to respond involuntarily.  Bill Christopher needs to cultivate this sense.  He was excellent in reading of lines, in characterization; his work had a fine clarity, but a sense of spatial relationships would add fluidity of relaxation, of unity.  I felt a lack of this spatial relationship in Clarence’s first entrance.  I think Tom did not sense a relationship to the full stage, to the world outside the stage, to the steps of the tower.  His second scene was well played as he learned to let the lines carry, to break them as necessary, but even there did Tom have a visualization of relation to arched windows and black draped cot? -- and in that connection: careful attention should have been given to props, their lines, their draping.  Penny and Dick had a serious hurdle to play against in the coffin scene.  the visual image of the bier, badly draped, with underpinnings visible, was almost ruinous.

I am not going to discuss individual performances further since rehearsals have pretty well covered them in analysis.  The difficult mournng scenes might have been helped if a niche or archway had formed a framework for them, a matter of picturization as well as of the vocalization I have indicated.  Dick’s Richard deserved the applause it received.  He made the role his;  he illuminated it; realizations were beautifully played.  the role was growing in depth nightly, it will continue to grow.  It could so easily be bravura acting, a tour de force.  Dick made Richard a human being, not a monster -- an incredible human being but a man demanding our attention and concern.  As with all Shakespeare, we may discuss, challenge interpretations of passages, of motivations but not while and as Dick plays it, for all is motivated, all is played with clarity.  Again this season we have seen intensification, amplification, assimilation, and complete belief as truth.

We should note that Harry and Linn stood out in the crowd because of the completeness of their concentration of dumb minds on, slow minds on exterior details and then the completeness of their dumb connection after the detail had sunk in.  They both reduce all body activity to the mere necessity of moving the necessary slow muscles.  When they come alive, the flopping of their empty hands is incongruous with their stolid bodies, the nodding of their heads incongruous with their stupid minds.  This is Shakespearean clowning of high order.  Bob used it in the murder scene, the only trouble there being that his tongue was too agile with words that needed stronger pointing.  Jack was on his way to it, but permitted too much emotion to play, taking focus from the “blades, the stone” things that killed for money.  You who take Styles next quarter remember Bob and Harry’s work for it is your first assignment.  Clowning is an art every actor must know.  It is behind all comedy, even the most sophisticated.  Would there were a sense of it in Androcles.  Shaw was a Clown.  It (the clowning) plays opposite his intense conviction and concern.  “Paradiso” is pure clowning.

Thursday, September 13, 2012



Depression is a state which must not exist in the theatre.  A book might be written on what brings people into the theatre.  Of one thing we may be sure: they do not come to be depressed.  A matinee audience of woman may enjoy weeping painlessly for two hours over a young girl’s sad story, and come away happy, exclaiming over their wet handkerchiefs.  “The Diary of Anne Frank” could easily be this sort of drama.  Ours was not that sort of production -- which is to your credit.  The other danger -- that of depression -- we did not completely avoid.  It was fortunate that on Tuesday and Thursday the excellence of the ensemble work, the credibility of the characterizations, the general high quality of your acting, gave the audience a measure of satisfaction which mitigated the depressing effect of the drama to some extent.  On the other nights, particularly on Friday, you struck the right note, played in the right spirit.  Result: the audience was moved; they felt deeply; but they were not depressed for the nature of your playing implied: this must never happen again and when an audience thinks in such active terms: must not happen again -- they are lifted above depression.  On Tuesday night, you were too close (as human beings) to the tragic consequences, perhaps.  You played as if you felt a weight of responsibility for what had happened that is a state that must be left behind early in rehearsals.  As actors you must have the capacity to realize the serious, the tragic, the pitiful consequences.  Such realization gives your work depth and purpose and direction.  It is something to think about between rehearsals as you check on what you have or have not communicated.  This realization is a step in setting up the framework of your acting.  Have comprehended fully realized deeply trust your subconscious mind to guide you and enter fully into the lives of the characters you play.  The more tragic the drama is, the more necessary  it is to achieve the paradoxical: to know the tragedy, to play as if you did not know.  On Thursday night, a low energy level made for depressing effect.  Ironically, with a low energy level, the better the acting is, the more completely depressing the play becomes.  You still need to learn that no matter what your physical condition -- or mental -- may be, you must bring vitality on stage.  it must become a conditioned reflex that the instant you step on stage your voice becomes resonant, full, rich, your body tuned up to concert pitch.  A keyed up organism is essential to all acting -- not a faked keying up but a state of general tonicity which can be generated truly by exercises such as I have given you.  Along with it must go a mental, emotional response to acting itself as a joy; it is exhilarating, it is vital.  

