University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The University of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

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

The man who invented "monopoly",   pp. 29-32


Page 32


moved with a lope not far removed from the plowed fields
and whose idea of real pleasure was to wander into the hinter-
land of wherever he happened to be and just "sit around
talkin' and sittin' and drinkin' cawfee until he had absorbed
the local folklore."
   As a matter of fact, under different circumstances I might
have found the reporter's idea of my mission in Wisconsin
good fun, but in those days I did not do much sitting around
and drinking coffee. I was after a big thing-a major cultural
movement-and I wanted action. The newspapers, if one
could believe the ebullient reporters, wanted action too. But
even with all the tremendous build up of a press starved
during the war years for cultural items, I was to learn that
rapid decisions in favor of anything as seemingly ephemeral
as a "people's cultural movement" usually do not happen, at
least not at a major state university beset with unbelievable
housing problems.
   I found everyone sympathetic, but the developments I had
 in mind were large and costly in terms of materials and
 manpower. I wanted a large staff immediately to plunge into
 the task of creating a native literature, a native theater. I
 wanted an experimental theater. Everyone agreed that the
 University theater as it was set up could not be the focus for
 the experimental new plays laboratory I had in mind, but
 no one really believed that such a laboratory could be provided.
 I even encountered slightly disillusioned persons on the Uni-
 versity faculty who had been waiting for twenty or thirty
 years for facilities in fields they were engaged in, and under
 the pessimistic attitudes my hope for a quick centering-up in
 material terms of the Wisconsin Idea Theater program
 dwindled away. Everywhere I was encouraged to move slowly
 and cautiously.
    Meanwhile, regardless of the slowness of University de-
 velopment the people of Wisconsin were demanding the aid
 of the new drama project in community programs in the
 theater arts. The demands were consistently heavy, week by
 week, and reluctantly I withdrew from my futile promotional
 attempts at the University and assumed my role as a teacher
 and promoter of theater in Wisconsin community life.
    The barren war years had sharpened community appetites
  for the arts. Jim Schwalbach, who had come to the University
  at the same time I did to help with the Rural Art project,
  was madly dashing from this spot to that trying to keep up
  with the demands made upon him. I was doing the same thing,
  though I desperately endeavored to keep my whole program
  in mind. I used the University radio station, WHA, exten-
  sively to reach the people with a "Wisconsin Yarns" series.
  I made countless public addresses, conferred with dozens of
  theater groups, saw their plays, worked with playwrights,
  and reached the point, eventually, where I knew that I must
  have help.
    My conversations and promotions around the University
  by the Spring of 1946 had led me to believe that the Wis-
  consin Idea Theater was likely to be a one-man proposition
  with myself as director, staff, and flunky. But it was also
  apparent that if the scope of the Idea Theater was to be
  maintained, a staff was essential.
     I was to learn how important private funds can be at the
  beginning of a new program. I was also to learn that my
  role as director of the Wisconsin Idea Theater was to be that
  of a constant seeker after money. Dreams are costly at state
  universities.
     I learned that David Stevens of the Rockefeller Foundation
   had recently made a grant to a University committee organ-
   ized for area studies, and with the committee's promise of
   32
support I sought the help of a former Drummond student,
Jack Curvin, to start digging out the source materials of a
native Wisconsin drama. Jack arrived in May of 1946.
   Leslie Brown meanwhile had persuaded L. H. Adolfson,
Director of University Extension, that an assistant for the
Wisconsin Idea Theater was necessary, and Adolfson moved to
create the new job. For the first time I felt the potency of
the University itself in enlarging and carrying forward the
idea we had sketched. Junius Eddy, of Antioch College, joined
the staff in the fall of 1946 and things began to roll. We
started a magazine, the Wisconsin idea Theater Quarterly,
which is still going strong today, nine years later. We opened
up the community theater field again, and many new groups
came to life. We began the Wisconsin Idea Theater Con-
ference, now in its ninth year. I will never forget the thrill
of watching the first Conference body assemble: farmers,
teachers, students-a whole range of Wisconsin citizens assem-
bling in a hot University hall in August to discuss the prob-
lems of theater in their home communities.
   In 1947, the Rockefeller Foundation made fts first direct
 grant to the University for the specific use of the Wisconsin
 Idea Theater, and Martha Van Kleeck of Yale came to work
 with the community theaters of Wisconsin. Her presence
 released Eddy and me for more time with writers and for the
 whole job of communicating the aims of the project to the
 people.
   From the Rockefeller Foundation, too, came our first play-
 wright-in-residence, Ed Kamarck, who was to become a leader
 of the Wisconsin Rural Writers' Association. As the staff
 developed, University Extension became more and more im-
 portant in my plans. Little by little my confidence in the
 Extension idea grew, and always Adolfson stood ready to
 help. He provided money for special lectures, for conferences,
 for travel. Extension-the backstage, actually the front door
 of the University to thousands of homes in the state-was
 always there, and I knew that my stability and the stability
 of the Wisconsin Idea Theater lay in the steady encourage-
 ment of men vitally concerned in spreading education through-
 out the state.
    Eventually, when the Rockefeller Foundation had performed
  its role as a catalyst and withdrew from various early phases
  of the Wisconsin Idea Theater, Extension was able to take
  over and make the staff positions permanent. But it was the
  knowledge of the sympathy and belief of the backstage and
  of a few individuals that has been a salvation for me, and
  I trust that I have been accepted by the adult education
  specialists as happily as I have accepted them and what they
  stand for.
    From the entire operation of creating the Wisconsin Idea
  Theater have come convictions of the need for higher stand-
  ards of appreciation of art in American communities, of the
  need for finer leadership in the community arts, and of the
  necessity for creating friendly attitudes in the American public
  toward the arts.
    At the present time these notions are being worked at
  throughout the state of Wisconsin by many volunteer workers
  without whom the yearly cost of approximately twenty-five
  thousand dollars for the maintenance of the Wisconsin Idea
  Theater would be much higher.
    The great backstage has made it possible for me to work
  with such volunteers in their own communities. In my travels
  to visit them, seeking the creative stuff here and there in the
  far and near corners of the state, I have become keenly
  conscious of the state itself as the whole unit of focus of
  my search.
                                      WISCONSIN ALUMNUS


Go up to Top of Page