Thursday, July 25, 2013


Kevin Leonard, prompted by David Downs, and fully supported by myself, is collecting and ordering the archive for Alvina Krause, the legendary acting professor at Northwestern University.   This is the University introduction:

This service was launched in July 2011 to capture and preserve historically significant web content generated by and relating to Northwestern University.  Your archived web site will be accessible via the NUA web site and will be searchable. Additional information on this initiative may be found at

NUA will only capture and preserve publicly available materials and will never copy content that is password protected or requires registration or data entry. In addition, all preserved content will be embargoed for at least 30 days before being made public and will then be prominently labeled as an “archived copy for study and research” to avoid confusion with your live website. This process involves no special preparation of the website and is designed to have no negative effects on your web server’s performance. 

Please contact Benn Joseph or Kevin Leonard by phone (847-491-3136) or email ( or should you have any questions or concerns about the Northwestern University Web Archives.  For more information about donating materials to the University Archives, please see

This is an excellent first step toward translating the mission of your University Archives into the digital age. Thank you for your time and consideration.

In case you are following this blog in order to study AK’s life or are actually on the campus in Evanston, there are materials at Deering Library that include paper and other real world materials.  Leonard and Downs want to collect as many as possible of the class notebooks in which AK replied to students’ account of their work.  These two blogs, and will be archived.

Which raises the question of who deposits what where.  Many AK students are famous and courted by major institutions.  Marshall Mason’s papers will go to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.  Other are academics with close affiliations where they teach.  My cohort is crossing into our seventies, so we are actually having OUR students archive materials about US.  My own work is split among quite different fields so will be scattered.  

Some people or their executors don’t realize what importance some seemingly trivial materials might have for researchers.  Leonard tells me they often get inquiries by people writing histories of performance arts, crucial in the 20th century when camera acting was just coming to fruition and experimental theatre was taking hold even out on the street.  If there’s any question in your mind about it, contact Leonard for advice.  Not me!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013



These six films feature Alvina Krause, Professor Emeritus of Northwestern University, and students from Yankton College and the University of South Dakota.  Each half-hour film includes an introduction and close by Charlton Heston, one of her former pupils.  His remarks are a great tribute to a great teacher, who, in the process of teaching the creative art of acting, has constantly explored the “why” of things, life’s astonishment and wonder, and what it means to be a total human being.  Such searching goes into the study of his role, and makes for fascinating enrichment for the interested viewer as well as the serious student of the arts.

In applying for a grant, Vera Ward, producer, wrote to Charlotte Carver, executive secretary of the South Dakota Fine Arts Council saying, “I wish every young person might be privileged to watch every tape of Miss Krause.  She speaks to the eternal questions of life -- loneliness, alienation, despair  as well as astonishment, discovery and joy.  All these conditions of living in this “now” world have been explored by great playwrights, and must be probed by the sensitive actor to communicate with his fellow man.”

These videotapes were produced by Forward Productions, Vera War, producer, in cooperation with the drama departments of Yankton College and the University of South Dakota.  They were taped in the studios of KUSD-TV, and are now available on 16mm sound film (black and white) from the USD media Center.  The South Dakota Fine Arts Council made a matching grant available for this project.  Dr. E. Phelps directed the pilot tape, and Tom Engeman directed the remaining five.

Also available are two 1/2 hour interviews of Alvina Krause by Marjorie Weeks, special interviewer for KUSD Radio.  These Audio tapes are on 7” reels and are an excellent in-depth profile of Alvina Krause.  Used on KUSD Radio, these interviews would be an excellent introduction to Alvina Krause as a warm human being and concerned talented teacher -- an excellent preparation for the viewing of the 6 visual films.

Following is a brief idea of the contents of each film, using direct quotes from Miss Krause during her workshop sessions.

I.  “CREATING A CHARACTER” -- cuts from Shakespearean plays
“Character is all that you are from the day you were born up to this moment.”
“Don’t you dare try to create a character without knowing what is the past of that    person!”
“You can be wicked and good at the same time.”
“Theatre, if it’s real, stretches as far as the far horizons, and goes as deep as the    human heart.”
“Emotion is cheap.  Acting is a creative art; the actor is a creative agent.”

II.  SHAKESPEARE -- students from Yankton College and the University of South Dakota gathered around this great teacher.
“Shakespeare . . .An age of astonishment”
“The Elizabethans -- they ran forth to meet life.”
“This was an age of total man . . . universal man.”
Miss Krause recreates the feeling of the Age: the anticipation of the senses, the    robust joy of living.

“The actor responds to his environment.”
“The actor must say, “I am a man and as a man, nothing in man is alien to me.”
“The actor must create the world in which people live and respond to it.”
Miss Krause works with scenes from “Desire Under the Elms” and “The Subject    Was Roses.

IV.  CONTEMPORARY DRAMA   Part II  “Drama of the Absurd”
“Acting begins with an “if.”  If I believe God is dead, how would I act?”
“Dead silence -- that’s your Modern Drama !”
Scenes are used from “Waiting for Godot.”

V.  OUTER TECHNIQUES OF COMMUNICATION:  Techniques of voice and diction, articulation, projection, pointing, timing, topping.
“Acting is life intensified.”
“Any drama is a game -- sometimes ping-pong, volley ball, chess. . .”
“Technique should be worked on daily and you must master the outer techniques     before you go into a play.”
“Talent is the ability to work endlessly, tirelessly, until one has mastered the craft.”

VI.  ANTIGONE  Miss Krause directs, cajoles, even taunts the two students playing Antigone and Creon in a scene from Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone.”  She helps them fully understand the setting and the drama of this confrontation between the powerless Antigone and the powerful Creon who threatens death to the young girl.