Your ensemble work was of such excellence that it is difficult to analyze individual performances.  A general weakness in the acting and directing must be commented on first.  It must receive attention immediately in forthcoming productions.  In your realism, in your desire to play truthfully, to let the subtext play, you went too far and let it play out before vocalization or direct action.  As result dramatic conflict became nonexistent, bogged down.  Your Friday performance came alive because you responded immediately with words or action and subtext followed along behind, with, ahead.  Pauses come only as the shock of climactic action.  In future:  top in and then emotional stop you, choke you, change you in the middle of a line or word.  Realize as you speak.  

Jane, in particular, needs to keep this in mind, as she also needs to observe that it isn’t every sentence that is important, but rather the whole idea which may need a whole group of sentences to express.  Jane seems to think in separate sentences.  I think it may be merely a bad acting habit springing from a desire to make everything important.  The tendency mars work that is otherwise very fine.  Russel has something of the same difficulty.  His characterization was excellent; he made me forget Russel; he became Kraler.  He needs to tune up his dramatic sense which keeps the current of drama surging on.  Directors must be on the alert for this tendency, and stop it before habits are established.  (I was trying to do this in the Saturday A.M. rehearsal of “Ondine.”)  Even in early rehearsals it is imperative to keep building up.  Russel has authority on stage.  There is strength and economy in all that he does.  

Linda, I believe, is learning assurance.  There is much less “trying to be” and more being than usual.  Her difficulty always comes in emotional moments.  Some relics of bad acting habits still push her too hard and voice and body get out of control.  As emotion grips you, Linda, let it localize in the grip of the feet on the floor, in the diaphragm which expands rather than collapses, in the straightening of the spine, in the fullness of the tone, rather than high pitch.  As emotion must be vocalized, grip the floor more firmly -- and that’s all.  You don’t need to try to feel -- you do feel.  You don’t need to try to express -- just breathe deeply and trust the words to come out as they should.  

Paula’s best work was Saturday’s performance when the need to reach a full house over rode other Paula concerns.  In Paula’s mind Mrs. Van Daan had so many nuances, so many complexities.  Paula wanted to express them all.  She must trust in the fact that having established all of these characteristics, they will play themselves in the given circumstances.  As some people have to learn to forget lines, so Paula must forget all the mannerisms, habits, thoughts she has discovered.  Simply trust that they will play themselves as the situation calls for them.  

Dave Zegers has learned this.  I doubt that he knows how or when it happened.  he probably can’t explain it, but he knows that having established what Van Daan is, what his behavior is, he can simply be Van Daan.  he can trust his responses to play.  The result was dynamic acting every moment.  He was free -- free to respond to anything, to everything.  Opposites in his character were free to play against each other: the beastly against pain, etc.  His breakdown after the stealing was not as effective as it might have been, but I think now, that staging was somewhat at fault.  Preferably he should have been upstage somewhere, above the table, or at the window or door.  Such an outburst needs a physical object on which emotion can be spent.  At all other moments Van Daan’s behavior was inevitable, rooted in character, motivated by situation, relationships were realized.  And on our “slow” nights Dave’s vitality saved many a moment.  

