Tuesday, August 5, 2008

American Theatre's Best Kept Secret

It is no secret that the Americans and the Brits differ in the acting philosophy. With the work of the Group Theatre, the development of the Method, and Meisner Technique American acting has always been rooted in the creation of a character. We all know the big names of our teachers too: Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, and Uta Hagen all of whom based their work on, of course, Stansikavski. There is one name, however, who few people know. A woman who to her students was perhaps the most influential force on American Theatre.

Her name was Alvina Krause.

Her ideas were simple: The sum total of all that you have experienced, of every response you have made to the humanity, good or bad, that has crossed your path, of every human event that has seared your mind or made you roar with laughter, of every death you have known or experienced... Your palette is you and all that you are, have been, can be.

What does this mean exactly? Krause was not like some of the other Method teachers who believed that you need to be living completely in the moment so much that you become the character or that you access your deepest emotions and relive them onstage. She was interested in pure kinesthetic response and finding short cuts on how to get there.

Drama is an active art. We do not communicate through emotions or thought. Much of idea is conveyed through dialogue, but the true communication takes place in what we do and what happens. This all comes out of a basis in physical response and very specific physical response. All of this stemmed from the spine. There is a difference between a confident spine and a defeated spine. An old spine and a young spine. An aggressive spine and a flirtatious spine will also differ. Then she goes on to make the actor of how the spine is reacting and moving through space and gets them to remember it so they can apply what they've learned to the theatre and to scenes in plays.

Revolutionary? Not completely. But she completely changed the way Northwestern University taught theatre and her techniques are the basis of their acting program even to this day. Her students were numerous and included Patricia Neal, Walter Kerr, Marshall Mason, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Robert Reed, Agnes Nixon, Inga Swenson, Ronald Holgate, Charlton Heston, George Furth, Penny Fuller, Frank Galati, and well as others.

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