These recordings are available on DVD from Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Larry Smith in the center, doing the teaching grad assistant work for AK.  Schneideman lurking in the back.  Maria Moriates on the aisle.  Bill Pogue onstage at left.

I'm leaning on the back of a seat just past the people on the right.
. . . . . . . 

Suzanne Lehmann, I think, in front of Maria M., and isn't that Bud Beyer being directed by Larry Smith?
Tom Foral


These huddled masses and staunch soldiers turned out to be famous people -- some of them anyway.

Paula Ragusa (Prentiss) extends an invitation to Rob Thirkield.  Who could resist?  Not Caesar!!

Richard Benjamin

Richard Benjamin  NU  Shakespeare -- Richard?
Don't remember the other actor's name.

From Faye Prince (nee Johnson)   This is a photo of Dick Benjamin as Hotspur. Sarajane [Levy] was stage manager for “Henry IV, Part I”  I was her assistant and both of us were run ragged on that show.   Wasn’t Gary Vitale “Daddy Henry” and Paul Hardy “Son Hal Henry”?  Weldon Bleiler was Falstaff.  T

The show was characterized by high good humor.  At one point Paula [Ragusa] got furious with Dick [Benjamin] who played Hotspur.  she stormed up to him downstairs and stomped the fire out of his foot.  With great pain, Dick choked out,  “Oh, Paula, thou hast robbed me of my youth. . .”  And some wag nearly derailed Benjamin’s brain by muttering to him backstage,  “A crone, a crone, a rhop-ear, is it not?” before the entrance when Hotspur had to cry about his horse, “A roan, a roan, a crop-ear, is it not?’

TWELFTH NIGHT: Ron Willoughby

The Fool (Ron Willoughby) in "Twelfth Night"
Eagles Mere, 1960

W. B. Nickerson Photography

W. B. Nickerson Photography is the official source of the NU production photos I have.  They are out of business, but their photos are archived.

Guide to the W. B. Nickerson Photo Company

Collection Title:W. B. Nickerson Photo Company
Creator:W. B. Nickerson Photo Company
Extent:5 Boxes
Language of Materials:English
Abstract:Photographs of Northwestern University related events and individuals made by Evanston's W. B. Nickerson Photo Company are arranged in five boxes. The photographs consist largely of black and white negatives along with a small number of color slides. The dates of these materials range from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Acquisition Information:The University Archives acquired the Nickerson Co. photographs from Hope Nickerson Maxon on September 16, 1986 (Accession #86-287).
Processing Information:Processed by Timothy J. Waltz; October 1, 1990.
Conditions Governing Access:None.
Repository:Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354


An unremarkable pantomime.  I recognize myself as grannie with a fichu and Bill Striglos who was supposed to be a little boy.  NU Workshop Theatre.


Workshop Theatre production of "Trojan Women" about 1960.
Directed by Marshall W. Mason.
I'm at the far left but the only other name I can remember is Marge McCarron seated front left.  Marshall sent me a note:  Ellen Tucker is playing Cassandra, holding up her torch in the middle.


Lisa Cosman, Mary Strachan, Claris Nelson in background.
Production at Northwestern Workshop Theatre about 1960?
Directed by Stuart Hagmann

I can't remember the names of the rest of the cast.  I'll look for the program.


"A Streetcar Named Desire"  1960 season
Dave Zegers (Stanley) and Robin Deck (Stella) here.
Production directed by Stu Hagmann.  Blanche was played by Janet Lee Parker from Portland, where we went to high school together.

Monday, February 18, 2013

1957 CREW FOR "House of Bernarda Alba."

Full drew of House of Bernarda Alba.  This was the first crew I ever worked on at NU.  I can only name four people:  myself, obscured on the edge of the door frame, Rollie Meinholtz, now a retired professor in Missoula, MT.  He married the lady with the pitcher on her head -- later married someone else.  And Dave (now Tony) Roberts at the right hand end of the front row.  Linda Radley above him.
Please help name the others!


On the set of Twelfth Night at Eagles Mere, 1980.  L to R, bottom row:  Sarajane Levey, Rod Nash, Marshall Mason, Dennis Parichy (behind Marshall), Claris Nelson, Mike McCourt, Robin Deck, Laird Williamson, Linda Radley, Dan DeMott, Gretchen Walther, Kate Emery, Vance Jefferis.

Three in between:  David Roberts, Penny Fuller, Nancy Kilmer.

Top row:  Jerry Zeismer (in the trellis), Russel Lunday, Dave Pressman, Ron Willoughby, Bonnie King, Wayne King, Miss Alvina Krause, Mike Griswold, Ron Dobrin. Mary Strachan, Faye Johnson, Dave Zegers, Bill Pogue.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Ensemble acting at its very best: we leave the theatre thinking not of individual acting honors, but rather of what will happen to these five people, or why it happened, of questions raised; why can’t we come together in a home;  Mother, I want to know you, bless and be blest; lines, ideas, relationships fill our minds.  Even now it is Clive, Walther, Stanley, Louise, Pam I think of, not the actors who played the roles.  This is what great acting must be: involvement in a whole, in caring about a whole, in total response to others, to situation.  These five actors know their techniques well enough they could forget them.  Rarely did they fail to punch a line, rarely did they fail to lift words, never did they have to be reminded of timing: their outer techniques were used unconsciously, and the inner techniques were released without effort, without pressure.

The unspoken drama is a poignant memory -- as it should be in true realism.  What happened to these people, within these people, between these people, is unforgettable drama.  This was the art of realism at its best: truth, unmistakable truth, absolutely luminous through form, through clarity.  Where imagination took over, where personal experience contributed, where author’s stimulation influenced, it is impossible to know, nor is it necessary.  The actors achieved the total assimilation which stamps acting with the mark of truth.  However the actors arrived at the goal does not matter; they achieved truth, and to a superlative degree.

