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Richard, George (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 56, Number 12 (April 15, 1955)

Gard, Robert
Grassroots theatre,   pp. 14-[16]

Page 15

    The 10th Anniversary of
 Wisconsin Idea Theater
       finds its founder looking
  back on its early days in
  this condensed chapter from
     his forthcoming book
Some of them pause not at all for introspection. They do not
define motives. They act swifty, and only when they are old
do they know, occasionally, that the tires of their souls have
blown out against the hard sides of deep ruts. Yet with all
these weaknesses they are doing a stupendous job.
   After nearly ten years at Wisconsin, it amazes me, occa-
sionally, to realize that I am a part of this vast backstage
that the Wisconsin Idea has created. All the things I mis-
trusted: the sociological approaches, the "institutes," the
programs in "adult education," the specializing, and the
expertizing are all a part of me, now. I have been able to
find inspiration in the idea of a whole state being a campus,
or a stage. In a way I have been caught in the system of the
backstage, but I have also created my own role within the
system and have usually preserved my own integrity in the
shadow of the system. The machinery of specializing and
expertizing is very valuable in carrying out my role, which
has become that of a sort of "specialist" in creating a
friendlier attitude toward the theater and other arts. If my
specializing is tinted with a crusading or missionary zeal at
times it is probably the influence of my restless drive which
would like to hurry the Wisconsin people toward a better
use of the arts in everyday life.
  My office in the football stadium is the center of what has
been known for nine years now as the Wisconsin Idea
Theater. I rather like the stadium and its remoteness from the
campus proper. It is filled with solitudes, shadows, under-the-
stair crannies where one can sink from sight for a moment
and reflect upon the wondrous ways of University develop-
  Toward my physical surroundings I am extremely tolerant,
and of the great backstage I am a willing part. I attend
meetings, sit on committees, conduct "institutes," make
speeches, and I am able somehow to have faith that what I
am doing is worthwhile. I have made of my approach to the
arts a kind of personal religion. This religion is so strong
that, like many colleagues in the backstage, I am able to endure
without much notice the physical weariness and the handi-
caps that Wisconsin nature tosses in my way. My religion is
*Grassroots Theater. By Robert Gard. Univer-
sity of Wisconsin Press. IPrice: $4.00)
APRIL, 1955
more than dedication. It is simple acceptance of a viewpoint,
of a method of operation ...
HE WISCONSIN            Idea Theater, which I direct, is an
    expression  of faith-a faith    that has been   achieved
 slowly through   success and   failure, through  tormenting
 doubts. . . My corner of the stadium which I inhabit
 through the willing cooperation of the Department of Inter-
 collegiate Athletics is all I have, materially, to express my
 faith. Yet, strangely, I find that I have all the material
 propcrties that are essential.
   In retrospect, the lights and shadows of the nine years spen:
 in the creation of the Wisconsin Idea Theater stand out
 clearly. The shadows were predominant in the early years.
 My convictions about native literature were sincere, strong.
 I saw a native literature emerging as in Alberta and New
 York (two earlier areas of operation) from a feeling for
 places. But soon after I had started work in Wisconsin I
 understood that I could not work as I had in New York, for
 example, where the University theater itself furnished the
 center for my efforts with native playwrights.
   The Wisconsin theater staff was overburdened with teach-
 ing and with duties connected with play production and had
 little or no time for the discussion of regional drama prob-
 lems. The attitude of the theater staff was a blow which left
 me confused. I fear that I wasted some of this early period
 in futile bitterness. I believe now, however, that failure to
 establish a center for my work in the University theater was
 actually the factor that saved my program. For I was thrown
 toward the backstage and became familiar with the Wisconsin
 Idea, with  the extension   men, the specialists, and   the
   I was reluctant at first. Remembering what had happened to
me as a kind of "extension" worker in Canada, I was some-
what mistrustful of the Extension Division at Wisconsin,
especially when I learned the Division was to be the actual
administrative unit for my work. The whole format of my
project, however, was unique, and the Extension Division
Idea Theater instructor Ronald Gee is shown below discussing the
play given by this 4-H Club group of Brown county at a district
drama festival. The Theater staff is constantly on the move, helping
to organize, promote and evaluate individual productions and the
increasingly successful drama festivals in the state.

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