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

Behind the footlights,   pp. [14]-[15]

Page [14]

T  HE UNION facilities for educa-
   tional theater have consistently
drawn praise from visiting artists,
and Helen Hayes, appearing on the
theater stage in 1962, thought it
might even be too good.
  "A stage like the Union Theater
does not prepare anyone for what
he is going to be up against in the
commercial theater because every-
thing is so convenient," she said.
"But the good side of it is that young
people will be trained in the way
theater should be. That might bring
about reform in the commercial
  To   accommodate both    student
productions and   traveling   road,
shows, the theater stage was de-
signed to be particularly flexible,
with additional flexibility coming
from an elevator forestage which
may be used as an orchestra pit, as
additional floor space for auditorium
seats, as a lecture platform, as a
small stage for soloists, and as an ex-
tension of the main stage.
   Craft shops, a vitally important
 unit in any university or community
 theater if drama is to be utilized to
 the maximum as a creative enter-
 prise, were also given careful con-
 sideration by the theater planners.
 The shops at Wisconsin provide ma-
 chine and hand tools for the build-
 ing of sets, lighting and sound equip-
 ment, prop rooms, space for painting
 scenery, and space for the design
 and execution of costumes.
   In addition to the facilities of the
 main theater, the theater wing in-
the theater as an educational tool
cludes another area which was rev-
olutionary for its time. That is the
Union Play Circle, small experi-
mental theater which over the years
has become to Wisconsin what Off-
Broadway is to New York. It is a
constant proving ground for young
directors, actors, and writers, and for
experimental projects in drama,
music, dance, and other media.
  Long before the great fashion for
theater-in-the-round, the Play Circle
surrounded its audience. The Play
Circle arrangement-built around
168 seats and with no proscenium
or footlights-makes it possible for
actors to move freely around the
audience with a sense of realism
never possible on the conventional
   The Play Circle was added to the
Union to complement the larger
theater's cultural program. The idea
was that while students could ex-
plore the best of the performing arts
in the theater, they also needed a
place to express the best of their
own creative ideas. Over the years,
the quality of the productions
housed in the Play Circle and the
nature of what has been done has
made it a center for the arts in its
own right.
  The role of the theater as an edu-
cational facility is underscored by
the theater manager's holding a joint
University appointment with both
the Union Theater and the depart-
ment of speech. James Kentzler is
theater manager, and he spends off
hours from the Union Theater man-
aging a summer stock theater near
Baraboo   which  he and his wife,
Claire "Pinky" Prothero   Kentzler,
own and manage.
   Students who take classes in stage-
 craft are required to work backstage
 and they also use the stage as a lab-
 oratory for their classes and for
 equipment demonstrations. How
 ever, Kentlzer emphasizes that many
 of the students who work with stu-
 dent productions are  not speech
   "They work backstage or try out
 for a play for recreation," he says,
 "but they learn something that stays
 with them for the rest of their lives.
 They can apply it in community the-
 ater, or maybe they're high school
 Makeup techniques  (left)  and  the  manipula-
 tion of stage equipment (right) are some of
 the many skills Wisconsin students learn from
 their opportunity to work backstage.

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