The play is a good play, tightly written, with inevitable dialogue, but these actors made it almost a great play ranking with Chekhov and Ibsen in illumination of human behavior.  This is a fine example of what I mean when I say acting must illuminate a script.  We not only understood the present dilemma, but these characters had perspective: they emerged from a past, from a background, and we are concerned about their future: fully developed, many dimensional characters.  The subtle relationships, the old pattern, the new threads woven into the old pattern -- all unspoken.  Pam and Clive: beautiful interplay telling whole chapters in a single moment.  Clive and Walther: needs, longings, unfulfilled, half expressed.  Pam and father, Pam and mother: a little moment left incomplete, saying what words can never say -- a child about to become adult, a difficult role to play without tricks as Ellen did, so incredibly true to childhood, yet illuminating childhood.

These actors created off-stage lives for these people:  Walther in his room, Walther teaching Pam, Walther probing and identifying English flowers; Stanley with the Bentons; Stanley in his factor’s; Clive at Cambridge talking his language; Louise, anywhere, from kitchen to modern art exhibition, reaching, searching.

Nancy did an amazing illumination of the frustrations of this middle-aged, grasping, unhappy woman; so illuminating that in the end we could not condemn, only pity.  Nancy has an amazing grasp of human motivations, amazing insight into inner conflicts.  In this case she played the role of a woman she could not possibly admire, yet she played her with an inner conviction, an inner fire that made her every action completely credible.  Does Nancy “live” in the role or “act” the role?  She is such a superlative artist and person that one will never know.

Stanley was a fully dimensional human being as Bob played him: not to be approved, nor yet condemned, a man destroyed as Clive described him.  Bob has learned to become more involved in the stream of the action that I have known him to be.  Less -- much less -- in fact, almost no evidence of trying to respond, trying to be involved.  He let things happen to him, let forces play upon him -- bravo!

As in Dinner with the Family, Frank’s artistry comes to its height in the simplicity and ease with which he plays his sustained scenes.  He seems to bring to such moments whole lifetimes of thought and experience, all of which add up to this present moment when words must be spoken.  The words come as understatements of all that cannot be said, and they are given impetus by the immediate need to communicate, the immediate deep concern.

Of Clive what can one say except that here was a blend of reality and art we seldom see.  Richard’s work is governed by a fine sense of degree: it is passion and it is art.  since I catch no signs of manipulation, I an only believe he has a fine organic sense of degree of passion to release, of degree of art to restrain.  One always feels there is more, much more, unreleased, that he always knows where and when to draw in the reins.  That fine balance of artistry and truth is rare.  It was a strong unifying force in this production.  It radiated in all directions -- on stage and in the auditorium.  It filled the place with importance; the importance of the drama, of the people in the drama -- the importance of caring: it touched and reached everyone, on and off stage.  It was a vital force in ensemble acting at its best.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


You achieved success -- Tremendous success.  But at what a cost!  And so unnecessary a cost!  A cost due to the fact that you ignored -- even fought -- what you knew about Shakespeare.  You brought your fuddy-duddy High School Ideas; you were like stupid people who do not go to Shakespeare, or who go unwilling, because he may be Shakespeare but he is stuff.  Thank God we sent them away as Elizabethan audiences must have left: laughing, chuckling, even punching each other in the ribs still, smiling at each other and at strangers, amazed, not quite believing: in love with the theatre and a new playwright.  That’s what Shakespeare will always be if you trust him, give him half a chance.  In the future, avoid mistakes by remember that.

Shakespeare is a master showman.  As Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kaufman and Hart know what people like, so Shakespeare knows how to appeal to everyone from groundlings to Francis Bacon.  And he has endured for 300 years -- we don’t know that our contemporaries can match that record in popular appeal.  You may trust his sense of showmanship: he has something for all: that love of clowning, love of magic, that romanticism which pushes out the boundaries of the world in all directions to the limits of the imagination.  In short, that love of real theatre, innate whether you are eight or eighty.  You achieved this eventually;  who laughed loudest, children or their parents?  who were the most enchanted, the eight-year-olds or the bankers, doctors, lawyers?  Even the teenagers succumbed completely to this master showman, once you stripped him of the trappings of “idolatry” which Shaw rails against.  Wednesday night you were still shackled by ingrained conventions or fears or unbelief.  Thank God you knocked them into a cocked hat and abandoned them forever -- I hope!  Begin your next production with the knowledge that Shakespeare is a showman.  Trust him!  Tragedy or comedy he writes for the theatre and for red-blooded people who love theatre whether they know it or not.  What a pity our M.N.D. cannot tour the country!

Elements of Shakespeare’s good showmanship to be embodied by actors:  Exuberance, love of living, vitality.  These can be expressed only by totality of body activity, by strong, free, follow-through movement.  Manuella developed great beauty of movement, complete follow-through grace without affectation, a joy to watch.  Kate is full of Shakespearean love of life; she makes the curved line of movement realism springing from space and garments and inner spirit.  Barbara is on her way to this achievement.  Exits and entrances were beautiful but she has not yet made it integral enough to follow through continuously: still lets movement break at the waist line.  Vance did a nice job of sending us soaring into the sky, off the earth.  Kovara has a marvelously flexible body and uses it with imagination and wonderfully stimulating effect on the audience.  The empathic response of the audience is part of the total delight in Shakespeare as unconsciously they run, leap, dance, spin, with the movement onstage.  If that movement is right, free, spontaneous and vigorous.  Frank Chew has not yet quite achieved it.  He has the idea, made progress, but it has not yet become integral, organic, total.  In walking he does not stride from the hips with a strong pull and a strong push off.  Work on leaps that turn into leaps, turns.  Work with Tom while you have the chance.