Roberts, too, established and played relationships.  There was development and change achieved unobtrustively.  When he arrived at “just crazy” it was logical, inevitable, it added up.  He still has things to learn about timing and pointing, but he is arriving at such knowledge in a logical way.  Techniques and realism are developing together.  He is achieving good acting without striving for it.  The scenes in his room with Anne was simply played without any striving for simplicity.  As he is learning techniques he is also learning to conceal them.  

Miep became more and more convincing as she took part in the scene changes as concentrating on ordinary tasks gave her practicality, scope.  Though absent from the main action she became part of the whole.  

Tom’s Dussel is a little difficult to evaluate.  It was a complete characterization; it was well played; it offered relief and contrast; except for certain moments of too long delayed response, the comedy was well played.  His performance was vital and consistent.  Yet, in some way, I felt that Tom was too outside his character, commenting on him as he played him.  In another framework, Shaw, for example, this would have been acceptable but in the realistic framework Tom needs to submerge self a little more in character.  There were many moments when he did it -- usually the moments when the acting was completely serious.  Tom’s comedy is excellent; his realism is not quite complete enough to conceal it.  For example, not as complete as Claris’ realistic comedy after the kiss which was beautiful comedy within the realistic framework.  It sprang from Claris’ complete assimilation of character traits to the extent that one could not tell what was Claris and what was Anne.  

We can remember when Claris and Anne seemed to have little more than youth in common and when Claris was trying to use behavior patterns not her own, how she had to concentrate on exterior techniques of communication.  In the end, all were assimilated into a whole: Anne.  Claris plays with a wonderful totality; she believes in everything she sees; she has a radiance on stage that is compelling, moving.  I spoke of her comedy which was delightful when it was character response to situation.  She has difficulty with comedy inherent in lines.  She needs to learn to get surprise as the ending of a line, to use contrasts of tone, of timing, to toss off part of a line after creating suspense as to the ending.  Her vocalization of a line does not give play to her own imaginative creation behind the line.  Tune your ear to vocal techniques of comedy.  

Creation of Mr. Frank was perhaps more difficult for Dave had to play an age different from his own and play it straight so it might seem truly that he was 50 plus.  Davie, like Claris, has remarkable ability in assimilation of traits.  He has learned to respond without thinking or planning how to respond.  He interprets, illuminates the play without seeming to so.  His pointing of meaning grows out of involvement in chracter situation.  Dave, the interpreter, does a good job of steering the character he plays to the dramatic ojbective.  Dave needs to acquire more confidence in his ability to intensify and extensify sufficiently to reach a large auditorium.  He tends to strain when faced with the need to reach a large auditorium.  it’s merely a matter of spatial relationships.  Put the fourth wall at the back of the auditorium rather than the proscenium.  Extensify your thinking to those proportions and feel confident that your thought can fill that space.  Intensification will naturally follow if your work has been sound.  Most members of a company need to think in terms of this spatial relationship.  What you do, say, think, feel must fill an auditorium without strain.  Sense how long it takes a thought to travel to the balcony or a word to hit the back wall.  The very act of sensing this will touch off the process of intensification needed. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


To study the scene designs for a production should give actors the form in which they are to play the drama.  In this instance the two bare, non-realistic branches silhouetted against the cyclorama were the epitome of the form:  no leaves, no individuality of tree (elm, oak, cherry, pine), no decoration -- just bare, black branches framing the action centered about bare essentials of furniture: counter, table, chairs.

The characters involved in the action must be presented with the same starkness of outline, the same vivid silhouettes against the sky; schoolteacher, doctor, priest, painter, man-on-the-dole, station master, burgomaster, etc.  The trait essential to the projections of the idée -- that trait intensified by the elimination of all other traits -- is played against the opposing forces.  The only sub-text needed in a play of this sort is the subtext that relates to the main action.  To add more would throw focus on character development, on personal eccentricities, and take focus away from the main theme:  money can buy anyone.  This elimination of all but the essential constitutes the style: a clear projection of a dominant trait in action.

