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Hove, Arthur (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 66, Number 1 (Oct. 1964)

Weck, Alice
The Wisconsin Union Theater: a quarter century of excellence,   pp. [10]-11


Page [10]


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  To man's institutions, as to man,
the seasons come one upon another
until twenty-five of them overflow
memory.
  Since Oct. 9, 1939, when the first
curtain at the Wisconsin Union Thea-
ter opened on Alfred Lunt and Lynn
Fontanne in Shakespeare's immortal
couple war, "The Taming of the
Shrew," ideas have sparkled in the
campus auditorium.
   Great theater from Broadway, from
international sources, from our own
campus, has played here.
  Most of the famous musicians and
dancers of the mid-century have per-
formed here. Popular artists have en-
tertained, renowned statesmen and
scientists have challenged values.
   The names are legion and as
varied: Adlai Stevenson, Robert Frost,
Joan Baez, Prime Minister Nehru,
Barry Goldwater, Eleanor Roosevelt,
Harry Belafonte, Frank Lloyd Wright,
Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Tallchief, Julian
Huxley, John F. Kennedy.
   They have communicated with more
than four million people in these
twenty-five years.
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  Their influence has been felt by
uncounted others throughout the
state, and as Wisconsin's students
moved into international assignments,
throughout the world.
  The auditorium where these leaders
came has constantly won their praise,
for its facilities, its acoustics, most of
all for its lively audiences.
  For its birthday the theater is re-
ceiving some gifts and refurbishing to
continue to merit praise: a new act
curtain and cyclorama, a modernized
sound system, improvements in the
stage lighting. There is a new carpet
in the auditorium. Understage, re-
hearsal areas and stage craft work-
shops are being built to increase op-
portunity for student experience. A
famous producer has established a
fellowship here; the prototype for the
Metropolitan Opera's new electric
scenery control system for the Lincoln
Center was developed here.
   Challenging ideas, great perform-
ances, new research have made the
Wisconsin Union Theater famous.
   The years ahead hold even greater
promise.
a quarter century
a
u!suoos!M
theater section text by Alice Weck
N A TIME of cultural complexes
   like the Lincoln Center for the
 Performing Arts in New York, and
 when communities and campuses
 the country over are planning or
 building cultural centers, there is
 nothing remarkable about the con-
 cept of the Union Theater.
   The concept is in line with con-
 temporary emphasis on the creative
 use of leisure time, in line with the
 interest in the arts which tradition-
 ally springs from an affluent society
 with time on its hands.
   What is remarkable is that the
 concept of the Union Theater, so at
 home in the sixties, dates back to the
 pre-twenties, and that the building
 was being planned in the late
 twenties, and early thirties when
 the American economy took an in-
 termission between periods of
 affluence.
   The theater was announced as one
 of the principal elements of the
 Union when it was decided in 1919
 to build a community center as the
 University's war memorial. Its blue-
 print for use drew the arts into the
 daily life of the campus, part of a
 center that would be alive from top
 to bottom almost every hour of the
 day and evening. The theater was
 planned to be an integral and con-
 tributing part of the Memorial
 Union, available for a variety of dif-
 ferent functions and not existing in
 specialized isolation,
   By the time the estimate funds for
the Union project were in hand, the
price boom of 1928 changed the
financial outlook, and only the social
and dining rooms of the Union could
be built.
   The University remained without
a theater worthy of the name. In
the late twenties and early thirties,
Wisconsin Players began their dis-
tinguished career of play production
in a built-over classroom in Bascom
Hall, with a platform twenty feet
-deep and without modern equip-
ment or rehearsal facilities.
   Going to the theater in those days
meant climbing the always dark and
sometimes slippery hill to Bascom,
straining to hear over the rattle of
writing arms on the seats, and alter-
nating between shivering and per-
spiring in a poorly ventilated room.
                Wisconsin Alumnus


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