Ms. Alvina Krause
1893 - 1981
View slides of
By James Goode, ensemble member
Krause (or AK, as she was known to her students) was the founding artistic
director of the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, which is the resident acting
company of the Alvina Krause Theatre, named in her honor in 1983.
She was born January 28, 1893 in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, the daughter of
Carolyn and Charles Krause, a farmer in the small community.
"When I was 9 or 10, I discovered a little blue book on the shelf: it
was Hamlet. I do think I was hooked then." - The Philadelphia Bulletin,
When an older sister teased her for being too young to pronounce the
Shakespearean words and names, she responded that, since she was reading
silently, she didn't need to know the pronunciations. Other childhood
reminiscences included being a tow-head with "straight, white, ugly
hair", and a visit from Germany by the Lutheran pastor's sister, who
enthralled the children by announcing dramatically "Ich bin eine welt
dame!" ("I am a woman of the world"!)
"I think I've always been interested in why people are what they are.
Even as a child, I was fascinated. I would sit silent in a room and watch
people. And people would say, she's shy, she doesn't talk much, but I was
fascinated with watching them and trying to understand what they did."
- from Class Notes, 1976-78
She entered the Cumnock School of Oratory (later the Northwestern University
School of Speech) in 1914.
"It's 1914. And I - a stringy haired, freckled faced, undersized runt of
a girl- am sitting, at last, in the auditorium of Annie May Swift Hall. Dean
Dennis is introducing 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, each of you, tell me who
you are, where you come from, what you have done."
"St. Paul, Minnesota, and I..."
"Boston, Massachusetts, and I..."
"Los Angeles and I played Juliet."
"Tallahassee and I played Rosalind."
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." - from AK's speech at the dedication of
Northwestern's new theatre building, 1980
She received her diploma in 1916. After teaching elocution and girls' athletics
in high schools in Colorado and Missouri (one of her students was Lucy McCammon),
she returned to Northwestern for her bachelor's degree in speech (1928), taught
high school English and drama in Seaside, Oregon, and then at Hamline University
in St. Paul. The success of her Hamline students in an Evanston, Illinois drama
festival brought an invitation from Ralph Dennis, dean of the NU School of
Speech, to join the faculty in 1930.
"Do you know, I never had an acting course, personally. I explained that
I was teaching oral interpretation; I had never taught acting. Someone said:
'Teach them to walk, speak, move,' At the end of the semester I looked at them.
I had done a good job. But I found my foot tapping and I knew that foot knew
something I wasn't admitting. I said: 'I've got to go out and find what acting
is'. I had to look for what theatre was and I came to discover that theatre is
humanity. I discovered that's what I had to teach." - Philadelphia
She gained her master's degree from Northwestern in 1933.
"Early in her teaching career she was a shy, over-formal woman, but after
about 10 years she gained confidence and a tremendous relaxation set in"
recalled John Van Meter, a friend and business manager of the Eaglesmere
"I helped my students learn to observe, perceive, understand the
astonishment of living, which is the core, the source of drama. The spine of
teaching (for me) was not to have all the right answers. The important thing is
to ask the right questions; the questions which touch off the creative process,
which provoke, illuminate." - Educational Theatre Journal, 1977
During her 34 years at NU, she attained the position of associate professor, and
designed a comprehensive four-year training program in acting Her students
included Patricia Neal, William Daniels, Walter Kerr, Marshall Mason, Richard
Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, James Olson, Robert Reed, Gerald Freedman, Laird
Williamson, Agnes Nixon, Inga Swenson, Tony Roberts, Ronald Holgate, Corrine
Jacker, Charlton Heston, George Furth, Penny Fuller, Lawrence Pressman, Garry
Marshall, Frank Galati, and many others . She began directing at NU in 1938 with
O'Neill's Anna Christie.
"The Cherry Orchard was my second production at NU. A
Chekhov production, with college amateurs? Unheard of! Impossible! Incredible!