Titania and the fairies are delightful in movement: had style without being “stylized,” freedom in form, amazing in variety of movement within a pattern, in individuality within a group.  Nancy’s frustrated “Moth” was particularly fascinating in her suspended reversals: Susan was excellent in contrast in directness of attack, in certainty.  Ellen’s wind-tossed gyrating “Pease Blossom” could fill a stage with movement all by herself.

Costumes, movement, used with imagination, filled the stage with enchantment and the auditorium, too.  It seemed they might flood down from the fairy ring above the audience.  The total movement of the production corroborated Tom’s scenic idea and seemed to extend out and over the footlights: amazing empathy.  Remember it always:  Shakespeare has no boundaries, no proscenium limits, no ceiling;  thoughts and feelings and music overflow the stage, bounded only by horizon and sky.  You captured this admirably.  Next time don’t work so hard at it.  Another element of Shakespeare’s showmanship is: something for all.  He reaches the groundling in us, the aristocrat in us, the poets, the philosophers.  Trust him: every sequence has its individual appeal and note that none excludes the other:  Theseus has a Shakespeare mind in a huntsman’s body.  Frank was doing pretty well with the mental philosophy.  His tongue needs more music: tongue and body more fluidity.  Lovers, very romantic loves, indulge in good vigorous name-calling on an earthy level.

Among the dumb, inarticulate mechanics is Bottom:  man with a dawning imagination; man growing to articulateness; man with creative impulses and instincts.  Bob wasn’t quite able to realize the fullness of Bottom’s capacities.  He came closest in rehearsal when he himself felt chills at Man’s capacity to dream.  His was a fine Bottom: believable, understandable; the actor in every human being responded totally to him.  We laughed at him with great affection.

Now the artisans realize how stupid they were to make clowning so difficult, there is little to say about them.  They became real clowns once they stopped being afraid to play the situation.  Each became endowed with a single dominant character trait; armed with the right character prop each responded to the realities of the situation.  Striglos’ playing of the scroll Saturday night was masterly clowning, improvised, yet within a framework.  Keep focus on the main action and let the situation play is a sound rule.  Marc has an especially alert mind ready to respond, and this is the basis for the improvisatory quality all comedy must have.  Striglos would not trust his mind to respond, shut off responses when they came.  All good comedians are quick on the trigger, they have no fears, they lay themselves wide open to stimuli, knowing that they can and will respond.  Once Bill started doing this, he was excellent.  Now he could play it for weeks and it would be fresh and stimulating.

Phil was slow getting the image of his role although Shakespeare indicates it clearly, “ling” meaning little, little tailor not quite all there.  Phil’s tendency is to turn his roles into himself -- perhaps not consciously.  The difficulty comes when pieces won’t fit together -- when Phil and the character are at war with each other.  In the end, in this case pieces dovetailed pretty well.  Particularly in the final scenes, playing “Moonshine,” he was effective in his clowning in character.  In earlier scenes, character could have been more solid.

Chris’ best performance was Friday, I think.  His well-planned business came off as improvisation -- it seemed to happen spontaneously.  Saturday night was still very good, but reactions were not so spontaneous, so alert as before.  Chris did a good job of playing opposites; he found them early and he put them in play, let them develop.  Chamont had difficulty in reading the one level of concentration state.  In the moments when he did, he did some good clowning.  At other moments, an intelligence entered in, an amusement, which did not quite fit the stolid dumbness of Snug, who is an opposite, absolute opposite, to Bottom who could even roar with imagination.  Wiping fuzz out of his mouth was a nice imaginative pieces of business.  A little note of fastidiousness entered in, however, which made it less incongruous than it might have been.  All in all the artisans wound up as a superlative group of clowns, playing logically and realistically and brilliantly.  Don’t make it so hard next time.

In the magic of words Shakespeare is a showman, too.  He reaches every ear.  For those who love beautiful verse, there are the Oberon passages: beautiful in sound and in imagery.  Vance spoke them well.  He is a little afraid of the rhymes -- unnecessarily so.  His transitions from the sustained note to the didactic command could sometimes be sharper -- short sounds made more brittle and sharp, but Vance speaks to both ear and mind very well indeed.  It’s in sharp distinction of long and short sounds that you all need work.  You have begun to sustain full vowels pretty well, but your short vowels are not well articulated and consonants are not definite, do not divide syllables crisply.  this was Niki’s trouble.  She was beginning to achieve it.  Titania is a spitfire; this quality is expressed vividly and most articulately in language.  To add vowel effusions to dramatic outpourings adulterates the meaning.  Always start with the words as written, speak them as they are written; they give you the key to character.  Titania spits and hisses:  consonants are crisp, vowels are short.  Niki’s histrionic gift took her way from the words for a long time.  In the end she came to a vivid Titania, almost as Shakespeare created.  But train your ear to hear sounds accurately, and your tongue to articulate them swiftly, deftly and with brilliance.  Ellen needs the same sort of work.  Her fairy was perfect in every way but vocal articulation.

This, too, is the one flaw in Kovara’s Puck: clarity of short sounds and consonants in the swift passages: tip of the tongue articulation.  In all other respects he created a Puck long to remember.  Puck, the mischief maker, was brilliant comedy: alert mind functioning in an expressive body; the mystic elements were not quite so completely assimilated, but they were present and they touched us.  We believed in Puck.  Kate has an excellent sense of language.  She still needs to balance resonances when she goes into the upper register; her high tones get thin.  Sing up the scale, speak up the scale, keeping tones supported as you go up.  Kate’s Shakespeare is excellent kinesthetically.  Barbara needs more voice work.  She has a splendid comic sense and brilliant grasp of content.  Friday was her best performance because vocally the truest.  She made the mistake of starting with effusive artificial tones -- why, I don’t know.  Shakespeare uses such effects only for people he does not like -- Le Beau, of “As You Like It.”  In all romantic characters play against the effusive.