When Zegers finally cut out all the subtle subtexts, when he intensified the direct vocal preparation of character trait in action, he became a dynamic force in the action of the drama.  Now this procedure does not mean that nothing happens between lines; it means that what happens is sharp and intense as lighting flashes.  Dave tended to eliminate these flashes in his direct forward action.  The burgomaster sees Schill’s shaking hands and steels himself against normal response; he hears the break in Schill’s voice and rides over it.

The moments of hearing, seeing, sensing are not eliminated ever -- in any form.  They are vivid and stark but are not followed by moments of indecision, for in these brief scenes the decisions have been made -- in order that we may not become involved in the home life of each person in the play and thus become distracted from the central theme.  Dave still needs to concentrate on straight, direct, forceful speech; he still needs to eliminate a tendency toward a sarcastic slide in tone;  he needs to listen to and copy all varieties of speech pattern in order to achieve a more flexible vocal medium.

I hope he and everyone has now learned to play against tragic elements, to play against getting involved in the overall mood.  When you are told to play with a passion to change the world, that does not mean to think: This is an terrible world, this is an evil world, this is a miserable world, etc. etc.  It means to think with the dramatist:  “We must try to change this work to make people think, act.”  After the first night  you played with such an approach and the drama became electric, provocative and good theatre.  People were forced to think because implications were hitting full force -- not of individuals in a town.  The starkness of the impersonality of all but Schill and Clara raised it to universals.  It was hard hitting every moment, yet it was always theatre to be enjoyed as theatre.  Everyone played the same style, everyone was ensemble.  Everyone contributed to the whole: Mason’s walk off after preventing Schill’s escape -- the epitome of “we have done the right thing,” Griswold’s entrance in scene 2: so superbly ironic, so joyful. Sara jane’s “Most God-forsaken town” -- hundreds of such moments all tieing together and adding up.

DeMott and Dobrin both achieved brilliant lucidity particularly on Saturday night.  Both achieved clarity of communication coupled with intensity.  Linda’s self-submergence, resulting in: a wife who sold out for a fur coat, with the moment of listening to the bell that told the whole story was an illuminating irony.

I wonder if you all realized how pointed the dramatic ironies became when you played only one trait clearly against the action.  Think this through, for you will need to use it often.  Irony is easily blurred.  You have all played it now, and played it well.  Try now to grasp and understand the principle behind it:  Sharp outline like the bare branch against the cyc.

To say that you all found this style and played it well is to sum up your effective work.  Nancy’s work and Wayne’s can only be spoken in superlatives.  With more work Wayne might develop further Schill’s ineffectuality even in terror; sometimes his Schill seemed capable of thinking too deeply, of understanding too deeply.  The difficulty of the role lies in the realization -- how deep, what exactly does he realize, on what level?  Wayne answered the questions with credibility.  Black panther and failure incorporated in one being are qualities not easily reconciled, but Wayne made it credible.  As always, Wayne’s responsiveness to everyone and everything is a distinguishing feature of his acting.

Nancy’s creation of Clara was true art.  Nancy gets to the very essence of character, to the spine of the role.  Hands, spine, eyes, voice become Clara.  She never misses a beat of the play;  once the accuracy of a musician who interprets from the head and the heart with complete mastery of the instrument, Nancy found the cadences of the role and of the play; they came to beautiful crescendos in the wedding scene and crescendo and diminuendo in the final forest scene.  Sense and music are balanced in her work.  Nancy’s images are astonishingly clear and her communication of them beautifully lucid.  Her Clara emerged from a background: young girl, whore, huntress, destroyer -- she evolved them all.  Nancy has an active imagination, and she apparently knows how to ask the questions which make it a creative imagination.  Nancy saw with Clara’s eyes and with the mother’s eyes.  The result was a four dimensional characterization prsented with telling effect -- a real triumph.

Monday, September 10, 2012


From Aristophanes to “Auntie Mame,” the elements of comedy and the techniques of playing them are the same.  We created Shakespearean characters, we set up the situations in which they are involved, we are weak in the comedy techniques which deliver the comedy consistently.