It was the beginning of theatre at NU that was recognized nationally. I am not
being egotistical, these facts can be corroborated." - from AK's
"What is the hardest thing for an actor to learn? Well, I think
-possibly- It's the fact that he has to act with his total self -and he has to
discover that's more than saying lines emotionally, or memorizing lines, or
becoming a star. To act with your total self means to act with -this is a big
word- your humanity, with your humanness. I think I've come to believe that's
the most important part of acting -the most difficult to teach, but that's where
it comes out. You can have a marvelous voice - and you should as an actor- and a
well trained body- and you should have, that's exceedingly important - and a
sense of timing and rhythm, and everything that goes into a public performance.
But those are the communicative arts- what lies behind that? Always behind that
is the human being that the dramatist has created. In a sense I think the actor
has to be a dramatist. That is, a creator, he has to create, he has to put flesh
and blood on the character the playwright has created. The playwright can only
give you the words and a few stage directions. Well, what is that? Behind that
is a human being." - from Class Notes, 1976-78
In 1945 AK and her longtime companion Lucy
McCammon leased the Playhouse in Eaglesmere, a popular summer resort town north
of Bloomsburg, PA where Lucy was on the faculty of Bloomsburg State College (now
Bloomsburg University). During the next 20 summers, AK directed, or supervised
student direction of, 180 plays (one a week for nine weeks) including works by
Shakespeare, Shaw, Moliere, Chekhov, Ibsen, Pirandello and contemporary plays
and musicals. The cast, designers, and technicians were students from
Northwestern. She acted in two of the Playhouse productions: as Miss Moffat in The
Corn is Green, and as the Dowager Empress in Anastasia.
Richard Benjamin recalled: "She had steel blue eyes that looked into your
skull. You couldn't hide. She does that magical thing that makes your
imagination come alive."
When she reached retirement age in 1961, Northwestern was persuaded to let her
continue teaching as a part-time lecturer. Her final production there was
Ionesco's Rhinoceros in 1963, the year her contract was not renewed and
she was named professor emeritus.
She taught master classes around the country (University of South Dakota,
Gallaudet University, Los Angeles State College, and University of Texas) and
directed The Three Sisters and Becket at the Pacific Conservatory
of the Performing Arts in California. An honorary doctorate from Doane
University in Nebraska was awarded in 1969.
In 1966, she attempted to found a repertory company in Chicago at the Harper
Theatre, which failed despite critical praise after its first season of Six
Characters in Search of an Author, The Physicists, and Too True To Be
That same year, the August 22 issue of Newsweek hailed her NU acting classes as
one of the two college theatre courses which had made an exceptional
contribution to the American theatre (the other was George Pierce Baker's
playwrighting classes at Harvard and Yale, 1905-1935, which included Eugene
O'Neill, Edward Shelton, Philip Barry, Sidney Howard, S.N. Behrman, John Dos
Passos, and Thomas Wolfe).
She moved to Bloomsburg in 1971 (when her Evanston home was razed for NU
expansion) sharing a home with Lucy on East Second Street. Having attained
nearly guru-like status among drama students, she was sought out for private
instruction and from time to time accepted students for master classes. The last
of these occurred in 1976 and 1977; some students in these classes founded the
Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble in 1978, with AK (then aged 85) as artistic advisor
and later artistic director.
Isn't it mad, at my age? BTE is nothing highbrow- just good
theatre. These young people don't want to go to New York. That's difficult to
explain; people don't understand that. The first two season were 'nip and tuck',
(but) the community is beginning to see what I'd hoped they would see- that
theatre should be, can be, a vital part of the community- I think just as
important as the school, the church, or for that matter the grocery store.
All theatre is entertainment first of all, but theatre can illuminate
what life is."