As Barbara discovered, Helena uses concrete words for concrete images, and her mind is most logical and realistic.  When Barbara began to play these aspects, comedy developed.  She is still handicapped by an upper register which lacks support of open throat resonance.  She needs to open her mouth two fingers in width, in order that vowels may be full and open.  Work on short distinct S sounds.  Acquire speech that is adequate to express your real abilities, Barbara.  Work with Judy -- both of you will profit by it.  Judy’s Hippolyta was stunning, and the low full voice was most effective.  it was not totally assimilated, not completely easy and “natural” but it is good progress.   Keep that fullness in all registers now.  Reimold’s bright tones are good to hear always; he needs to work for freer expression.  It will relieve tensions.  Mike makes a good Elizabethan: speaks the language with ease, plays with ease.

“MUCH ADO” is verbal wit.  Work on your diction and trust Shakespear.  You are actors he would like.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013


In our lifetimes -- long or short -- we can scarcely say we know ourselves.  We may explain our behavior in various ways, we may seek reasons, find excuses, but rare is the person who can truthfully say: “I know myself.”  If years of living with ourselves provides only partial answers to who or what or why am I, how can you dare to become someone else, in the space of a few weeks, a few hours, with only a few lines, a few words as ground work.  Yet several of you seem to believe that you can create character, that you can become another human being by mouthing words and moving according to directions, that personality goes no deeper than the words we speak and moving on cue.  Such egotism can well be the death of an actor for it will lead to shallow, superficial, one-dimensional, character creations: bastards -- neither you nor yet anyone else, illegitimates.  A dramatist can only give you the words his people speak, a descriptive phrase or two about behavior and from this an actor’s mind takes off to discover what pattern of living has produced this man, this woman.  We are the sum total of our experiences.

To create you, an actor would need to know what experiences have made you what you are, how you met those experiences, how you adjusted to them, or failed to adjust, etc. . .etc. . . ad infinitum.  the next time you are tempted to go into rehearsal not even knowing the lines to be spoken, much less the years of living which have made these lines inevitable at this moment, what era had put its stamp on personality, what the basic issues of that life are within the author’s framework, ask yourself what an actor would have to know to experience, to understand, if he were to play you in a play about your life.  The finest actors, those who rise above the ordinary, the mediocre, the average, those who have manifestations of greatness, are people of humility before the challenge of creating human beings.  Even with a background of percentage experience, of reading, of study, of observation, of thought, the task is a colossal one not to be undertaken casually as one tries on new garments, rejecting until an exterior is found pleasing.  (Even a coat has to be worn months before it is you!)

The truth is -- the truth we have avoided for three weeks -- that you came to Barrie empty.  Emptiness was the answer to all my questions.  Actors -- and director -- empty, hollow.  Nothing to touch off, nothing to ignite.  You can fill an empty bottle with some kind of liquid, but how can you fill an empty actor -- twenty of them -- with the substance that is the life of the character, the spine of personality?  Imagination can only work with realities: images, perceptions, stored-up materials;  you can’t start a fire with nothing at all.  A director can work only with what an actor brings.  Next time you try out for a play, start rehearsals, ask what do you bring?  What do you have the capacity to bring?

The characters of “Crichton” are not complex:  no strange deviations, no neuroses to untangle, no mixture of racial characteristics, of economic involvements: just English men and women with recognizable British traits: but human beings who think and feel and have inner lives of their own, different from all other inner lives.  Every character you play must have a subtext, a line of thinking behind all behavior.  There is a line of thought that goes into words, another that is never expressed in words, another that will be expressed in the future.  These must be present all of the time.  With the exception of Tweeny, Agatha and Kitty and occasionally Crichton, there was no evidence of levels except the one that went into words.  And so you were shells of people, exteriors of something that had no perspective, flat one-dimensional pictures that cannot exist offstage.  If roles are well-played, we go away expecting to meet these people again, on the street.  We think of them living their lives continually.  Tweeny is the only person I feel I know, that I could meet in England, chat with if I do meet her.  Crichton, the butler, I might know; Crichton the man, no.  He never came into real being.  He spoke the ideas of Barrie, but he was not the man Barrie created: he remained an actor playing a role.

Techniques finally pulled the show together but your techniques are shaky and techniques will never produce Barrie’s people.  Of course, you had difficulty topping and linking because you had no thoughts which were linking and flowing.  Of course you had difficulty with comedy because comedy springs from so many levels of thought and feeling.  The Crichton-Polly love scene, the Brocky-Mary confession could not possibly come off because the thinking was shallow, was one level -- nothing amusing, or moving could happen.

Judy learned a great deal about acting, but she is not yet able to create character.  Mary’s world had not come into actuality for her.  Judy knew about this world, she did not exist in it; she did not follow the B43 process of character creation.  And so, my after-image of Mary is a beautiful girl, and then a beautiful Tom-boy, and no more.  Bob knew Crichton and Barrie well, but he did not become the man; the characteristics he knew about, he did not convert into internal thinking patterns, he did not assimilate these characteristic emotions.  The last stage of the character creation process never happened: belief in the whole.  And so the end of Sc.3 and Sc.4 were stage devices that left us cold.  No tug at the heart strings as Barrie should have.

