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Northwestern University Sesquicentennial

Alvina Krause and her Stars

Among the strongest departments at Northwestern at the time was theater, and among its godmothers was Alvina Krause '28, one of the legendary acting teachers for more than a generation of American performers. At least three of Krause's students won Academy Award--including Charlton Heston '45, Patricia Neal '47, and Jennifer Jones '40. That distinction was only the most obvious sign of her skill as a director and acting coach.

Krause was not involved in acting for the glitter and celebrity. Born in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, she enrolled at Northwestern's School of Oratory in 1914 and taught high school after graduation. She returned to Northwestern for a bachelor's degree, then took a position at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. The drama department at Hamline was in decline, but Krause whipped it into shape and brought a one-act play to a theater competition at Northwestern and won. Dean Ralph Dennis could not help but notice her talent and in 1930 hired her as an instructor in voice and interpretation.

Krause was soon directing productions at the University Theatre. Her first play, Anna Christie, earned praise in the Daily for its emotion and "sincere effect." And for decades she coaxed good actors into great performances, according to Bill Kuehl '52, who remembered her "help" while getting ready to go on stage in the title role of Uncle Vanya.

Krause approached him backstage, and Kuehl expected a word of encouragement. Instead she slapped him in the face as hard as she could. Kuehl was shocked, and his face was stinging, but almost instantly he knew what Alvina Krause was doing. The blow "made me hurt and confused and unhappy, so that I would take those feelings with me on stage" and use them as Uncle Vanya, he said.

Less in need of an emotional jump start was Paula Ragusa '59, later screen actress Paula Prentiss, who came to Northwestern with abundant talent but, some said, little discipline. Krause could provide this and more, as she did for Ragusa one summer at the Eagles Mere Playhouse in Pennsylvania, a summer theater directed by Krause and featuring mostly Northwestern student actors. Ragusa, playing Queen Margaret in Richard III, was throwing curses at the court in dress rehearsal when Krause yelled, "Make them stronger, Paula; make them real." Perhaps frustrated at herself, Ragusa's response was to snap. She pulled half her dress off and snarled, "If you think you can do it better, you wear the dress."

Krause stayed calm. "Now say the Queen's curses," she said, which Ragusa did, and the scene was transformed. Also on stage at the time was another future film actor, Tony Roberts '61, who had the next line. "My hair doth stand on end to hear her curse," Roberts said with added resonance that was not lost when the play opened to a live audience.

p. 210-211

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