- Northwestern Alumni News, 1980
She directed two plays at BTE, The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, and Lady
Audley's Secret, a 19th century melodrama which was featured on NPR's All
Besides the Alvina Krause Theatre in Bloomsburg, the Meat and Potatoes Company
in New York City named their theatre in her honor in 1980. This company
disbanded in 1984 after 8 seasons. Other awards included:
The American College Theatre Festival Award for Excellence, 1974
Hazlett Award for Excellence in the Arts in Pennsylvania, 1980
The American Association of University Women Centennial Award for Lifetime
Northwestern University President's Medal, 1980
She died of heart failure on December 31, 1981, the last of her immediate
family, though survived by seven nieces and six nephews. Her obituary was
published in The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post,
Variety, Backstage and other national papers, and reported on NPR's All Things
Considered. Memorials were held for her in New York City, Evanston, and
"I believe in the capacity of young people to learn. And I can
tell you in this long lifetime they have never failed me. If I can touch off
that spark -they all have it, it's deep in young people- to want to do, to want
to create, to want to live, to want to extend. That is native, I have found.
They respond to that. Why be a teacher if you can't believe in youth and the
thing you're teaching? I used to think if I were starting over I'd change my
profession and go into law and politics -which fascinated me because again it
deals with human beings. But I know now if I were starting over I would still be
a teacher." - from Class Notes, 1976-78
Though nicknamed the "maker of stars" she detested the star system.
"Repertory is the only hope for our theatre. Broadway today is nothing
and Hollywood is a graveyard. I believe the American people deserve and need
theatre." - The Philadelphia Bulletin, 1979
Newspaper articles quoted John Gieguld as saying she was "the best kept
secret of the American Theatre ", and Lee Strasburg as saying "she was
the finest teacher in America" but the origin of these statements has not
yet been documented.
The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble dedicated the Alvina Krause Theatre in 1983 with
a production of Chekhov's The Three Sisters. The original structure was
built in 1930 as the Columbia movie theatre, on the site of an older Columbia
Theatre, which itself had replaced the Bloomsburg Grand Opera House built in the
1860's. In the years since AK's death, new artists and ideas have found their
way into the ensemble's creative processes to complement AK's original
Lucy McCammon (born Springfield MO, August 12, 1898) was the daughter of
John Purdue McCammon (a prominent lawyer and nephew of the founder of Purdue
University) and Lucy Campbell Owen (granddaughter of John Polk Campbell who
deeded the land that became the city of Springfield). As a little girl, she rode
with Buffalo Bill when his circus came to Springfield, and set up their tents on
the family's huge yard. At 18, she cut her hair short. After receiving her
master's degree from Columbia University, she taught Physical Education at
Bloomsburg State College until retiring in 1958. She died December 19, 1991.
"Forever Beginning", by Alvina Krause, Northwestern Tri-quarterly,
"Alvina Krause: Teacher", by Neal Weaver, Ballroom Dance Magazine,
"You Can Do Better Than That" by Peter Jacobi, Christian Science
"A Great Teacher of Acting", by Billie McCants & David Downs, in
Women in American Theatre, edited by Helen Krich Chinoy and Linda Walsh Jenkin,
"A Teacher of stars devotes herself to young 'unknowns'", by Doris
Wiley, The Philadelphia Bulletin, November 26, 1979
"Alvina Krause Revisited" by William Wegner Educational Theatre
Journal, May 1977
"A Chekhov Summer" by Randy Michael Testa, Secondary School Theatre
"The Actor's Eye: Seeing and Being Seen" by David Downs, Applause
Theatre Books, 1995.
AK and her teaching have been the subject of several films and video:
Over Easy (PBS with Hugh Downs) January 1980
AAUW public Service announcement
Acting-A Study of Life (6 films by Forward Productions, chronicling her
workshops of University of South Dakota, Introduced by Charlton Heston
Class Notes, 1976-78 independent film by Jerry Holway.
"Acting Lessons with Alvina Krause" - DVD excerpts of "Acting - A
Study of Life" - available for $20.00 at the BTE Box Office
BTE Collection Home Page
University Archives Home Page