Jeff’s Brocky was totally empty.  Jeff apparently has stored up nothing from which he could work -- no ideas, no impressions, no images to use as building material.  A director cannot provide you with an inner store -- he can only touch off what is there.  Even the outer resemblance was wrong and meaningless.  Jeff looked shoddy -- it wasn’t the clothes his wore, it was his failure to create the Britisher’s attitude toward clothing and appearance.  A Britisher dresses for dinner even in the jungle -- whether he has a change of clothing or not: he dresses for dinner.  It’s an ingrained way of living, a way of thinking that your shell of a Brocklehurst did not possess: a fastidiousness toward self and clothing and the world: he could appear to be dressed for dinner in rags as Charlie Chaplin’s tramp in tattered, oversized garments had -- the fastidious sense of gentlemen.  These qualities are expressed by exterior patterns of behavior, but they spring from within.  Jeff -- and others -- tried for the exteriors, particularly of speech, with  no idea of the cause, the motivation for the exterior.  And it came out as ridiculous posturing and made the 4th scene completely impossible to do.  Jeff, before you can act, you will need to do much reading, observing, thinking, and understanding on the subject of human beings and why they are as they are, do the things they do, say the things they do.  Store up materials which you and a director can use.

For instance, Vance’s entrance in Sc. 1 -- a brief moment, but a person was created: out of a Dickens novel or film.  It wasn’t what he did -- you all brought on “bits,” but his bit cast a light on a whole below-stairs way of life.  I don’t know what Vance drew upon: reading or observation or imagination -- but it was a second of reality.  Susan Houstle created a definite image, too.  She did not develop it sufficiently, but it had a reality which took stage.  The rest of you had to be satisfied with “bits” which directors in turn had to settle for in order to save the act from boredom.  The three maids would have been fired from a British household -- study your British movies.

Ernest, too, was made up of generalities, mannerisms, vocal sounds which had no roots.  I fear Phil tends to work from generalities -- as do many of you.  You must be able to see the person you play projected like a movie before you.  You should be able not only to see him there, but to hear him and understand why he is as he is.  If you can’t do this, you are playing from emptiness and from emptiness comes emptiness.  Effective techniques may partially conceal the vacuum, but we discovered that your techniques are extremely shaky.  Bright tones were a necessity to cover other lacks, but Phil and others cannot produce them consistently.  And Phil -- and others -- have not yet learned how to terminate a sequence with a flat, tossed-off understatement.

Chris did a good job of most of his pointing and a good job of suggesting the healthy, outdoor, cricket-playing curate.

Reimold is at the unhappy stage of trying to learn inner and outer techniques all in one lump.  He knows what he wants to do with the outer techniques, but since he has not yet assimilated them, he works too hard at it and evidence of work always ruins the effect.  For the inner ones: he thinks of how Lord Loam looks at things, of what he does and says instead of letting Lord Loam taking possession of Reimold to the extent Reimold never had to think of what to say or do, that an inner line of action is set up, thought occur involuntarily; they flow into words and action.  It’s an unhappy, uncomfortable state to be in -- Judy is there, too -- to know enough to know that you are wrong but not yet to have discovered the remedy -- which is not easy to give in one lesson: to see from the eyes and viewpoint of another person -- not to try to see, but to see, hear, respond.  Not to try to respond in the manner of someone else, but simply to do it as you yourselves hear, see, smell, respond.  Judy has B43 to draw upon; Rich will have to discover it, perhaps through watching others.

Marianne was effective because she is vital and her techniques are fairly secure -- not quite secure enough to conceal the fact that Marianne did not really know why this woman is as she is.  Consequently there are moments that went dead because there was little inner triple-thinking.  You have the capacity for illuminating character, Marianne;  don’t be content with shallowness even when it gets laughs.

Ellen has some good moments of double thinking.  Her role needed heightening: it was too near the miniature stage when it should have been more than life-size.  Kate was probably the most Barrie and the most British being on stage and she played with Barrie delight.  She was British, she was also Barrie poking fun a little of the British.

Tweeny was perfection.  I do not know what Nancy draws upon but you feel she has a whole treasure house of images stored up just waiting to be tapped.  Words on a page, a director’s suggestion, and a whole new world opens.  Note how secure Nancy was in her image of the role from the beginning.  Visual, auditory, vocal, action images were concrete.  It isn’t that she saw herself doing Tweeny: she saw/heard Tweeny so strongly that empathetically she had to become her.  There was no fumbling in that role, no changing traits: she had her design, her blueprint.  The role grew, developed as rehearsals progressed, as the situations developed, but the original conception was so true.  Why?  Because Nancy has stored up the materials with which imagination can work.

The next time you approach a play whose author you do not know, read other things he has written, read what has been written about him, discover the world he was writing about, find out why he was loved -- in short: identify with his people and his world.  Every night we met people who had come to this one play of the whole season because they loved Barrie.  Our audiences were amused and entertained, but they did not depart in that glow of delight which is J. M. Barrie.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


In all verse drama, meaning is conveyed through sound, through patterns of rhythms, of tones, of phrasing.  A dramatist writes in verse because he has meanings to communicate above that which prose can convey.  He plays upon our minds and hearts through implications and connections above and beyond the literal meaning of words.  The people in verse drama are real, their emotions are real, the situations are real, but they are cast in a framework of sound, a melodic structure which evokes a super-meaning, more real that life -- the dramatist’s interpretation of life, the meaning of life as he sees it.  Violate this verse structure and meaning is destroyed as a symphony can be mutilated by instruments that do not play together.

