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

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


Page [16]


seemed to me, shortly after my arrival in Madison, to offer
a more promising base than the University Theater, which
offered nothing.
   My entire program was to be conducted by three separate   M
branches of the University: The College of Letters and
Science, the College of Agriculture, and the Extension Divi-
sion. During its first year, 1945-46, all budgetary matters not
relating to salary were channeled through the Division's
Department of Debating and Public Discussion.
   One hot afternoon in September, I walked into the cata-
combs of the building called Science Hall. I presently found
an office in which a fellow with a brush of kinky gray hair -
was working at a roll-top desk. The director of the Extension
Division had told me that this gray-haired fellow, Leslie E.
Brown, who was the Director of the Department of Debating,
would give me an office and help me get started.
   I sat down and we spoke of inconsequential things. Then
 he said, "What are you going to do in Wisconsin?."
   I thought for a moment. Looking back, I knew that in
 Kansas Allen Crafton had opened a whole new world of
 theater for me; that in New York Drummond had taught me
 how to apply feeling for places and ideas about theater to
 regional life. In Alberta I had tested and developed these
 ideas, and, while I did not know exactly what I was going to
 do in Wisconsin, I thought that I could safely say that I
 wanted to try in many ways to stimulate and develop the
 creative forces in the people. I answered him the best I -
 could then.
   Brown and I became fast friends. From Brown I learned
 that "adult education" was not at all alien in theory to my
 hopes and dreams about people's expressiveness, and from my
 association with Brown began my tolerance for the great
 backstage.
    By late September, 1945, with Brown's help, I was ready
 to summarize some of my impressions, suggestions, and ideas
 relating to the possible development of a Wisconsin regional
 theater program. These were gathered together in an informal
 written proposal called "Notes from a General Wisconsin
 Drama Plan." In this paper, I observed that in the creative
 arts, especially, new work needed to be undertaken to relate
 the arts to people's lives. That the people themselves desired
 such a relation seemed to me to be indicated by the interest
 in local scene and tradition I had found in America. From
 such desire, I believed, a good popular art could grow. It
 seemed to me the undertaking I was proposing could add to
 the increasing awareness that our American picture was not
 a completed work in itself but a composite of developing
 regional pictures in every state and community in the nation.
     My work in drama I hoped to relate as closely as possible
  to the Wisconsin scene. I hoped to make such work mirror
  the outstanding tradition and themes of the region and to
  develop the native talents of the state. I proposed a statewide
  playwriting project in an attempt to bring the regional themes
  to the fore, and I hoped to relate to the field of drama some
  of the general experiments in the other arts being conducted
  by the University. I had in mind particularly the state-wide
  programs in painting and in music being conducted by the
  Extension Division.
     Fundamental to such a playwriting experiment would be a
  central tryout laboratory theater located somewhere on the
  University campus. I foresaw the formation of an annual
  Wisconsin Idea Theater Conference to bring together once
  a year all the dramatic activities in the state, including not
                     (continued on page 31)


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