Thursday night when Russel entered completely into the comic revelry and had a good time, he sparked the entire performance and the show was brilliant.  Every moment had in it the surprise which gives the spirit of improvisation so necessary to all comedy.  It was played full tilt, with full participation.  Everyone was completely in the game, everyone had fun, yet everything was kept in control within the framework of the drama.  Saturday the last scene played beautifully, with fun, with wit, with discipline.

This is the element Griswold needs to work on: catching a ball with surprise and returning it with surprise . . .bright tones . . . and a swell or arch in a key word.  His Aguecheek was a beautiful character creation, but his techniques were wobbly.  He is often slow on the pickup, or the tone lacks vitality, or he fails to arch the right word.  It would take only a little concentration on techniques of comic delivery to make his Aguecheek superb.

Marshall’s difficulties are technical, too.  He created character admirably.  But having created a Malvolio, he doesn’t quite permit him to respond freely to the situations, and so he is sometimes studied; or he lets go too completely and the situation and character go out of control.

Marshall’s line delivery is not sure: he drops words, or fails to land the line.  He, like the rest of you, has not yet learned how to snap a line at the end so that it released laughter.  Line endings that are smudged, that are indefinite, stifle laughter.  Stretch an elastic band as you speak, let go suddenly, and you have the snap that comedy requires.  And the suddenness of the snap necessitates an arrest for recovery that touches off laughter.  This is true of all comedy and of all comic characters.  No matter whether the lines go up or down, whether it is swift or drawled, the snap must come at the end -- or no laughter.  Work on it: you will need it for “Auntie Mame.”

Fabian was progressing steadily toward good clowning; he slipped only when he let lines get out of control: too high in pitch or jumbled in words.  He was learning to play with literalness that was sparked with a sense of comedy.

Maria had the right spirit, the spirit of infectious fun.  It was marred by a tendency to over inflect.  Shakespeare lines require a directness of delivery with a bright tone and a toss up of the important word.  Perhaps it was the conspiratorial aspects of her role that led Claris into circumlocutions which were sometimes unintelligible.

Russel was tremendous Thursday night when he let go and had fun.  His playing one character against the other was brilliant.  The duel sequence from its inception, its plotting, to its conclusion, was hilarious because he was playing all aspects of the sitiuation.  This was how the entire play should go -- as he played the cellar scene in the repeat of final dress rehearsal -- forgetting everything and letting the situation play.

Vance has everything that makes good Shakespeare: he speaks the lines exceptionally well; he plays with ease and vitality.  He needs to top in on his pauses more positively.  A pause requires a decisive break and its drama is dissipated.  As he knows, he needs voice work for range and flexibility.

McClory has discovered Shakepeare’s vocal music, too, and achieves the cadences and melody.  Add sustained vowels so that words have more body, more solidity, more power.  What he did was gone well.  Keep progressing in the same direction.

Orsino improved during performances, but never quite became Dave’s role.  Dave never quite incorporated into one person the Duke’s attributes of Elizabethan sophistication, Elizabethan vitality, and Elizabethan romance.  If you can get any recordings of Gielgud’s “Much Ado” you will hear the vocal characteristics that epitomize this sort of man -- sophisticated, virile and romantic combined.  Dave played with vitality and intelligibility, but often he seemed to be mocking the character.  

Nash can still work on making iambic pentameter seem normal speech, but his captain was well-done nevertheless, as were all of the lesser roles.

Penny and Gretchen both need voice work.  Both are excellent actresses, possessing beauty, brains, grace.  When they were speaking with full tonal values, they were enchanting.  They belonged in Illyria.  Neither has the vocal capacity to interpret Shakespeare fully.  As a consequence, they strained sometimes for effects.  Shakespeare is music -- not arty, artificial music -- but the music of character, the music of emotion.  You are both endowed literally with other acting talents.  Add vocal beauty and flexibility.  Why not spend 15 minutes a day with Nancy?  In a short time she can give you the simple necessary exercises for support, for open throat, for oral and head resonance.  And that’s all you need.