The actor who plays in verse drama must have sensibilities that are like a musician’s, tuned to vibrations of sound, of melody, of theme variations.  His job may be more difficult than a musician’s for the sounds he speaks can not be scored as is a musical composition.  He must have an innate -- or a cultivated -- sense of the time and tone values of the sound of words.  As a musician reads half-notes, quarter notes, grace notes, etc. . . . as he plays them accurately on his instrument, so an actor must recognize and sense the true tone and combinations, for these are the basis of verse construction.  Then he must have the musician’s sense of phrasing; the dramatist achieves this through his line-length structure; varied by caesuras, stops, half-stops, over-run lines, cadences that result from these subtleties of phrasing.  And then, the actor must possess the instrument which will play these values truly.  He may not be a piccolo when a bass viol is scored.  The actor must be sharper than the musician because his ear, his musical sense, must tell him what is needed to balance sounds to make a perfect orchestration.  This is why it was put in verse: to remove it from reality, to give it meaning above reality, aesthetic distance which makes it endurable for it is art.  It has a living pulse beat which makes it something only verse and music can capture -- yet it soars above reality to the meaning of life.

Form is more real than reality.  We achieved this admirably -- the agony, the torture, no matter how well played might have gripped and shocked the audience; it was, however, the music of the whole that kept those audiences silent and motionless.  The company as a whole played as an orchestra.  People who are particularly responsive to spoken music are Foral, McAndrew, Jefferis and Emery.  The woman’s chorus did a fine piece of choral orchestration -- Kate seemed, with Tucker, to set the pace, rhythm and intensity.  Those choral interludes, for all their vulgarity and harshness, were welcome releases, giving time to adjust, time to think.  those who need to concentrate further on verse, on sound values, on sensitivity to variations on a theme are Chew, Pomerantz, Frankel in particular, and the Comforters, while they achieved eventually the blending and rhythm needed for their scene, need to make themselves more aware of basic rhythms.  Learn to hear it when you read a scene.  Become aware of vowel values and consonantal effects that set up the melody.  Learn to hear the cadences set up the length of lines and the sounds which terminate lines.  Then: develop voices.

Chew has made a slight beginning in that he can open up some good tones.  Reimond has a basically good voice.  Pomerantz, Frankel, Striglos, and Tavonatti need much more work -- basic voice exercise.  Pomerantz and Frankel need ear training, too.  They apparently cannot distinguish between major and minor notes, direct and indirect tones.  All have made progress: learning economy, for one thing, is an advance.  Pomerantz must learn to hear his monotone and hollow note.  Then learn to listen to the speech of others: all qualities, all times and reproduce them.  Frankel msut learn to receive from others and to return something to them.  He had worked out very well exactly what he wanted to do, to say and how.  And he was able to reproduce it consistently.  Good!  So far!  There will be more spark in what he does if he did all this in response to the moment.  His directing will improve, too, when he can touch off in actors the by-play that makes good theatre.  The messenger scenes became very effective.  Now work for the inner and outer technique that will make your next acting job easier. 

Foral’s work grew steadily.  It was good at N.U.; here it was superb.  The role became his totally: assimilation of traits and of thinking was complete.  He could be J.B. now in any circumstances.  Further, it had grown in depth of comprehension.  “Those actors knew what they were talking about: they understood,” said a university professor.  “He was right,” another said.  “MacLeish feels deeply on this subject, doesn’t he?  He must have been compelled to write this.”  Which means that we achieved the fourth dimension: the author’s concern.  Tom has become a real actor: he should be able to take on any role fearlessly.  He knows how to work, he has sensed what it means to identify: to give himself to the role and to the play without forcing the outcome.  

Marianne’s work was beautiful.  I can ask for nothing more: music, poetry, depth, significance -- all were there.  Occasionally on the last two nights, a pause, a reaction. was played a fraction too long.  You all must guard against becoming too relaxed.  Sustain the dramatic pulse which is not merely life, but theatre.  Fortunately, the play was so securely formed that the little lapses scarely marred it.  But if you ever get in a long run, check on the length and vibrancy of your reactions.

Vance’s work gained in subtleties in undercurrents.  He achieved durability of character: Nickles the actor and Satan both became comprehensible: disillusioned man and seeing-god became one.  In N.Y. I often resented the triviality of the Satan scenes.  They didn’t tie up.  Vances does a splendid job of closing a scene in such a way that it says:  “You wait.  It’s not over.  I’m not through.”  Here I found the audience not only waiting for Satan’s response, but wanting it, needing it.  He released one tension -- an emotional tension -- and set minds going, realizing.  I believe he, with the rest of you, created a drama, not merely to feel about, but to think about and talk about.

The Thanksgiving scene stays in the memory -- as it should.  Thanks to all participants.  Special mention must be made of Ellen’s brilliant consistent playing of the Girl: hard, clear, packed with meaning.  Brilliant playing against the emotion.  Many of you can use this as a model for effective communication through a hard, metallic attack.  You will all need it someday.  Learn it now.  The drama was made of moments like this, beautifully knit together.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Anouilh comedy of wit.  You admirably projected the Anouilh longing for a return to the lost innocence of youth in a sordid world which makes such a return impossible.  The ending, as you played it -- and rightly -- was bittersweet.  The hope, the longing, the desire to return, was there; the odds were high against it.  The love scene, as you played it, was the most beautiful I have seen in a contemporary drama: beautiful because you did nothing but let the words go home, freighted with their implicit connotations for every individual listener.  With no effort at all, you let Anouild voice his longing.  if is beautifully written -- you were right to let it play itself, and so you achieved the appeal to both heart and head.  You took every member of the audience off into a world which does not exist, or rarely exists, but which we all wish could exist, and what people thought and felt in that world was their own business.  That they did think and feel was evident by the way time stopped in the auditorium -- everything stopped but the longing that this might be.  Frank and Ellen played it with beauty, spoke it with the nuances of the flow of thought from moment to moment.  This is the way Anouilh should be played.  Remember it always.  Giraudoux, too.  The French dramatists write well; they articulate well both thought and feeling; trust their words, their images, their rhythm patterns; speak them well.  There is no need for further dramatization.  Only on Saturday night did you slip a little.  You did not speak with such clarity as before; you did not intensify to the size of the house; you did not let Anouilh speak so clearly.  It was still beautiful, but not as evocative as on previous nights;  it was keyed too low.  Even though a pianist is going to play a tender Chopin, his instrument is tuned to concert pitch.  Your instruments, mind and body, were not tuned high enough.

Remember, all of you, that the drama began to take meaningful form when you all began to speak with French clarity, when your minds and tongues were alert enough to speak with wit.  Whether characters are young, old, bitter, sweet, villainous, or what you will -- whether the emotions are tender, violent, sordid or sweet, they are manipulated by a dramatist of wit, and the lines they speak must be brilliantly vocalized.  All French drama must have this quality.  From Moliere on, no mugging, no gimmicks, no tricks pulled out of a director’s bag will work if actors cannot speak with brilliance, versatility, and flexibility.

Barbara sometimes obscured a word, held a pause long enough to lose electricity.  Otherwise, her work, and her appearance, were stunning.  She epitomized all that Georges had described.  She built a splendid last act climax whose image held after she left the stage.  We saw her in Christine’s room; her presence in her absence sustained the bitter note of the drama.  Barbara created a force in a decadent world -- a winning force that makes one fear for the happiness of the young lovers.

Reimold wonderfully captured the decadence of the elderly who once were romantics, but sold out to indolence -- a parasite.  Reimold could play well The Fighting Cock or Waltz of the Toreadors.  He achieves that strange incongruous combination of vitality and ineffectuality which amuses and angers.  He cannot talk about youth, but he has lost all sense of youth and innocence.  I think Rich worried a little because he did not get laughs he may have expected.  That may have been a compliment, for Rich epitomized so completely the opposite of the father Georges wanted, that we saw in him exactly what Anouilh wanted us to see: the decadence of a world that has lost, and can never return to, purity and innocence.  Rich’s opening scene could have been keyed a bit higher.

Niki still needs to hold her dramatic flair in leash, but her Esme was a dark, unscrupulous force, a realistic appraisal, a relentless evaluation.  Susan’s Proprietress was still in the process of evolution, but was a most believable person.  Susan can continue to work on giving lines a snap ending.  Her exits were improving every night.  Saturday, they were excellent because she achieved arrests in her progress to the door, instead of mere stops.  She needs to work further on really reading the eyes of people playing with her.  In her next role, let’s have people speak to her in foreign languages or sounds, so that she is forced to read eyes and body and tones of voice.  

I am not sure that Striglos created the butler Anouilh imagined, but he landed everything and everything fitted in the framework.  He was the the hired butler, with an imagination limited to food and service -- a good solid contrast to everyone.  Ken Chamont created character brilliantly.  His has-been actor sticks in the mind as a three dimensional person.  One remembers him.  Ken needs to work on shoulder muscles that will raise arms with a freer movement, a more complete follow through, than the straight, angular scarecrow movement.  In vocal pointing, I believe Ken was most effective Thursday and Friday nights.  Saturday he slipped again into the indefinite line ending.  Work for a middle of the line caesura, and a snap at the end of lines.

Marianne has a good theatre sense: he knows when something does not come off; she makes some kind of mental note of it, and the next night she makes a change.  Her performance became more secure each night, and each night the role had greater clarity.  The mother improvisation with Frank was brilliantly played; the transitions were perfect.  As directors, in our effort to set the drama spinning, we keyed the physical dramatizations a little too high on the entrance of the actors.  It was keyed a little too high -- a flaw in directing, rather than in acting.

Vance gave his finest performance Friday night -- crystal clear every moment and as a consequence the histrionics of Act II, Sc. 2, and Act III were securely motivated in character.  Jacques is thoroughly despicable.  We have only one brief glimpse of a might-have-been childhood decency.  The only other likable facet is his complete honesty about his villainy.  It is so open, it is almost attractive.  All this Vance achieved brilliantly on Friday night.  The adding up process was brilliant: each sequence added a new dimension until the inevitable taking of money from Isabelle.  The clarity of design, important in any drama, but absolutely essential in Anouilh, was brilliantly achieved.  Vance was playing with finessed, but with a sure, secure sense of direction.  Saturday, just as Frank went a little lax in the love scene, Vance loosened the reims on his super objective.  When that happens, the highly emotional scenes seem a little out of proportion.  You all need to cultivate a sense of dramatic objectives, of continuity, of a straight line from the opening lines to the inevitable close.  It will be a timesaver in all rehearsals when every actor has this sense -- and every director.  A drama is a structure as carefully designed as an architectural structure.  It is built sequence by sequence.  Vance has this sense innately, I believe.  Frank has it, too.  Kate most certainly has it.  She may fumble in early rehearsals trying to find the means of communication,  but even in her fumbling she knows what she is seeking.  She has a strong, clear sense of dramatic purpose.  Her Barbara was a total character creation, so complete that if we didn’t know Kate, we would think she was playing herself.  It was a beautiful assimilation of traits: the imagined, the observed, and the personal becoming one unified, believable whole.  Kate has a fine sense of vocal pointing of meaning.  Even in the most emotional and moving moments, she never fails to point the significant world.  She not only has a mind that grasps the dramatist’s meaning, she has also a musical sense, a sense of melody, rhythm, and phrasing that is invaluable.  This melodic sense is part of building the architectural structure of drama.  Cultivate it.

Whether you participated in this production or saw it form the front, let it be a guide to you in any French drama in which you may be involved.  You will search far before you find Anouilh better done.  Keep it clear in your memories.